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World - Asia/Pacific

Christian missionary, young sons burned to death in India

Hindu militants being held in attack

January 23, 1999
Web posted at: 6:04 p.m. EST (2304 GMT)

MANOHARPUR, India (CNN) -- Five militant Hindus have been arrested for allegedly burning to death an Australian Christian missionary and his two young sons as they slept in their vehicle early Saturday morning.

Graham Stewart Stains, 58, secretary of the New Delhi-based Evangelical Missionary Society, and his sons, Philip, 10, and Timothy, 8, died after a crowd of more than 30 people doused their vehicle with kerosene and set it ablaze outside a makeshift church in the town of Manoharpur in the eastern state of Orissa, according to police and witnesses.

Stains' sons had come to India from Australia for a vacation. The missionary had arrived from a neighboring town, Baripada, to attend a meeting at the church. His wife and daughter had stayed in Baripada.

Police arrested five members of the Bajrang Dal, a militant group affiliated with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP.) The group has been blamed in the past for Hindu-Muslim clashes that killed 2,000 people. Police were seeking other suspects.

Prime minister condemns attack

Police Inspector-General Binay Beheera said the militants, armed with bows and arrows, attacked the vehicle after warning residents of the village, which is one-third Christian, not to try to intervene, according to The Press Trust of India. People who tried to help Stains and his sons were beaten, PTI said.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, leader of the BJP, condemned the attack and called for speedy punishment of those responsible, as did the party's vice president, J.P. Mathur.

"This ghastly incident is condemnable. Both the (national) and the state government should immediately take proper steps to nab the culprit," Mathur said.

In the past month, two fringe Hindu groups -- the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad -- have been liked to attacks on a dozen churches in the western state of Gujarat, which were seen as protests over conversion of poor, often illiterate Indians to Christianity. No one has claimed responsibility for those attacks.

India has about 23 million Christians, less than 3 percent of the population, while more than 80 percent of India's 960 million people are Hindu. Most Christians live in four southern states, where religious strife is rare.

Stains, a native of Beaudesert, outside Brisbane, had been working with leprosy patients in India for 34 years, said his wife, Gladys.

"We've not had any problems all these years," she said. Neither the family nor the church had received any threats.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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