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Burnt Alive

Manoharpur, Orissa, India, 22 January, 1999

Graham, Philip and Timothy had retired for the night. It had been a long and exhausting day. But, also an exciting one for the boys. They were thrilled to be with their father at this, the annual jungle camp at Manoharpur.

It’s been said that love can prompt a man to climb any mountain. To reach the people of Manoharpur, you’d need that kind of love. A love that would carry you across three ravines and some of the unfriendliest terrain.

Graham had that kind of love. For the past fourteen years, he had been returning to the tiny village nestled in the remote hills of Keonjhar, about 250 km north of the  state capital. And now, he was a familiar face to most of the 15-odd santhal  families in residence.

There’s something  else about Manoharpur:  It’s far removed from the life we,  in the city have grown accustomed to. There’s no electricity, no running water or for that matter, none of the modern amenities. Which would mean that Graham  and his sons would have to spend the night in their station-wagon.

Now, as they were walking towards their vehicle, torches in hand, the boys were still chatting about the day. About the wonderful time they had with the simple people who loved both their father and them. They also wondered what mama and Esther were doing at that moment. It was just four days ago that they all had a great time together at dad’s birthday.

Opening the door, Graham got in and pulled out the pillows and blankets. He was keen to make the night’s  rest as comfortable  for the boys as possible. But, by now both of them, Philip especially, were fairly used to these outings. Actually, he and Esther had come home on vacation from Hebron School, Ooty. And he had looked forward to Manoharpur, for it gave him a chance to be with his father, whom he loved so much.

Now as they settled down to rest, they huddled together for a small family prayer. As they spoke to Jesus, knowing fully well that He was listening and did answer prayers, they lifted up the family back home, all the inmates at the Leprosy Home, the nation and Christians all over the world.

Graham was proud of the way his boys prayed. In particular, Timothy, who prayed with the innocence that only a six-year old could possess. They were good boys. And he had taught them to always thank God for everything.

Just as he himself  had much to thank God for.

Midnight In Manoharpur

“A time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.”(John 16:2-3)

It’s sad but true. That if you tell a man a lie too often, he just might start believing it. And whatever he believes with conviction, is sure to temper his actions. The seduction of Germany is testimony enough.

In India, too, simple people are falling prey to men with evil designs. Fed with lies, they are encouraged to abandon themselves to dangerous ideologies. Some, like the killers of the Staines, are being roused to express a hatred that knows neither reason nor guilt. They are wholly convinced, that through their actions they are serving the nation.

Or worse still, God.

Even In Death, Inseparable

According to Defence Minister George Fernandes, there have been at least 60 attacks on churches in Orissa between 1986 and 1998. He also added that this was the highest for any Indian state. Graham was aware of this.He was also aware that some of the tension had found its way to Manoharpur. This, however, did not unduly worry him. If was a long time ago that he had decided to follow Jesus Christ no matter what the personal cost. Having read the Acts of the Apostles a great many times, he knew that nothing significant was ever achieved without opposition.

Drums were beating that night as group of  young Santhals were enjoying  a traditional Dangri dance. They were just about  a 100 meters away from the Stains’ station wagon. It was around 12:20 am, 23 January 1999.

Earlier on at 11 p.m., 22 January, another group has set out from Jamadwar. The group had a leader Dara Singh alias Rabindra Pal Singh. With at least nine cases against him, Singh is no stranger to the police. Originally from Etawah, Uttar Pradesh, he migrated to Malipossi in Keonjhar in 1981. He has long since been active along the Mayurbhanj-Keonjhar border. With substantial suppoirt from the santhals, Kulhos and Bathurias, he has been steadily fomenting trouble in the region.

In fact, whenever communal violence took place, including the attack on the church nearby Kesidha last January – Singh’s name invariably showed up in the police records. Also, he happened to be well familiar with Manoharpur. He had stayed there with a friend, Dipu Das whilst working at the family’s grocery. According to Soutik Biswas, Outlook, Singh later confessed to the killing of Sraines to a Manoharpur villager. A senior official in charge of investigations said Daia and an old friend, Dipu Das, with whom he stayed in Manoharpur for years, met the villager a day after the killings and confessed his involvement.

Itt has been described as a cold-blooded operation, Singh and his mob approached Manoharpur at around 12:30 a.m. They came in running from the fields, armed with lathis and trishulss (tridents). They had just one target, the station wagon. And as they approached it, they began screaming.

