I am deeply saddened by happenings in Orissa: Gladys Staines (Interview)

August 27th, 2008 - 6:04 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Aug 27 (IANS) She lost her husband and sons to a mob that torched them while they were sleeping in their vehicle in India’s Orissa state. Almost a decade later, Gladys Staines, the widow of Australian missionary Graham Staines, says she is “deeply saddened” as sectarian violence again grips the state that will forever be close to her heart.“Hopefully, people will learn to respect each other and live in communal harmony across the religious divide. I pray that the government is able to bring peace to the region,” said Gladys, who now lives with her daughter in North Queensland.

“I am deeply saddened by the news of the recent happenings in Orissa, a place which will forever be close to my heart,” Gladys told IANS in an exclusive interview.

At least 11 people have been killed in the eastern Indian state this week after mobs thirsting for revenge for the murder of a leader of the rightwing Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) went on the rampage.

These included a woman killed when an orphanage was burnt and a paralytic patient torched alive. Most of the deaths were in the volatile Kandhamal region.

It was an eerie recall to Jan 22, 1999, when Graham Staines and their two sons, 10-year-old Philip and six-year-old Timothy, were burnt alive by Hindu radical mobs in their vehicle in Keonjhar district.

Four years since Gladys returned to her native land of sunshine and beaches, she is only now beginning to feel settled as her heart remains embedded thousands of miles away in India, where she spent over 20 years of her life.

She is in regular touch with the staff at the Mayurbhanj Leprosy Home and the Graham Staines Memorial Hospital in Orissa.

“I was in Orissa during May this year. It was like a homecoming. I spent 10 days, wish it was longer, enveloped in the warmth of the people who still affectionately address me as `didi’.”

Gladys, who has always believed that “forgiving helps in the healing process”, contemplated for a moment when asked when asked about what must we do to stop this present cycles of killings across the world: “We need to learn to love and respect one another even if some are different to what we are.

“Certainly, god has helped me to forgive. He has created each one of us and he doesn’t want us to be killing each other. Unless we give up the bitterness and prejudices, the cycle of violence will never end.”

In December last year, Gladys had expressed her concerns about increasing sectarian tension in Orissa, where Hindus and Christians have often clashed, in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The prime minister had assured her in a written reply: “The government will take all necessary steps to safeguard the fundamental rights and liberties of all sections of our society and protect their religious freedom. We will not tolerate any efforts aimed at disturbing the communal harmony or secular fabric of our country.”

Gladys also feels that the media can flare or calm a situation.

“Responsible reporting of unadulterated truth can go a long way in calming sectarian tensions, but at the same time sensationalising facts can flare up a situation.”

Will Gladys return to live in India or only make regular visits is something she hasn’t pondered upon yet? For now, she has regained her Australian nursing registration and plans to devote herself to caring for the sick in a hospital.

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