The South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre extends its appreciation to its allied research contacts across India, particularly in Orissa. We regret that we can not mention them by name for reason of their security.
On 24 February 1999, the Home Minister of India L.K. Advani confirmed that there were 116 communal-based crimes against Christians in 1998—more than in the 51 years since Independence combined. The year ended with burning churches and prayer halls in the Dangs district of Gujarat, in a Christmas period that saw anti-Christian rallies, the destruction of places of worship and countless attacks on Christians.
The year 1999 began no better. On 23 January an Australian missionary, Graham Staines and his two young sons, Philip and Timothy, burned to death when the vehicle in which they were sleeping was set on fire by an angry mob in the village of Manoharpur in Orissa. As leaders of Hindu Fundamentalist organisations justified the killings on the basis that Graham Staines was engaged in conversions, the Indian Government declared the crime an "abberation." However the killings were widely perceived as the culmination of a year of unprecedented violence against India’s Christian minority.
On 29 January the Home Ministry of the Government of India established the Justice D.P. Wadhwa Commission of Inquiry (the Commission), comprising solely of Supreme Court Justice D.P. Wadhwa. Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court of India, Mr Gopal Subramanium was named as Counsel for the Commission and an Investigating Team was constituted.
In the course of its inquiry, the Commission received 152 affidavits regarding the crime and examined 52 witnesses. All of the evidence before the Commission pointed to the involvement of a known criminal in the district, Dara Singh. The Commission describes how Dara Singh gathered a group of local youths at a nearby farm, and, axe in hand, took them to Manoharpur with the intention of killing Christian missionaries. The crime was well planned and went to plan. As some of the mob threatened local villagers not to interfere, Dara Singh and his followers covered the vehicle in which Staines and his sons were sleeping with straw and set it alight. They pushed the doors closed as Staines attempted to escape and watched as they burned alive. The group then left the scene shouting slogans in praise of the Hindu God Hanuman whose other name is Bajrang.
None of this is at issue. The controversy of the Commission’s report lies in its conclusion that Dara Singh was acting alone and was not associated with any organisation—namely any Hindu Fundamentalist organisation. This finding stands in stark opposition to the preponderance of evidence placed before the Commission that Dara Singh was closely associated with and was a member of Bajrang Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). While the evidence in the Report does lead strongly to this conclusion, the Commission in fact fails to mention in its report substantial testimony from Hindu Fundamentalist associates of Dara Singh that Dara Singh was a member of Bajrang Dal. The Commission mentions considerable evidence from local police that Dara Singh was a Bajrang Dal activist. None of this evidence is discredited by the Commission, it is simply dismissed.
Tellingly, the Counsel for the Commission in his Written Submissions concludes that in light of the evidence, "it appears that even in order to rule out the involvement of any organisation it is appropriate that a thorough investigation is undertaken by the C.B.I." This Counsel was firmly rejected by Justice Wadhwa as he issued a blanket absolution of the Sangh Parivar (Hindu Fundamentalist Family of Organisations).
Just as concerning is the failure of the Commission to locate the killings of Graham Staines and his sons in a national context. Although it states that the Staines’ killings were not an "isolated incident" the Commission fails to refer to the tide of violence against Christians in 1998. It does not mention the widespread attacks on Christians in Gujarat or the resultant national debate on conversions. The pattern of religious intolerance against Christians, of which the Staines killings formed such a brutal part, is simply ignored.
Instead the Commission reviews four instances of alleged crimes against Christians in Orissa which—it contends—were not crimes against Christians at all. It holds the media responsible for fear mongering and sensationalism in respect of communal crimes, and on that basis seeks to reassure Christians that they have nothing to fear. Minorities and civil society are not convinced.
More than vindicating the Sangh Parivar, the Commission plays party politics by blaming the Congress State Government of Orissa for the Staines’ killings. While the quality of policing before and after 23 January 1999 was unquestionably poor, the Commission finds that but for an efficient administration Graham Staines and his sons would still be alive. The charge critically undermines the legitimacy of the Commission’s findings and otherwise legitimate concerns about policing in Orissa.
On the eve of a national election, the report of Justice Wadhwa sends a highly political message. It dismisses the well-documented role of the Sangh Parivar—of which the ruling-BJP is a key member—in communal unrest, and deems Congress weak on law and order. The report does nothing to reassure minorities that their rights will be protected in accordance with international law and the Constitution of India. Instead, the Hindu Fundamentalist instigators and perpetrators of anti-Christian attacks get away with it. Again.
In the early hours of 23 January 1999, Graham Staines and his two young sons Philip and Timothy were burned alive inside their jeep at Manoharpur village in the Keonjhar district of Orissa. According to police, Staines and his sons had no way of escaping death when a mob of over 30 people descended upon the village, surrounded their station wagon with straw and set it alight. The killings were widely perceived as the culmination of rising anti-Christian sentiment, following a year in which more Christians were attacked than in the 51 years since Independence combined.
Hindu Fundamentalist organisations immediately sought to justify the killings by alleging that Graham Staines had been converting Adivasis (tribals) in the district to Christianity—a charge that has seemed to excuse a plethora of crimes against Christians in the past year. As outrage was expressed both domestically and abroad, the Government of India condemned the killings and declared them an "abberation" in a "land of toleration." On 29 January 1999, the Home Ministry of the Government of India issued notification under section 3 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act 1952 to appoint a Commission of Inquiry into the killings. The Justice D.P. Wadhwa Commission of Inquiry (the Commission) was established with "a view to infuse confidence in the minorities and to arrive at the truth."
