Interrogation by NIA

‘I Am Not A Silent Spectator’

(An Autobiographical Fragment, Memory And Reflection)

Stan Swamy

[The Centre forced the Maharashtra Government in January 2020 to hand-over the Bhima-Koregaon case to the National Investigation Agency [NIA]. The NIA has been interrogating more and more concerned citizens in various parts of the country. The NIA interrogated Stan Swamy for 15 hours in total. We publish below some excerpts from chapter 12 of Stan Swamy’s book ‘I Am Not A Silent Spectator’, published by Indian Social Institute, Bangalore’.]

27 July, Monday for 2 Hours (Day 1 of Actual Interrogation)

Interrogator: I would like to have your bio-data, from beginning up to now.

Stan: I gave a brief narrative, starting from the place of my birth, early education, college studies and my entrance into the Society of Jesus, in 1957.

Int: Please tell me what all studies and in which universities you have done?

Stan: I had done my post graduate studies in sociology at the Ateneo De Manila University in the Philippines. Then, I had also done some special studies in social analysis in Louvain University, Belgium.

Int: When did you start your social involvement?

Stan: My social involvement started from 1975, when I worked at the Indian Social Institute, Bangalore, which is a social centre for social activists who were involved in their respective communities.

Most of those who came for the training were from the deprived sections of society, namely, Dalits and Adivasis. In 1990 or 1991, I reached Jharkhand and I was asked to revive a social organisation, by name JOHAR, which was founded in 1989, but had then become inactive during the course of time. By 1995, JOHAR became active again and I worked for five years with some committed Adivasi youth, taking up different issues of the Adivasi people who have been facing issues such as, displacement by mining companies and a host of other exploitative forces. Jharkhand became a separate state in the year 2000 and some of the leaders and the intellectuals felt the need that we should have a centre at the state capital Ranchi. Thus, originated the idea of Bagaicha and I have been here up to now.

Int: Which all countries you have been to and for what purpose?

Stan: I have been to Belgium to participate in a conference. I have been to Philippines to attend some conventions. All these meetings were focused on, to understand what was happening in the so-called ‘third world’, economically and politically.

Int: What do you know about Naxal movement?

Stan: I am a trained sociologist. Hence, I have been keenly observing the Naxal movement. I know about its origin, growth and the present situation as a social scientist. However, I differ from the Naxalite ideology and do not agree with its methodology and therefore, I have nothing to do with it.

Int: What about Operation Green Hunt?

Stan: It was a policy of an erstwhile government, which in the name of containing Naxalism, indiscriminately threw into jails, large numbers of innocent young men and women. Majority of those killed/imprisoned were Adivasis. There were large-scale protests against it, all over the country.

Int: What about Jammu-Kashmir?

Stan: I know it as a vexing issue but did not/do not have any relation to it. I have nothing to do with Jammu-Kashmir issue.

Int: What relationship do you have with those who are accused on the Bhima-Koregaon case?

Stan: I know some of them personally and others I know through the media and their writings.

Int: Do you know Sudha Bhardwaj?

Stan: Yes, I know her in the context of the research on under-trials and later when I was pursuing legal action to help the under-trials and formation of Persecuted Prisoners’ Solidarity Committee (PPSC), that I undertook.

Int: What about Saibaba?

Stan: I have seen and heard Prof. Saibaba only at a meeting in Ranchi organised on the issue of displacement many years ago. As I have been engaged with the issue of displacement, I went for the meeting and participated like any other interested person on displacement issue. The meeting took place long ago and I am not able to recall the date of the meeting now.

Int: Do you know Nandini Sundar?

Stan: Yes, I know her, and I know her personally. She is a scholar and professor at Delhi University. What attracted me to her was her strenuous and persevering efforts to get justice for Adivasis of Bastar district in Chhattisgarh. In my view, Salwa Judum had wreaked havoc to the Gonds and other Adivasis, wherein not only the Adivasi communities were divided but put them one against the other. About 600 adivasi villages were burned down and people had to flee for their life. Nandini Sundar studied the whole situation and filed a case against the then Chhattisgarh government in the Supreme Court. Finally, the Supreme Court issued an order disbanding Salwa Judum and ordering the state government to rehabilitate Adivasis. Sometime later, Prof. Nandini Sundar had come to Ranchi and I had an opportunity to meet her.

Int: Who is Partho?

Stan: Partho is a scientist in Kolkata. He is doing research on medicine for cancer. He is also a committed member of PPSC. When he heard about my appeal to help out the under-trial prisoners, he also turned up for the meeting.

