Father Stan Swamy Passes Away at 84

Introduction

Father Stan Swamy, a tribal rights activist and a political prisoner, an accused in the Bhima Koregaon caste violence case, passed away on 5th July 2021 at 1:24 pm. The medical director of the Holy Family Hospital, where Fr. Swamy was admitted said that Fr. Stan had a pulmonary infection after his COVID-19 complications in the lungs and pneumonia. He suffered from a cardiac arrest on July 4, 2021, at 4:30 am, he was put on a ventilator at that time but did not regain consciousness after. He also had Parkinson’s disease. He had told the court on May 21, 2021, that he was eating less and less, and his co-accused were worried about him, and that he would prefer to suffer and die like that in jail than being admitted to the hospital. And he requested for the judiciary to consider an interim bail. He passed away when the Bombay High court was hearing his interim bail plea.

About him

He was a native of Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu. He was born on 26 April 1937 and was an Indian Roman Catholic priest, member of the Jesuit order. He was known for his work with tribal people and for fighting for their rights, especially in Jharkhand. He studied theology and Masters in Sociology in the Philippines in the 1970s. He was influenced by the work of the Brazilian Catholic Archbishop Helder Camara with poor people. He was also the former Director of the Jesuit-run Indian Social Institute in Bangalore.

His work

He was a tribal rights activist in Jharkhand. He had worked in the state for almost three decades for the Adivasi communities on issues of land, forest, and labour rights. He is well known for questioning the non-implementation of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution about “Provisions as to the Administration and Control of Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes”. This schedule had the provision of setting up a Tribes Advisory Council with members only of the Adivasi community for their protection, well-being, and their development in the state. He also filed a Public Interest Petition against the state in the High Court asking for all young adivasis who had been labelled as “Naxals” indiscriminately to be released on a personal bond and to conduct a speedy trial. He said that his expressing dissent against the government’s policies must be why they are eager to put him out of the way.

Allegations against him

The National Investigation Agency arrested Fr. Swamy on October 7, 2020; he was sent to judicial custody till October 23. His residence was searched by the NIA, claiming that he had links to the Maoist forces. In his chargesheet, it was claimed that he was a CPI (Maoist) and was active in their activities It also claimed that he received funds from other cadres. The NIA claimed that he was a convener of Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee (PPSC) which is assumed to be the frontal organisation of CPI (Maoists). The NIA said that it recovered incriminating documents, propaganda, and literature from him but Fr. Swamy said that these extracts were fabricated and he did not own any of them. He also said that what was happening to him is not unique as many other activists and journalists end up being the target of the country because of expressing their dissent.

The case he was charged under

The accused of the case named Elgar Parishad/ Bhima Koregaon are alleged to have links with the banned CPI (Maoists). The arrests for this case were made in 2018. On January 1, 2018, a huge number of Dalits gathered near Pune to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon which was fought by a huge number of Dalit soldiers against the Peshwas in 1818 but was won by the British army. During this gathering, there was violence where the people who were assembled were assaulted and their vehicles were burnt. But on January 8, another FIR was filed which claimed that this violence was a result of another gathering which was held on December 31, 2017, called Elgar Parishad. The Pune police then arrested activists claiming that this gathering was a part of the Maoist activity.

Conclusion

Fr. Stan Swamy had written a letter from inside the prison where he said that many of the people in there don’t even know what they are charged for and that they are just sitting stuck in there with no legal help at all and that he would help them as well. The least that is expected is for the prisoners to know what they are charged for and it is their fundamental right to be able to defend their charges. Fr. Swamy was a tribal activist worth remembering for all his hard and dedicated work.

References