The Commission comprised solely of Supreme Court Justice D.P. Wadhwa, and Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court, Mr Gopal Subramanium was appointed Counsel for the Commission. An investigating team was also constituted. A two months time limit was placed on the inquiry, although this was ultimately extended to five months. The Commission’s terms of reference provided for investigation of:
"a. The facts and circumstances relating to the killing of Mr Graham Stewart Staines, an Australian national and his two sons on 22nd/23rd January 1999 in village Manoharpur, District Keonjhar, State Orissa;
b. the role, if any, played by any authority, organisation or individual in/or in connection with the aforesaid killings; and
c. any other matter concerned with or incidental thereto as the Commission may consider appropriate."
However only days before his Ministry initiated the inquiry, the Home Minister of India, Mr L.K. Advani had undermined the operation of the Commission. On 25 January, when asked whether Sangh Parivar organisations should be investigated in relation to the killings, L.K. Advani reportedly replied 'I don't think so. I have known these organisations. They have no criminal record.' With that, the Home Minister set the stage for a Commission blinkered by communal politics.
The official Government of India position had already been established by a three member ministerial team comprising of George Fernandes, Murli Manohar Joshi and Navin Patnaik, who were sent to Orissa by the Prime Minister in the immediate aftermath of the crime. After a three-hour visit, the team declared that it had found no evidence of Bajrang Dal involvement, and instead blamed the Congress State Government of Orissa responsible for the killings. From the outset, the Staines' killings have been highly politicised, and in rendering its report, the Commission asserted itself as a player in the party politics surrounding the killings.
During its five-month investigation, the Commission received 152 affidavits and held proceedings in Bhubaneswar and New Delhi, at which 52 witnesses were examined. The Commission also visited the scene. It is important to note that the proceedings of the Commission did not accord with those of normal trial. On page 8 the Commission states that it took cognisance of evidence that is not legal evidence in courts of law, it "…took into account testimonies of witnesses untested by cross-examination, affidavits, case diaries and even press reports."
The Commission submitted its report to the Government of India on 21 June 1999, and the Government released it along with a Memorandum of Action Taken on 5 August 1999. The Report finds that the Staines' killings were at the instigation and hand of one charismatic fanatic—Rabindra Kumar Pal, alias Dara Singh—who arranged for a mob of Adivasis to kill Staines pursuant to his personal anti-Christian agenda. Although there is significant evidence of Dara Singh's involvement with Bajrang Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Commission held that no organisation or other authority was involved in the commission of the crime--it was entirely the work of the Dara Singh. In terms of attribution of official blame, the Commission finds the State Government of Orissa responsible; concluding that "an efficient and responsive administration could have prevented this unfortunate incident."
This report examines the primary themes of the Commission’s Report and its findings in light of the evidence presented to it, and the context of the killing of Graham, Timothy and Philip Staines.
The Commission describes how at 9.30pm on 22 January 1999, Graham, Philip and Timothy Staines went to sleep in their vehicle out on the front of a church in Manoharpur. Graham Staines—an Australian national and missionary—had worked with leprosy sufferers in Orissa for the past 34 years. They were attending a Christian camp in the village, as they had done in the past. As they slept, Dara Singh was collecting a group of local boys to carry out his agenda. For the past two days, Dara Singh had been planning an attack on missionaries in the village. According to witness Satya Sore, Dara Singh had told gatherings of locals that "Christian pastors are destroying the Hindu religion. They have come to Manoharpur and we shall assault to kill them and set fire to their vehicles and the Church as well. All of you kindly help me." At around 11pm, the group of around 30-35 men left their meeting point with red bands tied around their heads. They carried lathies and torches. Dara Singh carried a cloth bag and an axe. According to one of the accused, Dipu Das, the group was split into three sub-groups: one to attack the jeeps, another to attack the tents in which missionaries were staying and a third to guard the villages and their houses.
As the group descended on the village, some of them began attacking the vehicle while others guarded the houses. They cut the tyres of the car in which the Staines family were asleep, broke the windows and set light to straw that they placed inside and under the vehicle. Staines and his children tried to get out of the vehicle, but they were prevented from doing so by the mob. Graham Staines shouted, as Timothy and Philip cried. For the next half hour, the mob stood around the vehicle watching Staines and his sons burn to death. Local villagers were threatened to stay away from the inferno, or they too would be killed. The mob eventually left the village, chanting "Jai Bajrang Bali" and "Dara Singh Zindabad." The post-mortem showed that Staines and his sons died of shock and suffocation, and that they had been alive as they burned to death.
The Commission on page 237 finds that "The act of murdering Staines and his two children was inspired by Dara Singh and his clout and no authority, organisation or any other person played any role in or in connection with the killings. There is no evidence that any authority or organisation was behind the gruesome killings." It portrays Dara Singh as a fanatic who was acting pursuant to his personal agenda against Christians, based on allegations of conversions. Dara Singh is a known criminal—he had 11 First Information Reports against him at the time of the Staines' killings—who was committed to Hindu Fundamentalist causes such as the protection and freeing of cattle from Muslim traders. He has a reputation in the district of being a fervent defender of Hindu faith. At question is the extent and nature of Dara Singh's ties with Bajrang Dal and the BJP.
The Commission was presented with an abundance of evidence regarding Dara Singh's political affiliations—in fact much more evidence than is suggested by the Commission’s report. It seems beyond question that Dara Singh was, at the very least, an active sympathiser of Bajrang Dal and the BJP. More over, evidence put before the Commission indicates that Dara Singh's affiliation with these organisations was more than casual. The Commission’s report refers to seven witnesses attesting to Dara Singh's connections with Bajrang Dal and four others to his connections with the BJP. Eleven documents were lodged in support of his political affiliations.
While the testimony of these witnesses alone points strongly to Dara Singh’s affiliation with Bajrang Dal and the BJP, the Written Submissions of Counsel for the Commission, reveal that the Commission was presented with other evidence of his involvement from members of Hindu Fundamentalist organisations. The testimony of these witnesses is not mentioned in the Commission’s report.
