Graham, Timothy and Philip Staines – January 1999

Graham, Timothy and Philip Staines

January 1999

Graham's family

Raised in Queensland, Australia, Graham Staines took his medical skills to a leprosy hospital in Odisha state (formerly called Orissa), India. Along with his medical work, Graham participated in evangelistic outreaches in the predominantly Hindu area where he and his wife, Gladys, lived with their three children.

In January 1999, Graham was conducting a five-day, open- air evangelistic outreach. His sons, Timothy, 9, and Philip,7, were with him. One night after Graham and the boys had retired for the night in their station wagon, a group of militant Hindus attacked them, setting fire to the vehicle. Trapped inside the car by the mob, the missionary died holding his boys. Potential rescuers were threatened and warned by the mob to stay away.

The president of India denounced the “barbarous killing” of Graham and his sons. Lepers at the hospital operated by his Evangelical Missionary Society buried the three victims two days after the killings. Gladys and their daughter, Esther, consoled the mourners with their complete trust in God, singing this hymn with them:

There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus

No not one, no not one.

None else could heal all our souls’ diseases,

No not one, no not one.

There is not an hour that He is not near us—

No night so dark, but His love can cheer us.

No not one, no not one.

Later, Gladys told friends and reporters that 10 days before the killings, she had been urged in prayer to give to Jesus all she had. She meditated and then tearfully prayed, “Lord Jesus, yes, I am willing. Take all that I have. I surrender them all to You.”

Gladys remained in India, assisting at the lepers’ hospital, for five more years before returning to Australia for Esther’s studies. She was given a civilian award from the government of India in 2005, prompting protests from Hindu nationalist organizations in the country. The Evangelical Missionary Society continues to operate the leprosarium. Nearly four years after the martyrdom, the leader of the militant Hindus who attacked Graham and his sons was convicted in an Indian court along with 12 others.

Militant Hindus burned Graham Staines’ vehicle while he and his sons were trapped inside.

What’s Behind India’s Persecution?

The 1999 murders of Graham, Timothy and Philip Staines were carried out by a radical Hindu group called Bajrang Dal. As the Australian missionary and his sons burned to death inside their vehicle, members of the group chanted the slogan “Jai Bajrang Dal!” (Victory to Bajrang Dal!).

Bajrang Dal is the youth wing of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (World Council of Hinduism), which is in turn a subgroup of the right-wing paramilitary organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS promotes Hindutva (Hindu-ness) ideology throughout India, advocating for a purely Hindu nation. One of Hindutva’s earliest proponents, Veer Savarkar, is noted for his 1923 nationalist slogan: “One country, one God, one caste, one mind, brothers all of us without difference, without doubt.”

Despite current RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat’s characterization of Hindutva as promoting “unity in diversity,” he continues to insist that everyone living in India is Hindu. “They have the freedom to not call themselves [Hindu],” he said at a 2018 public event in New Delhi, “but they have one national identity. We call it Hindu. Others have forgotten or have been made to forget [that they are Hindu]. But all these people are ours. In our view, together we are a Hindu community.”

One of the RSS’s early leaders, M. S. Golwalkar, commended Nazi Germany for its racial purity campaign and argued that India was synonymous with Hinduism. “So long as the Christians [in India] … consider themselves as agents of the international movement for the spread of Christianity,” he wrote, “and refuse to offer their first loyalty to the land of their birth and behave as true children of the heritage and culture of their ancestors, they will remain here as hostiles and will have to be treated as such.”

Since its founding in 1925, the RSS has been repeatedly banned for its heinous crimes. It was banned in 1948 when an RSS member assassinated Mahatma Gandhi and banned again in the 1970s under the government of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Nevertheless, in 1980 the movement produced a political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and by the 1990s the BJP had gained significant political clout in India’s government.

In 2014, longtime RSS member (since the age of 8) and BJP party member Narendra Modi was elected prime minister of India, and he was reelected in a landslide victory in 2019. Although Prime Minister Modi has publicly stated that his government will not tolerate religious discrimination, his actions prove otherwise. Since his election, RSS membership has increased by 20 percent and RSS informants living in nearly every village routinely report on the activities of Christians and other non-Hindus.

While Hindu persecution of Christians has occurred throughout India’s history, the growth of Hindu nationalism has further legitimized the violence in the eyes of many Hindus. Today, anyone who follows a religion other than Hinduism — and especially anyone who leads others away from Hinduism — is targeted for persecution, often with impunity. Prime Minister Modi’s government has released a Bajrang Dal member accused of violence against non-Hindus, social media is used to report Christian missionary activity, and RSS members continue their “reconversion” ceremonies called Ghar Wapsi (homecoming) to forcibly return Christian Indians to Hinduism.

While Indian Christians love their homeland, they are more loyal to their Savior, Jesus Christ, who redeemed them from their sin and the darkness of Hinduism. And they are willing to risk their lives to bring the eternal hope of Christ to a land that belongs not to the Hindus, but to the one true God they faithfully serve.

Bajrang Dal, a Hindu nationalist youth organization, carries out attacks on pastors and house churches in pursuit of a “pure” Hindu nation. (Photo courtesy of Yonhap News)