28 July, Tuesday, Five Hours

Int: Tell me about Persecuted Prisoners’ Solidarity Committee (PPSC)?

Stan: During 2014-15, indiscriminate arrests, of mostly Adivasi and Dalit youth, were taking place. We realized this was the case in all the tribal dominant states of central India. I called on whoever I knew being involved for people’s rights to come, so that we could reflect on the nature of the intervention we needed to initiate. The response was good, especially from lawyers. We decided to form a common forum by name, ‘Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee’ (PPSC), so that we could intervene judicially, on behalf of Under-Trial Prisoners (UTPs), seeking immediate bail and speed up trial. The group asked me to be the convener of this forum. Soon thereafter, based on the findings of our study of UTPs in Jharkhand, a PIL was filed in Jharkhand HC, me being the main petitioner. Even as the HC admitted my petition, it ordered the State government to furnish all the information about all the UTPs in Jharkhand. It is now more than two years, but the state is yet to submit the needed information adequately.

On the other hand, Jharkhand state decided to put me out of its way, by implicating me in a case, merely based on my comments on Facebook related to Pathalgadi movement. While on the other hand, the Pune police have implicated me in relation to Bhima–Koregaon riot case, to which I have no connection at all.

Int: Tell me about the Bhima-Koregaon case?

Stan: I have never been in Bhima-Koregaon in all my life. I also know that the Pune police have been in contact with Khunti police and an affidavit about me made by the Pune police was presented in the annexure of the case in relation to Pathalgadi movement at the Jharkhand High Court. Actually, it is just a case to silence me.

Int: Tell me about Pathalgadi?

Stan: Pathalgadi is a part of the cultural tradition of Adivasis in central India. The Mundari speaking Adivasi group in Khunti district of Jharkhand was using the stone slab, being erected as Pathalgadi, to inscribe their constitutional rights mentioned in the 5th Schedule and PESA Act, 1996 of the Indian Constitution, to assert their rights to self-governance. However, the state government took this Pathalgadi movement as a case of sedition against the State and deployed the paramilitary forces in those areas to suppress the movement. Some activists, (20 of us) including me, had posted what we thought about the state’s reaction to Pathalgadi. In fact, I had made two comments on my Facebook page: (1) the erstwhile Home Minister of Central Government, when he was asked about the Pathalgadi issue by some media personnel, said, “Wherever the movement has been happening, the state governments should enter into a dialogue with the people”.

I had added a comment to his statement, saying, “It was sad that the Jharkhand government, instead of dialoguing with the people, was attacking them”; and (2) A local three-term Member of Parliament (MP), Sri. Kharia Munda, was asked about the Pathalgadi issue. He responded saying, “If development had taken place well among Adivasis, the Pathalgadi movement would not have arisen”. I had added a comment to this as well, saying, “The local MP himself had testified that real development of Adivasi society had not taken place. So, it will be better for the Jharkhand Government to focus its efforts on the real development of Adivasis.” Based on these two comments of mine on my Facebook-page, the State government filed an FIR against me, in July 2018. The names of 19 other activists are also mentioned in the FIR, for their posts on their Facebook relating to Pathalgadi. Interestingly, among the 20 of us, whose names are mentioned in the FIR, an arrest warrant was issued only on four of us, on 19 June 2019. However, towards the end of June 2019, I had gone to South India as I had planned long ago, to meet my kith and kin and friends and to attend to some health problems, I have been suffering with. In the meantime, the Khunti police, even without taking the trouble to verify my whereabouts, declared me as an ‘absconder’. Finally, on 21 October 2019, my living room was raided and whatever they found in my room (2 tables, three chairs, a shelf where I kept my belongings, and my mattress and a pillow) were taken way. Against these illegal actions–issuing of an arrest warrant, declaring me as an absconder and attachment of my property–I had filed a case in the Jharkhand High Court (Cr. M P No 3183 of 2018), praying that it restores my self-respect and dignity. On 6 December 2019, the Jharkhand High Court in its Order stated that proper procedures were not followed as per Code of Criminal Procedure. The Court also mentioned in its Order, however, that the lower Court could proceed with the matter adhering to the Code of Criminal Procedure. This is where I stand with regard to this case. Interestingly, the new government of Jharkhand on 29 December 2020, soon after the swearing in ceremony, held a Cabinet meeting and decided to withdraw all the cases relating to Pathalgadi in Jharkhand. Although, the decision has been made, the judicial processes to this end has not yet been completed.

Int: These are some extracts taken from your computer (he shows the monitor of his laptop) which seem to relate you with leftist forces?