The Commission chooses not to mention—or discredit—the evidence of Mohan Sunder Mahanta, Joint Co-ordinator of Bajrang Dal of Keonjhar district. Mr Mahanta testified that in October 1998 he was involved in an operation to free cattle with other members of the RSS, BJP and Bajrang Dal. Dara Singh, he testified, was involved in the job on behalf of Bajrang Dal. He noted also that in March 1998 some activists of these organisations took some cattle away from some Muslim cattle owners. Upon making some inquiries, he discovered that the operation was under the leadership of Dara Singh of Bajrang Dal. When innocent men were arrested for the crime, Dara Singh posted bail for them.
Biranchi Kumar Mahanta, the Chief Organiser of RSS in Patna Tehsil from 1997-1998, who is now an ordinary member of the RSS, stated that he has known Dara Singh very well since 1996. The witness testified that "Dara Singh is working as a member of Bajrang Dal but he (Dara Singh) was campaigning for the BJP candidate during 1998 in the Lok Sabha Election." Similarly, Krushna Chandra Mahanta, an active member of VHP since 1990—who has known Dara Singh for ten years—and Naba Kishore Mahanta, a VHP member of Panchayat Samiti testified that "Dara Singh was a member of Bajrang Dal."
Bhakta Bandhu Das and Kalakar Bej stated that after Dara Singh moved into the house of Chitranjan Das in the early 1990’s, he joined Bajrang Dal. Anadi Charan Mahanta, Sarpanch of Mushakhori Gram Panchayat, who has known Dara Singh for the past year testified that "Dara Singh himself had told him that he belonged to Bajrang Dal and RSS member." Further, he stated that Dara Singh had attended the RSS training camp at Maliposi in 1995 and had worked for the BJP in March 1998. Ramakanta Rana testified that he saw Dara Singh two years ago at an RSS rally.
The evidence of none of these witnesses is mentioned in the report of the Commission.
On examination of this evidence, the Commission's own Investigating Team found that Dara Singh is an activist and supporter of Bajrang Dal. It also concluded that Dara Singh campaigned for the BJP in Patna during the last parliamentary elections in 1998, and has been seen at RSS rallies. It could not however find documentary evidence to prove that he is a member or office bearer of Bajrang Dal.
The above evidence was supported by numerous police officers, indicating that Dara Singh was well known as a supporter and worker for Bajrang Dal in the area. On 5 March 1999, B.B. Panda, Director General of Police for Orissa lodged his report into the Staines' killings with the State Government of Orissa. Panda's Report concurred with the Commission in that it found that Dara Singh was the main suspect in the crime. However it also provided that Dara Singh had been organising Bajrang Dal in the area for 10 years, and that there were numerous reports that Dara Singh was an activist of the BJP and Bajrang Dal. Pradeep Kapur, Superintendent of Police of Mayurbhanj, produced "weekly confidential reports" dated 14 December 1998 and 15 December 1998 indicating that Dara Singh was a supporter of Bajrang Dal, and a report dated 3 January 1999 mentioning that Dara Singh was a "worker for Bajrang Dal."
The Counsel for the Commission, gave particular weight to the testimony of Lalith Das, former SP of Keonjhar. Under examination by Counsel, Lalith Das stated that it was well known that Dara Singh was a supporter of the BJP. When asked if he made any inquiry to find out the antecedents of Dara Singh, Das replied "His association with BJP was so well known that it was not necessary to inquiry about his antecedents."
In relation to the police evidence, the Commission notes only that "Dara Singh was perceived as being associated with the Bajrang Dal and the BJP…, at least for the purposes of intelligence and police records." The Commission goes on to dismiss the evidence of Dara Singh's affiliation, without discrediting the evidence or explaining why the police evidence was not to be believed.
The only other non-police evidence of Dara Singh’s political affiliations mentioned in the Commission’s report is that of journalist, Sushil Kumar Aggarwal. A long time associate of Dara Singh, the Commission notes that Sushil Kumar Aggarwal testified that Dara Singh was a worker for the BJP in the Patna area during the election campaign for Mr Upendra Naik in 1990-1991. The Commission does not mention that Sushil Kumar Agarwala deposed to the Revenue District Commissioner that Dara Singh was a worker for Bajrang Dal and that workers of the Bajrang Dal and some villagers of Manoharpur were opposing the visit of Graham Staines to Manoharpur. The credibility of Aggarwal’s evidence was not questioned.
In support of its conclusion that Dara Singh is not a member of any organisation, the Commission’s report mentions the evidence of two witnesses.
Debendra Mahanta, an RSS member and associate of Dara Singh, testified that he had no personal knowledge that Dara Singh was a member of the RSS or had ever attended RSS camps. The Commission’s report does not note—although the Written Submissions of Counsel for the Commission do—that the Report of Prakash Mishra, DIG CID (Crime Branch) noted evidence that Debendra Mahanta was a "a known supporter of Dara Singh." Further the Commission failed to mention Debendra Mahanta’s testimony that "I know Dara Singh. I came to know him in RSS Camp I did not attend the camp, but I was told by some people that they have seen Dara in the camp."
It is interesting to note that Debendra Mahanta, saw Dara Singh the day after the crime. When asked where he had been Dara Singh reportedly stated, "I have come back after finishing a job." The statement correlates with the testimony of Purna Chandra Mahanta. Two days before the killing, Dara Singh approached and asked Mahanta to accompany him to Telanadi Sahi, 10 kms away from Manoharpur. Purana Chandra Mahanta testified "I asked Dara why he wanted me to accompany him. He told me that there was some work. On my query about the nature of the work, he told me that he would tell me about the work after I agree[d] to accompany. When Dara asked me to accompany him there were about 10-12 people, who were with him." The Commission does not examine the possible significance of these exchanges.
