Opinion Remembering the crimes of India’s Dara Singh

Remembering the crimes of India’s Dara Singh

Hindu nationalists hail the murderers of Christians such as the killer of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his sons

The Christian community in India remembers Jan. 22, 1999, as the day Australian missionary Graham Stuart Staines, who worked with leprosy patients in Odisha, and his young sons Timothy and Philip, were burned alive. It was on that day that the Western world really came face to face with the violence being meted out to the minuscule religious minority by the Hindutva extremist groups collectively known as the Sangh Parivar.

The trio was sleeping in their jeep in a clearing in the Manourharpur-Baripada forest when they were surrounded by a mob led by Dara Singh, a local chief of the militant Bajrang Dal, who had gained a reputation as the scourge of cattle traders driving their animals through forest roads in the state on the east coast of India. Dara Singh had earlier slain a man called Rahman, a Muslim cattle trader.

The Staines family massacre remained international news, both in the West and especially in his home country, Australia, for a long time. The triple deaths were horrendous. The father and sons had been set on fire as they slept. As the flames rose, they tried to escape the vehicle but were beaten back into the fire by the mob with bamboo sticks.

The ups and downs of the trial in the superior courts were equally dramatic. It would seem the courts had not fully understood the murderous ideology of the killer group. The Supreme Court of India, which finally sentenced Dara Singh to a life term in prison, agreed with the High Court of Orissa (the state high court of Odisha) that the killers did not deserve the death penalty handed to them by the trial court.

The system was not shamed by the words of Graham Staines’ widow Gladys who told TV news reporters that she had “forgiven the murderers of her husband and her two young sons.” The criminal justice system was the job of the government.

The presiding judge on the Supreme Court bench couldn’t resist writing that the triple murder was to “teach a lesson” to the missionary. The insinuation was that Staines had been killed because he was converting local people to Christianity. The Christian community was aghast. Protests were immediately made to the Chief Justice of India, and eventually, the court expunged the deeply offending sentence words from the judgment.

“He is on the not very short list of right-wing religious nationalists who are now being hero-worshipped”
In the years since then, there have been repeated rumors in some Christian circles that Dara Singh has repented and reformed, and perhaps has even been converted to Christianity.

Such rumors multiplied when Samandar Singh, was convicted of stabbing a Catholic nun, social worker Sister Rani Maria, in Nachambor in Madhya Pradesh because she was helping poor people being exploited by money lenders. Sister Maria was beatified in 2017. Samandar Singh was jailed but later sought forgiveness from the family of the woman he had killed.

But Dara Singh’s change of heart was nothing more than a figment of some fertile imagination.

Dara Singh, Bajrang Dal leader and the murderer of not only the Staines family but also cattle trader Rahman and Catholic priest Aul Doss, has his admirers. In that, he is on the not very short list of right-wing religious nationalists who are now being hero-worshipped.

The first was the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, Nathu Ram Godse, who was hanged but has statues in several temples that dot the landscape. Among people feted in more recent times have been members of a mob that killed a Muslim trader in Jharkhand who were garlanded by a minister of Narender Modi’s government on their release from jail, and the men who had gang-raped a Muslim woman, Bilkis Bano, and killed her family during the carnage in Gujarat in 2002.

But still, people were surprised on Wednesday when the muscular anchor of a Hindi news channel launched a campaign hailing Dara Singh as a hero and a champion of the faith. Social media played it up for a few hours.

“Odisha remains on the list of regions which have more than their share of targeted violence against religious minorities, especially Christians”
“Dara Singh has been in jail for the past 21 years. There is hardly anyone who is imprisoned for more than 20 years in the country. I was in constant touch with Dara Singh and had sent a mail to the local government seeking permission [to see him] 15 days ago. I was given the impression that I would be permitted to meet him. But, when I landed in Keonjhar, I was not allowed to see him,” Chavhanke, the Sudarshan TV editor-in-chief, told other journalists.

Two decades after the state of Orissa — its name now changed to Odisha — remains on the list of regions that have more than their share of targeted violence against religious minorities, especially Christians.

The violence peaked twice again — first on Christmas Eve 2007 and then in August 2008 when the Sangh targeted Christians in Kandhamal district. Chief minister Naveen Patnaik admitted in the state legislature that the violence — to teach Christians a lesson for their alleged role in the killing of Hindu politician and religious leader, Lakshmananda Saraswati — was masterminded by the Sangh Parivar.

The killings and arson lasted several days, its residual fires several weeks, spreading to several other regions. At the end of it all, over 60,000 people had been displaced. Over 30,000 spent up to a year in refugee camps organized by the government and civil groups. Christians were reportedly expelled from over 400 villages, with some 5,600 houses and around 400 churches destroyed.

A hundred or more people were hacked to death or burned alive. Forty women were raped or molested, among them a Catholic nun who was gang raped. Several cases of forced conversion to Hinduism were also reported.

To add insult to the pain and the injury, the district magistrate banned Christian relief organizations from helping the victims of the violence. Archbishop Raphael Cheenath moved the Supreme Court of India, which ordered that relief be allowed. The mass violence benumbed the senses, but the slow pace of justice, the utter poverty of the region and the eagerness of the federal and state governments to move on as fast as possible have made Kandhamal just a day on the civil society and church calendars to commemorate the carnage.

This article was published in

Post a Comment

Where to find us


Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations Pray for a Persecuted Church
[contact-form-7 404 "Not Found"]