Singh struck first, wielding an axe at the tyres, deflating them. The others broke windows and prevented the Staines from escaping. Graham was beaten mercilessly and his boys were not spared either. All three were pierced with trishuls. Singh then put straw under the vehicle and torched it. In seconds, the vehicle was on fire. Graham held his two boys close to him. Anyone knew him would say that the one name on his lips would he – Christ Jesus.

The killers stood there and watched the three roast alive as the fire consumed the vehicle. Someone approached with water to douse the flame but was scared away. Dr. Subhanlar Ghosh, a close friend of Graham recounts:

“We had dinner with the Stains around 9:00 p.m. and they went to sleep in the Willys station wagon, parked near the church, at about 9.45 p.m. I was sleeping along with Mr. Gilbert Venz  an overseas friend of the Stains, in one of the huts, hardly 200 metres from the chapel. By midnight, we were woken up by some strange shouts and screams, and I peeped through  the side window. I couldn ‘t believe what I saw. I heard shouts, scream, beatings, banging  of doors. There were about 50-60 people with burning torches in their hands.

They were shouting, ‘Maro, Maro…..Zindabad’ around the station wagon. Soon they started smashing the windows of the jeep with bars and sticks. The frenzied crowd blocked Graham from escaping with his children. They were brutally beaten. Then suddenly I saw the jeep in flames. I knew my dear friends would be turned into ashes. The attackers had already blocked the doors of the village huts, so that the Stains would not get any help. A few who dared to question the mob were threatened. The villagers said the attackers were shouting “Dara Singh Zindabad”. The attackers also burned another jeep, parked nearby and its driver Mishael Hasda was beaten and chased away . After an hour, the furious militants fled the scene. I sent four  people by cycle under the leadership of  Thakurmunda, 18km  from Manoharpur.

Hasda, the driver of the station wagon and co-worker with the Staines for over 20 years, was also an eye-witness. He says: “I was woken up by   screams of some people. They were shouting, “Maro… Maro.. …Darasingh Zindabad;…. and they were about 50-60, around the jeep where Saibo and children were sleeping. They were smashed the vehicle with staves and stones, ..some carried trissuls also. …suddenly I saw someone putting a bundle of straw under the vehicle and setting them   on fire. …I brought water and tried to put out the fire.. but some of them caught me and beating hard, chased me away.

I ran to Murmu’s but and informed him, who in turn rushed to call the village chief. Soon I returned but what I saw was most tragic… fire had devoured two vehicles……and my Saibo and little  Philip and Tim………turned into ashes…I am sorry.. ..(Here Nimnai began to sob aloud), I couldn’t do anything to   save my Saibo and the little ones ….My parents were  cured lepers and inhabitants of Rajabasa rehabilitation centre. I was born there. The Stains treated me like their son… Philip and Tim used to play with my children… taking them on their cycles…. the future of the mission is in God’s hand… our Lord  is able….

A number of villagers who fled the fury of the mob said they saw a wide beam of bright light from above,  rest on the burning vehicle.   “And I do believe,” says Gladys, that my husband and children were specially strengthened by my Lord and the angelic hosts from heaven.

A visiting friend of the Staines from Australia, Gilbert Venz  was also present at Manoharpur. He remembers: “The village had turned in for the night, but at about 12.30 midnight, what seemed like a large group of men,   began raising a commotion in the street outside. They screamed don’t come out, we will kill you.

“I was indoors as we found that the door has been blocked from outside. ” Graham and the kids were sleeping in the Jeep outside.”    As he was trapped inside, Venz didn’t  know the station wagon had been set alight. But he kept hearing the terrifying roar of the mob.


Later, as he heard the shouting subside, he rushed out and ran towards the vehicle. Only to find the burnt-out shell… and three bodies… charred beyond recognition…. locked in an embrace. Even in death, the had been inseparable.

“We couldn’t believe what we saw,” said Ghosh. ‘We were numbed…..Graham was an embodiment of Christian love and compassion.. And his children-tender, cheerful, who used to play with the lepers and their children!….Is there not a limit for man’s wickedness?

“The militant gang also set ablaze another jeep which was empty and parked nearby.

Now,  there was just one thing on the minds of both Ghosh and Venz. How were Gladys,Graham’s wife and Esther, Graham’s only daughter, going to take the loss? But you know what did they say:


“My husband and our children have sacrificed their lives for the Nation of India. India is my home. I hope to be here and continue to serve the needy” – Gladys Stains

“I praise God  that He found my father and my brothers worthy to die for Christ” -Esther Stains

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