The other witness mentioned by the Commission is Pratap Chandra Sarangi, State Co-ordinator for Bajrang Dal in Orissa. In the Commission’s report it states that Pratap Chandra Sarangi testified that Dara Singh was not a member of Bajrang Dal. He condemned the killing and said that Bajrang Dal was not interested in reconverting Adivasis from Christianity. The Written Submissions of Counsel for the Commission reveal that Pratap Chandra Sarangi rejected suggestion of Dara Singh’s membership of Bajrang Dal on the basis of discussions with local leaders of Bajrang Dal in the Keonjhar and Anandpur districts. This evidence directly contradicts the testimony of Mohan Sunder Mahanta, Joint Co-ordinator of Bajrang Dal of Keonjhar district who stated that Dara Singh was a member of Bajrang Dal.
Further, the Written Submissions explain that during the Investigating Team’s interrogation of Pratap Chandra Sarangi, he described how Bajrang Dal’s operations in the Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj districts are divided into two organisational districts; Keonjhar and Anandpur, and Baripada and Rairangpur respectively. The centralisation of Bajrang Dal is pointedly revealed with the testimony of Nabin Kumar Ram—President of Bajrang Dal in Rairangpur from 1995-1997—who testified that there was in fact no longer a Rairangpur district unit of Bajrang Dal.
Finally, Pratap Chandra Sarangi’s credibility is questionable in light of his affidavit. The affidavit categorically states "I say that at no point of time Shri Dara Singh was associated with Bajrang Dal at all or Bajrang Dal had any association or attraction with the said Shri Dara Singh. I further say that the Bajrang Dal was not all all concerned or connected in any manner whatsoever in any alleged activity of Shri Dara Singh." In view of the preponderance of evidence of Dara Singh’s Bajrang Dal sympathies and association, it is absurd that the Commission would give any weight to Sarangi's testimony that Bajrang Dal had never had any connection with Dara Singh "whatsoever."
The Commission notes at page 80 that "No Counsel present and participating in the proceedings put any question to him on the question of the membership of Dara Singh with Bajrang Dal." Neither the Counsel for the State Government, nor the National Council of Churches' advocate Sajal Das, questioned Pratap Sarangi on Dara Singh's membership of Bajrang Dal. It does not seem that the Commission questioned Sarangi either, although it is empowered to examine witnesses.
The Written Submission of the Counsel for the Commission, do disclose that the Commission received evidence from a number of other RSS/Bajrang Dal/BJP officials stating that Dara Singh was not a member of their organisations. However, the Written Submissions also reveal the strongly decentralised and adhoc nature of Bajrang Dal’s organisation and membership records.
Akhaya Kumar Sahu, District Co-ordinator of Anandpur district of Bajrang Dal told the Investigating Team that a Register of all members is kept, upon the receipt of Rs.5 per annum. However, no membership cards are issued to Bajrang Dal members, nor is there a central data bank of members, as Pratap Chandra Sarangi’s consultation with local districts revealed. Indeed while Bajrang Dal is active in the Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj districts, it does not have any established offices—presumably making official record keeping cumbersome. The Commission makes no reference to the nature of Bajrang Dal’s administrative and organisational processes, although they are clearly revealed in the Written Submissions of Counsel for the Commission.
The Commission’s report accepts Pratap Chandra Sarangi’s evidence of Dara Singh’s membership status without question. Without discrediting the police evidence, or even mentioning the testimony of Dara Singh’s Sangh Parivar associates, the Commission states simply "There is no evidence to suggest that any person involved in the crime, was in fact a member of either the Bajrang Dal or BJP or any organisation."
The clinching evidence for the Commission, one sentence later, is the transcript of an televised interview by Binoy Bhushan Patnaik with Dara Singh that screened on 29 March 1999 on "Aaj Ki Baat" on the Star Plus Channel. In the interview Dara Singh denies involvement in the crime, and any connection with any organisation. While choosing not to believe Dara Singh on the first count, the Commission accepts his latter statement.
Justice Wadhwa’s vindication of the Sangh Parivar is dramatically inconsistent with the conclusions of Mr Gopal Subramanium, Counsel for the Commission. After thoroughly reviewing all of the testimony before the Commission, Counsel for the Commission states:
The Counsel for the Commission concluded that Dara Singh unquestionably campaigned for BJP in 1998, attended RSS camps, held himself out as a Bajrang Dal activist and believed in the strong propagation of Hindutva. It states:
There are two possible scenarios: (a) either Dara Singh was so closely associated with the organisations of which he was virtually a member or (b) in the alternative it could be assumed that he was available for active utilisation for projects of any like-minded organisation.
Gopal Subramanium further states:
Upon examination of the evidence, Gopal Subramanium found that it would be inappropriate to absolve the Sangh Parivar without further investigation. Justice Wadhwa did not heed his counsel, nor—it would seem—the evidence.
The Report of the D.P. Wadhwa Commission of Inquiry is only one of numerous reports into the killings, albeit the best resourced. Chapter 9 of the Report, entitled "Reports of Other Agencies" reviews the findings of other reports into the killings and assesses their credibility in light of Wadhwa's own findings; in all but a few instances their conclusions are dismissed by the Commission.
The State Government of Orissa established an inquiry by the Revenue District Commissioner (RDC), Northern Division, Sambalpur, into the Staines' killings. The report of the RDC was submitted on 7 February 1999.
