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August 7, 1999
In Manoharpur, Graham Staines is just a distant memory
Bibhuti Mishra in Bhubaneshwar
An early morning shower had left the village main street sodden and an overcast sky gave the place a rather gloomy and sleepy look. It was difficult to believe that this nondescript and peaceful village of Manoharpur had witnessed one of the most ghastly crimes in recent years -- the Graham Staines murder -- just a little over six months ago on January 22.
The Wadhwa Commission that probed into the gruesome murder of the Australian missionary had submitted its report to the central government, which made it public only on Thursday. The people of Manoharpur, however, are unaware of the report.
I search out Thakurdas Murmu the sarpanch who too had deposed before the Commission. "I don't know what Wadhwa saheb has said but we've heard that Dara Singh has been found to be the main criminal. All the aides of Dara in the surrounding villages have gone underground,'' Murmu said.
By now innocent-looking tribals have gathered around this correspondent in front of the ramshackle church that was also the site of the crime. I manage to identify one eyewitness, Raghunath Dehuri, who says, "We had heard cries of 'Jai Bajrangbali' but how can we say whether those who shouting the slogans were from any organisation?"
On queried whether Dara and associates worked for any religious organisation, Pradeep Mishra, a bank manager in Konjhar, is evasive. Instead he digresses on the Commission's report on Staines' character: ''Who says he was a good man? Ask any local person. There was forcible conversion and Dara is popular and yet to be nabbed because the local people shield him for fighting such conversion," he fumes.
Interestingly, John Mathai of the Baptist Union Church whom I met in Baripada totally agrees with the Commission's report of giving a clean chit to the Hindu outfits. "We never blamed any outfit. Even Gladys (who is away in Australia) did not blame any organisation. All of us are quite satisfied with the report," he assures me.
When asked about his deposition before the commission, where he had said that he had been threatened many times for conversions, Mathai said, "I said about threats but I did not blame any particular organisation. It could well be the work of fringe elements."
Most of the Christians in this town where Graham Staines had settled agree with Mathai. Another key witness S K Mohanty, a police inspector, says, "Dara has a proven criminal record and he might be working without any specific backup though he had worked for various parties and outfits at different times."
The proverbial shortness of public memory was manifest when most people in Baripada showed total indifference to the Staines murder case that had rocked the nation only in January.
Samuel Sahu, a converted Christian working in a local school, echoes the feelings of the people here when he says, "People are hardly bothered about the communal angle. This report about which we read in the papers is more an indictment of the Congress and the state government's failure. It is anti-Congress rather than anti-Hindu as the Congress hoped it would be."
Ajit K Tripathy, the home secretary, when asked about the strictures passed by the Commission on the state administration and the police force, said, "I had deposed before the Commission regarding the transfers of superintendents of police. But the Director General of Police had admitted intelligence failure. We are yet to receive the details of the Commission's report, about the First Information Report being doctored and all that. We will take suitable action when we get the details."
However, he admitted that the strictures show the Orissa police in a poor light and that the government would have to take steps to ensure that such events don't recur.
In Bhubaneswar people react to the Wadhwa report as yet another embarrassment for the Congress and an indirect victory for the BJP and while the entire issue gets politicised, there is little trace of any sympathy for the Staines family or concern about Dara still being at large. Mathai Marandi in Manoharpur sums it up nicely without meaning to do so when he says, crestfallen, "Now Dara will never be found."
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