The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

India honours missionary's widow

The Indian government has conferred top civilian honours on two foreigners in its Republic Day honours list.

Gladys Staines, the widow of a murdered Australian missionary, was given the Padma Shri award for social work.

Mrs Staines' husband Graham and their two sons were burned alive by a mob in India in 1999. The couple had worked to help leprosy patients in Orissa state.

Former BBC India correspondent Sir Mark Tully was honoured, with the Padma Bhushan for services to journalism.

A total of 96 people were honoured to mark the 56th Republic Day celebrations.

Among the Indian nationals honoured are Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, India's only medal winner in the 2004 Olympic Games, Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan and test cricketer Anil Kumble.

'Humbling'

Mrs Staines, 54, said she was "absolutely overwhelmed and stunned by the news".

She said: "I am feeling very humbled at the same time. It's a rare honour and a humbling experience."

Mrs Staines stayed on in India after the death of her husband and sons, Philip, 10, and Timothy, eight, to oversee the completion of a hospital for leprosy patients in the eastern state of Orissa.

Mr Staines worked for 30 years helping the patients and his wife for 20.

She left for Australia in July last year, a week after inaugurating the hospital named after her husband, saying she was tired and needed to rest.

In 2003, a court sentenced one man to death and 12 others to life imprisonment over the killings.

The Staines died when the jeep they were sleeping in was torched outside a church in the remote village of Manoharpur in Orissa in January 1999.

Sir Mark told the BBC News website that his honour symbolised "the openheartedness of a nation which is prepared to confer such an honour on a foreigner and the generosity of Indians who have always made me feel at home here".

Sir Mark, the BBC's India correspondent for more than 20 years, said the award was also a tribute to all those who had upheld the standing of the BBC in India.

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