The RDC's report concluded that "it is very clear that Sri Rabindra Kumar Pal alias Dara Singh is a strong activist of the BJP. His associates who have been committing crimes against minorities are more likely supporters/activists of BJP/Bajrang Dal. In all probabilities, Sri Rabindra Kumar Pal alias Dara Singh and his associates might have killed Mr Graham Stewart Staines and his minor sons."
The motive, according to the RDC was alleged conversions and "religious fanatics who have been acting publicly against minorities may gain public support at the cost of social integration." The RDC approved of the law enforcement effort in the case, although it criticised the decisions of two Executive Magistrates in relation to the detention of Dara Singh.
While the findings of the RDC—that Dara Singh was definitely a BJP activist, and was probably guilty of the crime—did not accord with those of the Commission, the Commission fails to comment on this discrepancy.
The Commission notes that the Report of Prakash Mishra, DIG, CID (Crime Branch) concluded: "This appears to be the work of a Hindu Fundamentalist group under the leadership of Dara Singh." The Commission dismisses this finding on the grounds that Mishra’s report was an initial report and it should be treated as tentative.
The Commission notes that the report of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) lead by Mr D.R Karthikeyan DG (Investigations) broadly conforms with the findings of the Commission. It also notes that the report concludes that Dara Singh is a "sympathiser of the Bajrang Dal."
The Commission states that it was forwarded the Report of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) on 3 February 1999. The NCM found that "The activities of Dara Singh particularly in relation to cow protection was linked with the campaign of Bajrang Dal." The NCM further found that the crime was pre-planned and part of a broader scene.
Without any analysis, the Commission dismisses the NCM report stating simply that "subsequent inquiries and the evidence before this Commission lead one to the conclusion that the findings were not accurate and ought not have been recorded without greater circumspection."
The Commission notes that its Investigating Team interviewed 172 people and concluded that the crime was "committed in a very planned manner." The Investigating Team found that Dara Singh is an activist and supporter of Bajrang Dal, however there was no documentary evidence to prove that he is a member or office bearer of Bajrang Dal. It states however that Dara Singh campaigned for BJP during the last parliamentary elections in 1998, and has been seen at RSS rallies. The Investigating Team concluded that the role of any other organisation or authority would only be known after the arrest of Dara Singh.
In its Supplementary Report dated 18 June 1999—after the interrogation of accused Dipu Das—the Investigating Team notes that co-accused Chenchu Hansda disclosed that Dipu Das had told him that Dipu Das and Dara Singh belonged to Bajrang Dal. Earlier in the Report—on page 6—it is noted that Chenchu Hansda had refused to make a statement before the Commission. However it would seem from the Supplementary Report of the Investigating Team, that he had at least made a statement to them. This important evidence is not mentioned again in the Commission's Report.
The Commission finds that there was increasing tension between Christians and non-Christians in the Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj Districts. It was presented with evidence, most notably from Mathai Marandi and John Mathai that relations between the two communities had worsened in the past seven years.
The Commission's Investigating Team provided the following reasons for the increases in tensions:
While the Investigating Team found no serious division between Christians and non-Christians, it did state that there was "underlying tension" between the communities. The Commission accepted the report of the Investigating Team in this regard.
Though it set the backdrop for the crime, the underlying tension, however, did not kill Graham Staines and his sons. The Staines family, the Commission found, were killed in response to fundamentalist fervour about the conversion of Adivasis to Christianity. Kartik Lohar, who was arrested on 25 February 1999 testified "Dara told us that Christian pastors are converting our people. They are at Manoharpur. Tonight we shall assault them to kill and set fire their vehicle and the Church as well."
The Commission did not investigate the source of increasing accusations of conversions in the districts, nor the activities of Bajrang Dal in spreading discontent. The Commission dealt with this motivation for the Staines killings by investigating its truth. Five witnesses were examined in relation to the reality of conversion and reconversion in the two relevant districts. Ultimately, the Commission found that while there were conversions to Christianity in the area, Graham Staines was not involved in converting locals.
The Commission did not however deal with the broader debate in India regarding conversions. Dara Singh did not come up with the "Christians are converting Adivasis" argument on his own. The charge of conversions had for the past year been used by the Sangh Parivar to explain—if not justify—violence against the Christian minority. Indeed Graham Staines and his sons were killed as India was in the grip of a "national debate on conversions", at the behest of the Prime Minister of India. It is in this context that the Commission should have, but did not, explore the Staines' killings.
On page 222 of its report, the Commission reflects on the hurt caused to all Indians by the killing of Graham Staines and his sons, and states that, "It cannot be termed an isolated incident." However the other 235 pages of the report seem directed at the opposite conclusion. Despite unprecedented violence against Christians in 1998, the Commission never once refers to growing evidence of religious intolerance in India. It does not mention communal violence in Gujarat over Christmas, the conversion debate, or the increase in Sangh Parivar anti-Christian sentiment over the past year.
When news broke of the killings in Orissa in January 1999, the crime was correctly perceived in the press and by civil society as the culmination of rising anti-Christian sentiment, incitement and violence. Only a month earlier the Dangs District of Gujarat had been alight with burning churches in a frenzy of violence against Christians. Between 25 December 1999 and 31 December 1999, over 20 churches and prayer halls in the district were burned or destroyed, coupled with a similar number of attacks on Christian schools and Christian religious services. The violence was incited by a concerted Sangh Parivar campaign of anti-Christian rallies and marches in Dangs aimed at marginalising Christians during their most sacred time.
The primary response of Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee was to call for a national debate on conversions on 10 January 1999. The debate provided the Sangh Parivar with a legitimate platform from which to spread lies about an imagined surge in conversions to Christianity and distracted attention away from the Government’s unwillingness to take action against perpetrators. The subtext of the conversions’ debate was that if Christians were converting Adivasis to Christianity, they had forfeited their right to protection under law. A week after initiating the debate, the Prime Minister declared that he did not want a "debate" debate, rather a "dialogue" on conversions. The distinction was meaningless and the damage to the confidence of minority groups had already been done.
