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Gladys focuses on Staines's work

By Giridhar Gopal in Bhubaneswar
September 14, 2003 14:00 IST
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The widow of slain Australian missionary Graham Stuart Staines is keeping alive his mission of helping leprosy patients in the eastern Indian state of Orissa.

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Gladys Staines continues to work at the home for leprosy patients set up by her late husband back in 1982 at Baripada in Orissa's tribal-dominated Mayurbhanj district.

"When he was alive, the number of inmates at the home was 60 to 70," Staines told in a telephone interview from Baripada. "Some have left after being cured, but new patients come in, so the number remains the same."

Most of the inmates are tribals, with a couple of Christians. "We do not discriminate amongst them," Staines, a native of Queensland, Australia, said. "We allow them in irrespective of caste or religion."

Staines met her husband while she was serving on a youth mission in Orissa back in the early 1980s. They were married in 1983. Sixteen years later, the Reverend Staines and their two young sons, Philip and Timothy, were burnt to death by a mob allegedly comprising Bajrang Dal activists while they were asleep in their vehicle at Manoharpur village in neighbouring Keonjhar district.

The Central Bureau of Investigation, which probed the incident, filed charges against 18 persons, including prime accused Dara Singh. The trial court is scheduled to pronounce judgment in the case on Monday, September 15.

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Staines refused to comment on the murder trial. "I have forgiven the persons who killed my husband and sons," she said. "I don't think on that matter anymore."

Asked if she isn't scared to work in the same area where her husband and sons were brutally murdered, Staines said, "Why should I be afraid? Here people support us and I do not want to disappoint them. After all, they need to be taken care of."

Even her sole surviving child Esther, who is currently studying medicine, wants to serve the poor and has not been disheartened or embittered by the fate that met her father and younger brothers, she said.

But Gladys Staines misses her husband a lot. "When your companion dies, it is difficult," she said. "All of us miss them. He was involved in the day-to-day activities and his absence is felt everywhere. The hospital, patients, those whom he served, also miss him, particularly the old staff members here."

As for building a memorial to Graham Staines at Manoharpur, she said, "I do not know if somebody is interested. Right now I do not have any such plan."

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Giridhar Gopal in Bhubaneswar