| Gladys Staines with daughter Esther in Calcutta on Thursday. Picture by Amit Datta
July15: Gladys Staines left India today, but with a promise to be “back again”.
Widow of slain Australian missionary Graham Staines, Gladys today left for her native country Australia along with daughter Esther, who wants to study there to be a doctor and “serve people” like her parents.
In January 1999, Graham Staines and his sons Philip and Timothy were burnt alive by Dara Singh and his dozen accomplices while they were asleep in their station wagon at Manoharpur village in Orissa’ s Keonjhar district.
Dara was sentenced to death by a CBI-designated court in Bhubaneswar in September last year.
Gladys has been running the Leprosy Mission of India started by her late husband at the Mayurbhanj Leprosy Hospital for the last five years.
Standing in front of friend Margaret Roxburgh’s house in Salt Lake’s Sector II this afternoon, Gladys said: “I am going (to Australia) for personal reasons…. When my daughter finished her plus-two, she requested me to come with her to Australia. She has spent years in boarding school… lost her father and brothers here… and I need to spend some time with her and to make a home for her.”
Dressed in a pink and white printed cotton salwar kameez, Gladys said: “My father is 91 years of age and not doing too well. Moreover, I am feeling very tired, I need some time to refresh and reflect.”
Her daughter Esther was by her side, holding her hand. “I have nothing against India, I love India and the people here,” a smiling Gladys said.
She was, however, unwilling to say when she would return. Gladys, who had been staying on a special visa, has applied for renewal of her visa, which is set to expire in 2005.
Gladys will spend her time in Australia reflecting on the past. “Maybe I’ll write a book…. So many things have happened in the last five years, maybe it’ll be about my family, and I need to put it down to keep the record straight,” she said.
A trained nurse, Gladys had earlier indicated she did not want to leave the country without fulfilling her late husband’s dream of a 40-bed reconstructive surgery hospital for leprosy patients on the outskirts of Baripada town.
The Graham Staines Memorial Hospital was inaugurated last week with a 10-bed outpatient department near her home to cater to the women and children of Baripada. “I have left it in very good hands. Everything will continue like before…,” Gladys said.
Gladys has stated publicly that she has forgiven Dara and other accused in the murder of her husband and sons. “When we do wrong, we have to face the consequences. If a child does something wrong and says, ‘mummy, I am sorry’, we still take some disciplinary action.… I have forgiven him, but that doesn’t mean the consequences should not be carried forward,” she said today.
Esther, however, is not sure about her future ties with India. The Calcutta-born said she might visit the country but does not quite know whether she wants to stay for a long time. She does want to serve the poor, but that could be in some other country as well, she added.
While Gladys is away, the leprosy home will be run by a team of doctors from Tamil Nadu.