It was in this context that Graham, Philip and Timothy Staines were killed. Indeed organs of the Sangh Parivar responded to the killings in these terms. Subhas Chouhan, the President of the Hindu Jagran Manch (HJM) reportedly declared that "Graham Staines was killed because he was into conversions." Similarly Giriraj Kishore, Senior Vice-President of the Vishva Hindu Parishad proclaimed on television that Graham Staines must have been converting Adivasis to Christianity, because there were no lepers in the district. While he was immediately proved wrong with television images of local lepers, Kishore recognised the national context and significance of the killings.
Unquestionably, the killing of Graham Staines and his sons marked a gruesome development in the wider debate about Christians and conversions, and came at the height of the Sangh Parivar's anti-Christian tirade. None of this was examined, or even referred to by the Commission. While it found that the killings were not an isolated incident, the matrix of intolerance of which they formed such a brutal part was ignored. The Commission did, however examine other instances of allegedly anti-Christian violence.
Chapter Ten of the Commission’s report—entitled "Proximate Incidents"—reviews four crimes, three of which occurred after the Staines' killings. The incidents selected by the Commission all occurred in Orissa and were commonly held in the press to be anti-Christian crimes.
The first incident examined by the Commission was the alleged rape of Sister Jacqueline Mary on 3 February 1999. Sister Mary lodged an FIR on 4 February 1999 stating that she had been raped in a moving car after accepting a lift from two men dressed as women in Baripada. The Commission reviews the manner in which the Indian press had immediately reported the incident as if it were an anti-Christian crime, and had linked Hindu Fundamentalist organisations to the crime. The Commission notes that the investigation of the case revealed that Sister Mray had not been raped and had in fact made up the story. Choosing to believe in the quality on police investigation in this instance, the Commission rejects that the FIR revealed an anti-Christian attack.
The second incident examined by the Commission was the murder of a Christian boy and the attempted rape and murder of a Christian girl on 7 February in the Kandamal District. Two young boys had witnessed the attempted rape of Sunita Naik, and in trying to rescue her, resulting in the murder of one of the boys. Sunita Naik was also killed by her attacker. All of the victims were Christians. The crime was described in the press as an anti-Christian attack. The Commission notes that the police investigation revealed that the crime was committed by the victim's relative who was himself a Christian. It condemns the political mileage that political parties had attempted to gain by portraying the crime as a communal incident.
It is worth noting that the Commission refers to the testimony of the local pastor who stated that the attack was not based on religion. The pastor also testified that Hindus in the area were actively pursuing an agenda of reconversions and that Hindu Fundamentalist groups had been provoking enmity between Christians and non-Christians in the district.
The third incident to which the Commission refers is the burning of 150 houses belonging to Christians in the village of Ranalai on 16 March 1999. The Commission described how Hindus in the village had desecrated a cross, erected on a hillock in the village, and had then fired shots at and burned Christian houses. In the ensuing violence, the Commission noted, a Christian set fire to a haystack. The incident was investigated by the NCM, the report of which was forwarded to the Commission. The NCM Report finds that the violence in Ranalai was in response to a public meeting held by BJP supporters in the village at which the meeting had been told that the cross should be turned into a trishul. The NCM found that Hindus were responsible for the violence.
Finally, the Commission mentions the attack on a police station in Gajapati District on 8 December 1998, in which two prisoners--one Hindu and one Christian--were lynched. The Commission found that the crime was not religiously motivated and was an example of poor police administration in Orissa.
The select crimes examined by the Commission, all result in the same conclusion: the spate of "anti-Christian crimes" is a fabrication. Other than these four incidents, the Commission does not mention a single attack upon Christians anywhere in India, despite an abundance of evidence that the Christian minority has been subjected to increased marginalisation and persecution in recent years. The national context of the Staines killings is simply ignored.
Strangely, the Commission did find it appropriate to respond to a letter from Amit Roy of London which appeared in Sunday Midday on 7 March 1999. Mr Roy's letter suggested a parallel between the Wadhwa Commission and the Macpherson inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence in the United Kingdom. The Commission in fact dedicates five pages to discussing the terms of reference and findings of the Macpherson Report, before dismissing it as irrelevant to its inquiry. One letter in one newspaper raised the Macpherson/Wadhwa Commission similarities; countless newspaper articles have raised parallels between the Staines' killing and other attacks against Christians by Hindu Fundamentalists, yet these did not warrant a single paragraph of the Commission' report.
The truth is that Dara Singh's crime, even if it was not at the direct instigation of the BJP or Bajrang Dal--which the Commission could not disprove--formed part of a wider pattern of abuse against Christians in India. The Commission concludes on page 221 "that misplaced fundamentalism was the motive that led to the crime." However it did not examine the rise of this fundamentalism and its particularly violent expression in the past year. The anti-Christian sentiments that lead to the killing of Graham Staines and his sons, form part of a pattern of religious intolerance propagated by the Sangh Parivar--the extreme extension of which is the murder of Christian missionaries. For the Commission to have maintained any credibility infusing "confidence in the minorities and ...[arriving] at the truth" it must have located the Staines' killings in this national context.
The politically partisan nature of the Commission’s Report lies not only in its blanket vindication of the Sangh Parivar—particularly the BJP—but in holding the Congress-ruled Orissa State Government responsible.
The Commission is highly critical of the policing in Manoharpur in the lead up to and in the aftermath of the Staines' killings. Dara Singh had remained at large in the district, despite eleven FIRs that had been lodged against him, and there was increasing anti-Christian sentiment in the district that police intelligence had failed to detect. The Commission finds that the police should have anticipated a crime against Christians in the district and that accordingly the Staines' killings were preventable.
