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Wednesday, January 27, 1999 Published at 23:09 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Missionary widow continues leprosy work

Mrs Staines and daughter Esther at the funeral

The widow of an Australian missionary murdered by a Hindu mob has vowed to remain in India and continue her husband's work among lepers.

Gladys Staines also denied that her husband Graham was involved in attempts to forcibly convert local tribes people in the state of Orissa.

[ image: The mob stopped Mr Staines fleeing the blazing jeep]
The mob stopped Mr Staines fleeing the blazing jeep
Mr Staines, 58, and the couple's two young sons were burned to death at the weekend when a mob set fire to the jeep in which they were sleeping.

More than 50 people have so far been arrested for the murders in the remote village of Monoharpur where Mr Staines was attending a Bible reading.

The missionary had worked in India for more than 30 years. His wife has already forgiven the killers.

Police have blamed the Hindu extremist group, Bajrang Dal, and launched a manhunt for a key activist Dara Singh, who they believe masterminded the attack.

'Leprosy work was a cover'

[ image: Mr Kishore says leprosy work was a cover]
Mr Kishore says leprosy work was a cover
But on Wednesday the influential Hindu group, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which is allied to the Bajrang Dal, strongly denied either organisation was involved in the attack.

It also alleged Mr Staines had provoked the mob by brandishing a gun and said there was no leprosy in the area.

VHP vice president Acharya Giriraj Kishore said the evangelist had angered the local Santhal tribe by holding forest camps that brought together young men and women to "eat, drink and be merry."

"Leprosy was a cover, there are no leprosy patients in that area,'' he added.

'India is my home'

But Mrs Staines said any implication of illicit missionary activity was nonsense.

''My husband was not involved in conversion. My husband never baptized a single person.

''He was involved in caring for those leprosy sufferers, giving them some hope, giving them some love, which from the general society they were getting very little of.''

Mrs Staines said she would stay in India to continue her husband's work.

"Returning to Australia is out of the question," she said. "India is my home. I intend to carry on my husband's work of serving the poor and the ill here."

Mrs Staines married her husband in 1984 and the couple had three children. She speaks the local language and dresses like an Indian, as her husband did.

Some 10,000 people gathered for the funeral procession on Sunday in Baripada where the family worked with lepers and tribal people.

Attacks on India's Christian community, which accounts for less than 3% of the population, have been on the increase since Christmas.

Hindu activists accuse Christian missionaries of converting the poor by force, but Christians say they are only providing charity to the poor.

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