Once Again Stan

‘A Caged Bird Can Still Sing’

J Felix Raj

Stan’s tragic death in custody is rightly termed as a case of judicial murder. He was falsely branded as Maoist and condemned by vested interests. He was part of the Jharkhand Organi-sation against Uranium Radiation (JOAR), campaign against the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd. He organised and supported the Adivasis in their battle for their own lands.

The entire country is in a state of disbelief and shock at the unfortunate passing away of a Jesuit religious priest committed to the cause of tribal development. His bail petition was rejected many times and this proves the inherent weakness of a section of the judiciary. His lawyers sought his bail on humanitarian grounds and as per the recommen-dations of the committee appointed by the Supreme Court to release prisoners in view of COVID 19 pandemic. But the NIA opposed the bail saying that Fr Swamy was taking undue advantage of the COVID outbreak.

A bench of Justices S S Shinde and NJ Jamadar of Bombay High Court said, “We record with heavy heart that Dr Ian Dsouza, medical director of Holy Family Hospital informed us that Stan Swamy passed away at 1.24 pm today.” Dr Dsouza said the cause of the death was pulmonary infection, Parkinson's disease and post Covid-19 complications. Fr Stan was the oldest person to be accused of terrorism in India. He was an octogenarian who deserved to be treated compassio-nately on grounds of his advanced age and health.

“What is my crime? Is standing for and with the poor tribal people and their rights a crime? Is giving voice to the voiceless masses a crime? Fr Stan had said after his arrest in Ranchi. Fr Stan Swamy is the 16th person to be arrested in the case, in which people have been booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and the anti-terror law UAPA. The NIA had been interrogating him and had questioned him for 15 hours during a span of five days before the arrest.

Looking at the shameful way this senior Jesuit priest has been arrested, this writer finds himself failing to repeat the words of Christ on the Cross: “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” The arrest is politically motivated. As a true Jesuit who follows Christ, Fr Stan Swamy is sharing in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of justice and truth.

A number of times he was a resource person for various student programmes in colleges. He had a tremendous impact on students through the rich content of his inputs and also through his simple and unassuming life-style.

As Jawhar Sircar has tweeted, 'What terrible act did this ailing octogenarian Jesuit priest do to be led to die like this? Have Indian State and a section of the Judiciary become so inhuman? Who else will take responsibility but the State?’

‘A caged bird can still sing,’ Fr Stan Swamy wrote from the jail some months ago. Fr Swamy belonged to the Jesuit province of Jamshedpur. He had been working through various civil rights organisations for over 50 years and was based out of Ranchi.

‘Can neither walk, write nor eat. Taloja Jail has brought me to this Situation’, Fr Stan Swamy told the Court. Father Swamy was presented on Friday, May 21, before the Bombay High Court from Taloja Jail via video-conferencing.

Fr Swamy told the Court, he would rather ‘suffer and possibly die’ than get treatment at a state-run hospital in Mumbai. ‘I have suffered much while in prison’.

‘I was brought here eight months ago. When I came to Taloja, my whole system, my body was still very functional. But during these eight months, I have gone through a steady regression of all bodily functions’, Fr Swamy said.

“...What is happening to me is not something unique; it is a broader process taking place all over the country. We all are aware how prominent intellectuals, lawyers, writers, poets, activists, student leaders are put in jail because they have expressed their dissent or raised questions about the ruling powers of India,” Fr Stan Swamy has asserted in a video message.

Fr Stan Swamy said he was part of the process and, in a way, happy to be so because he was not a “silent spectator”. “I am ready to pay the price, whatever be it,” he said.

Fr Stan Swamy has often raised his voice against alleged police excesses in Jharkhand, and what he describes as the government’s failure to properly implement the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution in the state.
The Fifth Schedule stipulates that a “Tribes Advisory Council (TAC)”, composed solely of members from the Adivasi community, advise governors of tribal-inhabited states on their well-being and development.

Fr Stan Swamy has claimed that none of the governors—the discretionary heads of these councils—has ever reached out to the Adivasis to understand and work on their problems.

He has also taken exception to how the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), 1996, has been “neatly ignored” and “deliberately… left unimplemented in all the nine states” with a tribal population.
The Act, according to him, was the first to recognise the fact that the Adivasi communities in India have had a rich social and cultural tradition of self-governance through the gram sabha.

In 2017, he mobilised the Adivasis to fight for the rights granted to them under PESA, and this led to the Pathalgadi movement. Fr Stan Swamy and many others were booked for alleged sedition for the movement under the state’s erstwhile BJP government, but the cases have been revoked under the current JMM-Congress dispensation.

Fr Stan Swamy has also been a vocal advocate for the release of undertrials. He says they have been unfairly lodged in jails and labelled Maoists. In 2010, he published a book about this, titled ‘Jail Mein Band QaidiyonkaSach’ (The truth of undertrials).”

In the book, he states that the family income of the youths arrested was less than Rs 5,000 in 97 per cent of the cases, and they could not afford lawyers to represent them. He claimed 98 per cent of those arrested were falsely implicated and had no links to the Naxalite movement.

Fr Stan Swamy has sought to represent those who are yet to get rights to land under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, which seeks to recognise forest-dwelling communities’ claim to land they have inhabited for generations.

In a September 2018 interview to Caravan magazine, he alleged that those who raised questions were being termed anti-national.

“If you take up these issues, these are the things you have to face. The mahaul (current environment) in Jharkhand, adjoining states, and the country is that if you raise questions and find facts, you are anti-development. If you are anti-development, you are anti-government. If you are anti-government, you are anti-national. That is the logic being followed here,” he said.

There must be international uproar against such violation of human rights. The massive protests against police brutality of George Floyd across the world in May 2020 are still fresh in people’s minds. Floyd's daughter rightly said, 'Daddy changed the world’.

Fr. Stan Swamy had been in custody in Taloja prison for the past nine months in connection with the 2018 Bhima Koregaon case. The 84-year-old activist’s health had deteriorated and the Jesuits had recently appealed to the Maharashtra government seeking medical attention for Fr. Swamy.

Fr Swamy was arrested on October 8, 2020 by the National Investigation Agency from Ranchi, Jharkhand, and taken to Mumbai the next day. He suffered from multiple ailments and had fallen down in the jail several times.
For the past few months, Fr. Swamy was not keeping good health. He was being constantly shifted from the jail to the JJ Hospital and back. Some of the ailments reported include the imbalance of limbs, lumbosacral degeneration and some degree of hearing loss. Urgent surgical assistance was recommended for the hearing loss and physical assistance owing to his general weakness. Pursuant to the Court’s 19th May order, Fr Swamy was shifted to the Holy Family Hospital where he breathed his last.

It is time now for all academicians, thinkers, philosophers, theologians and the like to come out openly and speak out against the arrest of activists and acts of injustice.

What German Bishop Niemoler said about the situation under Hitler may have a parallel in today’s India: “When Nazis put communists in the concentration camp, I did not protest because I was not a communist; when they persecuted the social democrats, I did not protest because I was not a social democrat; when they massacred the Jews, I did not protest because I was not a Jew; When they banned all political parties and trade unions, I did not protest because I was not one of them; when they came for me, there was no one to speak for me.”

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Vol. 54, No. 10, Sep 5 - 11, 2021