India `stalling inquiry' into Christian deaths

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The Independent Online
ALMOST TWO months after an Australian missionary, Graham Staines, and his two young sons were burned to death in the east Indian state of Orissa, the Supreme Court judge appointed by the government to investigate the atrocity has complained the authorities are preventing him doing his job.

Mr Staines, who worked among lepers in Orissa for 30 years, was surrounded in his vehicle by a mob, allegedly whipped up by a member of Bajrang Dal, an extreme Hindu nationalist fringe organisation, on the night of 22 January. He and his sons, Philip and Timothy, tried to escape from the vehicle but were forced inside and it was set on fire.

Three central-government ministers were sent to the remote tribal village, and one of them, the Defence Minister, George Fernandes, promised that the commission of inquiry to be set up to investigate would get to the bottom of the crime. The commission was set up on 27 January, headed by a supreme court judge, Justice Devener Pratap Wadwha.

But on Monday he and his team met the Indian press to explain, in the words of one of them, "Why, in spite of six weeks having passed ... no substantial progress has been achieved." The judge asked: "Is the government serious that we should conduct this commission?" The premises provided by the government were three rooms that could not be used, as they were a dump for old furniture. Other rooms were monopolised by the secretariat set up to celebrate India's 50th anniversary of independence. That finished last year but the minister in charge - by coincidence, perhaps, one of the three dispatched to Orissa, Murli Manohar Joshi, a hard- line Hindu nationalist - decided unilaterally that the work of the secretariat should continue for another couple of years so they could celebrate the 50th anniversary of India's becoming a republic too.

"The government has failed to provide the necessary infrastructure," Mr Justice Wadwha said, adding "Further proceedings will only be conducted after the infrastructure is provided." The commission has not been permitted to hire a secretary or other staff. One police office has been provided to assist with the inquiry, although four were promised.

The commission counsel, Gopal Subramaniam, added: "There has been no adequate or serious attempt on the part of the government to appreciate the keenness, sincerity and intensity with which the commission wished to proceed."