The Commission charges the police with incompetence after the Staines killing. The report finds that the police were more concerned with looking after visiting VIPs at the crime scene than in collecting evidence. Indeed the fact that Graham Staines burned out watch was picked up at the crime scene by Gurudas Dasgupta MP, who gave it to the President of India to give to the police, indicates that the on-site investigation was lax. These criticisms seem fair.
The Commission however also charges that inconsistencies in the FIR lodged by Ralia Soren were the result of the police doctoring the report. It is beyond question that Ralia Soren's FIR was a poor reflection of the crime. The FIR mentioned that the church adjacent to Staines' vehicle was set alight by the mob, that they carried guns, and that they shouted "Bajrang Dal Zindabad" as they left the scene. The FIR also named five individuals, who the Commission considers were not involved in the crime. In light of these inconsistencies and difficulty in pinpointing the exact time that the FIR was lodged, the Commission found that the police tampered with the FIR.
However the Commission itself notes that Ralia Soren said that he was confused when dictating the FIR to the police and that he did not mention the names of certain individuals from fear of threats against him being carried out. Soren's FIR, the Commission finds, was largely a compilation of accounts from various people at the scene. While the Commission alleges that the police had manipulated the FIR, it does not specify which parts of the FIR were the result of police doctoring, and which parts were the result of Ralia Soren's flawed recollection of the events. Nor did the Commission state for what purpose the police would have doctored the FIR.
The Commission also expresses its concern that by 29 March 1999, 51 people had been arrested and illegally detained by the Orissa Police Crime Branch. On 20 March 1999, 44 of the detainees were released from judicial custody on bail by the High Court of Orissa and the remaining seven were released on bail by the CBI after it took over the investigation on 29 March 1999. The Commission notes that Prakash Mishra (DIG) in his supervision note had stated that there was no evidence in respect of the five people mentioned in the FIR nor of the involvement of the 51 people arrested by the local police. It would seem from the Commission's report that the police did arrest innocent people in an effort to be seen to be doing something, which the Commission rightly condemns. The failure of the police to apprehend Dara Singh is also questioned by the Commission. However, the Commission seems to accept that Dara Singh remains at large as a result of the support and protection offered to him by tribal people, and not as a result of police connivance.
Certain aspects of the Staines case could have and should have been dealt with more effectively by the State Government authorities. Had intelligence and policing in the districts been of an acceptable standard; Dara Singh would not have been at large, the police would have thoroughly sealed and examined the crime site instead of Parliamentarian's walking off with crucial evidence, and the FIR would have more accurately reflected the events of 23 January 1999. Indeed the illegal detention of 51 apparently innocent people as a policing response to the crime is—as stated by the Commission— is unacceptable. However, the Commission lacks credibility when it states on page 142 that, "an efficient and responsive administration could have prevented this unfortunate incident." Better policing could have led to a more effective response, but was not responsible for the tide of religious intolerance in which the Staines family was killed. The Commission's disdain for the State Government and its officers is also demonstrated indirectly in its complete dismissal of the evidence relating to Dara Singh's political affiliations provided by State police officers. As a result, the vast majority of the Commission's recommendations are directed at the State Government.
A number of miscellaneous inclusions in the Commission's Report suggest that the Commission's position on the Staines' killings was informed by principles that should not have been considered by an independent commission of inquiry.
For example, while it did not examine any evidence of anti-Christian violence in India at large, the Commission did take the time to interview Umakant Naik, the Chartered Accountant who audited the accounts of Staines' Leprosy Home. The accounts for Staines' charity were produced before the Commission. To what end is unclear. It would seem that the accounts were produced in an effort to address the concerns about foreign funds for missionaries, one of the constant charges against Christians by the Sangh Parivar. The finances of Graham Staines' organisation bear no relevance to the fact of his death, do not assist in finding a motive for the killings or help uncover the culprits. The only possible justification for the investigation is to investigate where Graham Staines' money came from and whether he used it for conversions.
Another strange inclusion is Chapter 12, entitled "Rev. K.A. Paul's visit to Manoharpur." The two-page chapter describes how a wealthy and popular Christian minister visited the site of the crime on 26 February 1999. Apparently Reverend Paul flew to Manoharpur in his helicopter and then by car took four of the witnesses to a prayer meeting in Kakinada. The chapter is unusual in that it adds nothing to one's understanding of the killing of Graham Staines and his sons, nor the subsequent investigation into the crime. On page 199 the Commission concludes that, "It is not understood why Rev. Paul would come to Manoharpur by spending such an amount and then almost whisking away four residents of the village to Kakinada and for whose benefit." The implication is that Christian witnesses to the crime might have colluded or perhaps even been influenced by Reverend Paul.
The Wadhwa Commission Report does make some welcome recommendations.
Its recommendations are:
1. the development of tribals should be accelerated.
2. different religious faiths should be taught in schools to increase religious tolerance and understanding.
3. the National Foundation for Communal Harmony should be made a statutory body.
4. the law and order machinery in Orissa must be strengthened. The transfers of officers should be carefully monitored and police should undergo sensitivity training.
5. there should be an independent inquiry into the filing of the FIR, the arrest of innocent persons and how they should be compensated for their illegal detention.
6. the intelligence gathering machinery must be strengthened.
7. measures should be taken to improve the understanding of the provisions of the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act 1967, and its Rules.
8. the visits of VIPs to crime sites should be curtailed.
9. there should be a Code of Conduct "for political parties when their leaders make statements without verification in a situation like the present one. Leaders cannot make statements merely for gaining political mileage. There statements should be subdued and not to fan the fire when that atmosphere is communally surcharged... Murderer is a murderer to whichever faith he may belong. A criminal is a criminal. Religion need not be brought in such matters. Allow the police to make independent investigation of the crime uninfluenced by politics, religion or caste."
