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January 24, 2000


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The Rediff Interview/ Gladys Staines

'Baripada is now my home'

She is tall, simple, and soft-spoken. Gladys Staines, clad in sari and blouse, appears outwardly cheerful but the sorrow she suffered a year ago - when her husband and two young sons were set afire by a frenzied mob led by the elusive Dara Singh - is too recent not to cast a tragic shadow on her life.

It was after much persuasion that she agreed to be interviewed by M I Khan, at her house inside the Baripada Baptist church premises. During the emotional conversation, tears well up in her eyes and her voice chokes whenever she recalls her family. The tragedy seems to have steeled her soul: her future plans include erecting a hospital in memory of her husband, and live and work in India - just as her husband did.

A year since the tragedy, how do you feel? Life could not have been easy for you...

In fact, my feelings vary from day to day, there is no permanent feeling. If I lost my husband and sons it must have been God's wish. Certainly, yes, it has been a difficult year for me, but God has given me the strength to face it. I don't want to run away. My intention was not to go away from here, otherwise I would have gone back to Australia. Baripada is now my home. If Graham Staines was alive today he would have turned 59 on January 18, and completed 35 years of work in India.

Do you feel Dara Singh, the prime accused in the murder of your husband and sons, has not been arrested so far because of the apathy of the state administration, or do you suspect some other reason?

Look (appears very emotional), I don't want to involved in this issue. It is up to the state government or the CBI to do their work as per their rules.

Why do you think Staines was killed?

I don't know till date. He was peace-loving man, loved by all in Baripada. His only mission was to work for the upliftment of the people, mostly the downtrodden and leprosy patients. He used to encourage people, without any consideration of religion, to live a good life, and to think positively. The locals held him in high esteem.

Do you think there was a political angle to his killing?

I have decided not to answer any political question.

What is it about your husband and two sons that you miss the most?

Of course, sometimes I miss them desperately. I feel very sad about my children. My sons were very lovely and they were doing childish things which I find difficult to forget. That is why I miss them terribly.

What about your involvement in the leprosy home left behind by Staines?

I had decided last year itself to devote my life working for the Mayurbhanj leprosy home. I am very keen on looking after the leprosy home where about 100 inmates are living today. It seems God wanted me to work here and serve the destitute.

Are you planning to go back to Australia, or will you stay back here in Baripada?

There is no question of leaving this place. It is not the pressure of the emotional attachment alone which keeps me here. I believe after Staines was killed, only his body is inside the cemetery, his spirit has gone to heaven, to Jesus. Only his mortal remains are there on earth.

Do you feet threatened or insecure over possible danger from Dara Singh?

If they want they can kill anyone, why should I feel insecure about it if God is there to help me? No one except God knows what will happen next. We make plans for the future but there is no guarantee of tomorrow. I or anybody else can die of malaria, accident or anything.

Is it true that you have applied for Indian citizenship?

No, not at all. I have not applied for Indian citizenship recently. Yes, I have applied for honorary citizenship. I used to request the Government of India to give me permission to live here for some more time. My daughter wants to complete her study in India.

What about the proposed hospital in Staines's memory?

Yes, there is a proposal to build a 40-bed hospital near the leprosy home. The Leprosy Mission of India is giving me professional advice and guiding me in my dream work. The proposed hospital will come up in the area under the leprosy home.

What about funds for the hospital project?

Honestly speaking, funds have started coming in from individuals as well as organisations all over the world in the name of Mayurbhanj leprosy home. I have estimated the hospital to cost about Rs 100 million. I am confident of starting work on the project by the end of the year. It will be a memorial hospital but we have not decided its name. It will either be 'Staines hospital' or 'Graham Staines hospital'.

The BJP MP from Balasore had termed your husband a social criminal last year. What is your reaction?

You have to ask this question to that MP who said it. I have nothing to say.

Do you think there is a well-calculated move to create trouble for people like you?

I don't know, but a hate campaign has been started against those working for the welfare of the people. I have received hundreds of letters from all over the country and abroad in the last one year which clearly mention that what happened with Staines was not Hinduism. What Dara Singh did is not what Hinduism preaches, they all say. But one thing is clear, a majority of the people are opposed to his killing. Supporters of the killing are in a minority. I have been touring the country and there is overwhelming support for my cause.

What about the other two incidents in which a Muslim trader and a Roman Catholic priest were also killed, allegedly by Dara Singh?

I was very sad that two similar incidents happened. But I don't want to make any comment which could create a controversy. I want to maintain peace and harmony.

You visited Australia recently. What was the feeling of the people there?

In Australia my relatives were happy to see me but sad at what happened last year. In 1999 we have lost five people, Graham Staines, two of my sons, my mother and Graham Staines's sister. It was a bad year for me. Let's hope good times are here again.

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