23, Jan 2019 | Teesta Setalvad
The January of 1999 began on a sombre hate-filled note. NDA had been in power for the second time under a seemingly affable Atal Behari Vajpayee as prime minister but the fires of hate had been lit signalled by the men at the top. LK Advani who had the bloody rath from Somnath to Ayodhya before the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 –violence spilling along the way –was not just home minister but also deputy prime minister.
Three days before Republic Day, twenty years ago on January 23, Graham Staines an Australian missionary was burnt to death with his two young sons in Orissa where the family had worked and lived for decades. Graham and Gladys were dedicated to the alleviation of poverty and leprosy in the region. Their brute killing was one among the series of attacks on the miniscule Christian community that had gained momentum in the years around 1998-1999 with the rise of the parliamentary wing of the RSS, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to political power, albeit then in a minority government.
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The string of attacks on Christian institutions and churches in this period, the ‘lynching’ of Sister Rani Maria outside Bhopal, the Jhabua rape(s) of the nuns, the burning alive of Graham Staines and his two young sons in January 1999, were part of these systemic attacks allowed by an enabling government in power. The Christmas of 1998 saw brute attacks on Christians and churches in the south of Gujarat, the Dangs. It was during that regime, that came Gujarat 2002, arguably the worst anti-minority genocidal carnage post 1947.
Though the forms of violence changed, it did not end there. Kandhamal 2007-2008, Karnataka 2008 onwards (when Christians were the more obvious target), Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (apart from Gujarat these states showed decidedly majoritarian tendencies; then Muzaffarnagar 2013. Now, the spotlight is on lynchings, post 2014 with a full blown proto-fascist regime in power. Between 2013 and 2017, we have also seen the shooting down, through calculated bullets of four rationalists, Narendra Dabholkar (2013), Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi (2015) and Gauri Lankesh (2017). In each and all of these murders, different wings of outfits linked to Hindutva supremacism –envisaging the conversion of India from a secular democratic republic to a Hindutva theocracy –which has, as its edifice, the exclusivist Manu Smruti that extols the caste system—have been allegedly responsible.
The widow of Graham Staines found her deep faith allowing herself to forgive the killers when the convictions happened finally in 2011. The then government counsel appearing in the judicial commission to investigate the triple murders by arson of missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, had found a link between arsonist/murderer, Dara Singh and the RSS.
“Dara linked to Sangh: Government counsel”: ‘According to the council’s submission, based on the material on records before it “There is sufficient evidence to suggest that Dara Singh’s association with the RSS and the Bajrang Dal renders the matters open to further inquiry and investigation by the CBI.’ It was senior advocate in the Supreme Court, Gopal Subramaniam, and his team of three advocates, who had made these submissions, “It appears that even in order to rule out the involvement of any organisation, it is appropriate to that a thorough investigation is undertaken by the CBI. According to the counsel’s report, the material on record based on witness accounts and police record show that Dara Singh was an active member of the Go Suraksha Samiti, a programme sponsored and implemented by the Bajrang Dal and the VHP that he had campaigned for the BJP in the parliamentary elections of 1998. He attended RSS camps he held out himself as a Bajrang Dal activist and that he believed in the strong propagation of Hindutva. 
India and Indians need to reflect on how the politics that murdered the Staines continues to rule India today. Violence has intensified, hate crimes have gained legitimacy and the country sits uncomfortably balancing the politics of supremacism with constitutional ideals. The Indian Constitution that protects all Indians, equally, irrespective of caste, faith and gender has been rendered toothless.
Twenty years down after Staines and his sons were so brutally killed, we live in an India without either a sense of remorse or history.
The Indian Express, August 15, 1999
 The Indian Express, August 15, 1999