By Swami Agnivesh
The massacre of Dr Graham Staines and his two little sons in Manoharpur has justly pricked the conscience of the nation. Very few events in recent history have evoked such strong, spontaneous and universal indignation as this inhuman deed has. The reason for this lies mainly in the way Mrs Staines and her daughter have coped with this unspeakable tragedy. It is important that this inspiring aspect of what is otherwise a gloomy event should not be lost.
Long after the sensational elements of this event subsides; we will still continue to be challenged by Mrs Gladys Staines' spiritual stature as revealed through her response. Though wounded in her soul by the barbarity inflicted on her dear husband and darling children, she refused to allow her mind to be tainted by hate. She was quick to forgive her husband's killers. Her prayer was that the love of God that inspired her husband may touch their hearts also. She had the spiritual magnanimity to recognise that those who become mad with hate are also children of God, and that they too deserve forgiveness. Her 13-year old daughter, Esther, thanked God for her father's love for the people he treated -- people afflicted with leprosy -- and for finding him worthy to die for Christ. Can responses such as these fail to melt even the most hardened hearts?
It speaks volumes of the greatness of Gladys because even after such a terrible trauma, she is keen to stay on and continue the work of her husband, rather than returning to the safe and comfortable life in Australia. It is a mark of the Staines family's total identification with the local people that they can even speak Santhali. What a refreshing contrast to the ways of our elite who are eager to leave this country for greener pastures and who stash away their wealth in foreign banks. Unlike the Staines family they show a disdain towards local languages. And it is next to impossible that they would allow their children to play with the children of patients of leprosy.
So it is not surprising that people all over the country cutting across barriers, recognised this as the finest moment of true spirituality. To the Staines family, this spirituality was exemplified in the life and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But for others, the same spirit is integral to their core spiritual religious traditions.
As an Arya Samajist, I am inspired by the glorious examples of Swami Dayanand Saraswati. Instigated by the Hindu upper caste, a cook poisoned Swamiji's food, after various attempts on his life had failed. When Swamiji realised that he was going to die, he called for the cook who was the caste conspirators' hate-agent. When the misguided man confessed his part in the plot, Swamiji in his great magnanimity not only forgave him, but also gave him the money he needed to escape to Nepal so that his life could be spared. A killer is one who does not care for the life of others. The saint, in contrast, values the life of others, even of his own would-be assassins, more than his own. That is why our world needs saints more than killers. It was such a confluence of compassion that Manoharpur witnessed. The true essence of spirituality is the uncompromising commitment to love and service even at the cost of one's own life. In comparison, the courage to kill, hurt and destroy is cheap; an embarrassment to the religion for whose sake it is apparently practiced. It is an insult to all that we love and cherish in this world.
The ascendancy of hate and the corresponding atrophy of compassion betray the weakness rather than strength of a religion. The killers of Swami Dayanand were caste Hindus, not Muslims or Christians, even though Swamiji was as outspoken about their religions as he was of the aberrations within the Hindu fold. Bapuji too was consumed by the fire of high caste hate. What a pity that we fight missionaries and put up with armies of caste atrocities like the Ranvir Sena, despite repeated massacres amounting to genocide.
Essence of Faith
It is through people like Mrs Staines that a religion finds its true expression. Those of us who love and respect our religions will not fail to derive inspiration from this challenging example. But that is not enough. We also need to exert moral pressure on the stockiest and retailers of our religions. This country is sick and tired of the violence, injustice, oppression and fraud practiced in the name of religion. No religious establishment in the Indian context is blameless in this respect.
From a national perspective, the most immediate and important need is not to convert people from one religion to another, but to challenge all religious communities to be true to the essence of their faiths. Reforming and transforming one's faith, rather than converting people of other faiths, is the need of the hour. The spiritual destiny of India will be fulfilled only when we realise that God is not an idol of our vested interests, but a cry of truth and justice breaking out of a heart of sacrificial love.