Film: The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story (2019)
Director: Aneesh Daniel Running time: 112 minutes
Cast: Stephen Baldwin, Shari Rigby, Sharman Joshy, Aditi Chengappa.
In 1999 the violent death of the Australian missionary Graham Stuart Staines and his sons Philip (10), Timothy (7) in Manoharpur village, Odisha drew worldwide attention and protest and has become typical of the persecution faced by Christian missionaries in India. The murderer Dara Singh, a Bajrang Dal activist, was sentenced to life in prison. Staines with his family lived in Odisha supported by the Evangelical Missionary Society of Mayurbhanj. Years after the event Gladys Staines returned to Odisha with her daughter, visited the murderer and forgave him and continued her husband’s work.
Aneesh Daniel dramatizes the Staines event from the perspective of Manav Banerjee, a highly prejudiced investigative journalist. The major events are covered while staying focused on the essential Christian message of charity and forgiveness. Manav appears as a job hunting journalist. Married and expecting his baby soon, he gets employed as a reporter for newspaper New Orissa. Manav’s editor Mishra has assigned him to investigate Graham Staines and his missionary activities with a plan to implicate Staines in a case of illegal religious conversion. Manav visits the lepers in the remote village where Staines and family live among these destitutes. These lepers are ostracized by their families and expelled from the villages – much like it is described in the Bible.
The journalist is scared of leprosy and fails to understand such selflessness. He approaches it with the popular prejudice that the missionaries are using leprosy care as a pretext for proselytization aimed at undermining Indian society. Repeated attempts to find incriminating evidence fail. Once he gets into trouble with the villagers as he speaks against the local customs. To escape their wrath, Manav cunningly incites them against the missionaries. His words make Mahendra and his fellows to gang together to murder Staines and his two boys while sleeping in their wagon near a forest station.
Even during the time of the mourning their horrendous death, Manav snoops around for evidence to report that the violence was incited by Staines. In the midst of her suffering, Gladys Staines’ act of forgiving the murderer of her family is a turning point. Manav has a change of heart. He recognizes his mistake regarding Staines’s intentions and is compelled to shed his prejudice against them. He confesses to Gladys about his act of incitement. But his attempt to persuade his editor Mishra to publish the truth meets with failure. Undeterred, Manav publishes it in a national paper exposing the lies propagated by New Orissa. He also realizes that the healed leper Babulal Mishra, whom he had tried to project as a case of illegal conversion, had never been converted. Babulal is revealed as Editor Mishra’s father, who had been expelled from his community and ritually cremated long ago. Manav returns to serve the lepers along with Gladys Staines and her daughter.
Prof. Gigy Joseph Koottummel
Prof. Gigy Joseph Koottummel was Head of the Department of English SB College, Changanacherry. After three decades of teaching English Language and Literature he worked as Principal of a College. He did his doctoral work on Narratology. He is a sought after writer, translator, columnist and actor-director of Shakespeare productions.