10. the media has to exercise restraint. "News headlines in the cases of rape of nun and murder of a Christian boy and girl after rape have been noticed. One cannot imagine the damage that might have been caused to the polity by such headlines and reporting. Reporting of communal strife should not be done without proper verification or any ordinary crime given a communal twist."
Most of these recommendations are commendable, if safe. However two recommendations are of some concern.
First, Recommendation Nine refers to the leaders of political parties making statements on the religious nature of crimes such as the Staines' killings without verification. This suggestion of itself is acceptable. However the Commission fails to take the recommendation a further step and discuss those leaders of political parties that actively incite and excuse crimes such as these. Certain politicians claiming that the Staines killings' were religiously motivated is benign compared to the leaders of political parties immediately excusing and justifying the crimes on the basis of conversions to Christianity.
Second, Recommendation Ten suggests that the media should exercise restraint in relation to communal incidents. The examples used by the Commission in relation to this recommendation relate to news headlines in the cases of the rape of the nun and the murder of a Christian boy and girl—those instances that the Commission claims were not communal crimes. Not only does the press have a responsibility to report communally-based crimes, but—as is noted by the Government of India in the Action Taken Report—such "restraint" would curtail the freedom of the press to which Indian democracy is committed. The problem arises when—as has been the case in relation to attacks on Christians in some areas—the press in fact spreads mistruths in an effort to incite religious hatred.
It should be noted that the only specific long-term reform recommended by the Commission was the changing of the Foundation for National Communal Harmony into a statutory body. In light of the Commission’s own criticisms of the NCM this recommendation seems odd. India currently has four National Commissions—the National Human Rights Commission, the National Commission for Minorities, the National Commission for Women and the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Tribes. While not suffering from the ineptitude that the Commission alleges against the NCM, these Commissions are not sufficiently effective to carry out their mandates. These existent statutory bodies need to be strenghtened—primarily though the provision of enforcement mechanisms—rather than be added to in number.
The Government of India's Memorandum on Action Taken (the Memorandum) largely accepts the recommendations of the Commission and indicates that action has already been taken towards addressing problems such as the development of tribal areas, religious education and guidelines for political parties. It rejects—rightly—the need for the National Foundation for Communal Harmony to be made a statutory body, on the basis that its primary functioning would not change. Similarly it rejects the recommendation on the curtailment of the press. All of the other recommendations, it is noted, have been forwarded to the State Government of Orissa.
The Memorandum highlights the passages of the Commission’s Report that hold Dara Singh responsible and notes that the investigation and manhunt is ongoing. As the only item under "General Observations" the Memorandum extracts the Commission’s commendation that the Central Government was "extremely co-operative and helpful."
The Justice D.P. Wadhwa Commission of Inquiry failed in both inspiring the confidence of minorities in India and in uncovering the truth about the killings of Graham, Timothy and Philip Staines. The Commission has produced a report that is extremely selective and political in the manner in which it approached evidence placed before it. The selectivity and political bias of the Commission is disclosed most starkly through an examination of the Written Submissions on behalf of Counsel for the Commission.
Even if there is no evidence that Dara Singh was acting on behalf of Bajrang Dal or the BJP on the night of 22 January 1999, there is certainly an abundance of evidence that he was deeply involved in these organisations. The complicity of these organisations could not be disproved by the Commission. As a number of witnesses before the Commission and its own Counsel noted, the involvement of the Sangh Parivar can not be confirmed, or ruled out until Dara Singh is in custody and a full investigation is conducted. Justice Wadhwa did not consider it necessary to wait for such evidence before a blanket absolution of Hindu Fundamentalist organisations.
While some of the Commission's recommendations are welcome, they do not challenge the Indian authorities to better protect minority groups. Indeed the Commission discredits the proposition that there is any real threat to religious tolerance and the security of Christians in India at all. Had the Commission explored the national context of the Staines' killings, such a conclusion would have been unavoidable.
The motivations of Justice D.P. Wadhwa in coming to these conclusions—especially in light of Gopal Subramanium’s submissions—can only be speculated. It possible that the Commission is playing simple party politics by vindicating the Sangh Parivar of the BJP and holding the Congress State Government of Orissa responsible. This view certainly accords with the political fortunes of Home Minister L.K. Advani, the man who initiated the Commission in the first place. It is hoped instead, that Justice Wadhwa sought to diffuse accusations and anger over the killings by holding that Staines was not involved in conversions, and that the Sangh Parivar was not behind his murder. Neither the Christians nor the Hindu Fundamentalists were responsible for the crime—it was Dara Singh, and Dara Singh alone. While the sentiment behind distorting the report to this end is commendable, it is also irresponsible, unconscionable, and contrary to the purpose of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952.
In its report, the Commission seeks to reassure minorities by inferring that the reported anti-Christian campaign is in fact a media beat-up; there is some anti-Christian sentiment, but it is sporadic and personality-driven. Minorities and civil society are simply baffled at the Commission’s wilful blindness. The killing of Graham, Timothy and Philip Staines was brutally real, and came at the nadir of a year of incitement against and attacks upon Christians. Interestingly, the outrage expressed at the Staines’ killings led to a partial halt in Sangh Parivar violence against Christians—adhoc and unorganised groups seemed suddenly to develop a conscience and ceased their attacks. Or received direction from on high. The Report of the Justice D.P. Wadhwa Commission of Inquiry does not aid an understanding of why Graham Staines and his sons died, nor guard against the recurrence of such a tragedy. Its worth lies only in showing the world that the Government of India did something.