Stan: Please show them to me. (He pulled out the extracts of some communications from his laptop and placed them before me. An extract supposedly taken from a folder titled, “Earth Summit”, in my computer wherein an appeal from some Naxal was made to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the origin of the Naxalbari movement. They were inviting Stan to participate in the celebration).

I flatly disowned these extracts and affirmed that they have been interpolated into my computer.

Int: Nothing of that sort can take place with the NIA, because NIA is an organisation of integrity, and strictly follows the prescribed cloning process.

Stan: I am not questioning the integrity or the lack of it with the NIA. But the fact is that the NIA took over the Bhima-Koregaon case only in January 2020 from the Pune police which had been handling the case from August 2018. Would you also vouch for the same integrity for the Pune police as you are vouching for the NIA?

Int: “We as a police force is an integral body. Our work is to protect people and we keep our integrity.”

Stan: I agree with you that Police are expected to act with integrity.
What about the recent incident in Tamil Nadu wherein a father and his son, because they kept their shop open for a few extra minutes after the lockdown time, were arrested, beaten up, tortured and killed?

The Madras High Court has taken Suo Motu cognition of the case and has ordered a CBI enquiry into it?

Int: Locally something can go wrong, but the police force as such is an integral body. (Then he left the place.)

29 July 2020, Wednesday, 3 hours
Int: Tell me about Bagaicha and its activities?

Stan: Bagaicha, in Adivasi tradition, is the place the community gathers, discusses whatever needs to be discussed and comes to a consensus decision. This is the name we have given to the centre, so those who come here will go back to their communities ‘with one mind’. Mostly Adivasi and Dalit activists come here to: (i) Scientifically analyse and understand the problems/issues they are faced with, (ii) Search for effective ways of educating, mobilising the people, (iii) Take it before the relevant government office/department, asking for immediate attention and (iv) If government administration fails them, then to plan and act how to seek judicial remedy. Bagaicha has been trying to accompany the people in solidarity.

About the activities of Bagaicha, we recently have started a Migrants’ Desk, and its intervention during and after the recent lockdown, due to the Corona virus pandemic was significant. It was necessitated by the sudden declaration of lockdown, throwing millions of migrant workers out-of-work, shelter, food and forcing thousands of them walk on highways and railway tracks for hundreds of kilometres. Our Migrants’ Desk (MD) is linked with governments, NGOs and human rights groups, to reach out to the migrants to offer immediate relief in the form of food and shelter and help them to reach their homes.

We have helped at least about 6,000 persons, who were in precarious situations. Lakhs of them have reached home, but is there anything in their homes to sustain them and their families?

Int: Oh, Migrants Desk is doing a good work. What other activities do you have at Bagaicha?

Stan: Another activity being carried out through Bagaicha is called Lok-Manch (LM). The government has many schemes, projects and programmes for the disadvantaged persons and groups, but the poorest of the poor who live in interior villages are not even aware, much less avail of those schemes. LM workers help them to know and avail of these opportunities. As I am not a member of LM, one of our staff who is in it, will explain it to you in detail. (Ms. Rosemary Nag, Lok-Manch campaign facilitator, was called to explain the type of the work done by the Lok-Manch partners. She explained about her role of coordinating the activities, in different units, regarding the implementation of MGNREGA, enabling villagers to access various pensions and other social security schemes of the government. She added that her duty is to collect the reports from partner organisations and provide them to the central coordinating team.)

Int: There are again a whole series of communications; reports by ultra-left parties that where found discovered your computer? What do you have to say about them?

Stan: I have no knowledge of any of these communications and I have nothing to do with them. They are interpolations. (Once again, the interrogator began taking up copies letters saying that these letters were from my computer. These letters were relating somehow to the so-called “ultra-leftists”. I always stood my ground; I pointed out that only in the context of the formation of PPSC I came to know people like Prashant Rahi (a social activist and writer), Adv. Sudha Bharadwaj and Adv. Shiv Prasad Singh (an advocate practicing in Jharkhand High Court, a member of PPSC) who helped us to form and activate PPSC. With this, the day’s interrogation was concluded).

30 July 2020, Thursday, 2 hours
Int: What are the facilities at Bagaicha and who are the other members and their activities at Bagaicha?

Stan: The place where we are sitting is the administrative block. It houses the main office, library documentation and a few living rooms for the Jesuit staff. The building towards the north is the dormitory, where the participants who come for various programmes, stay for the night. In the south, is the building with ground floor as a dining hall and on top of it, is a meeting hall. As regarding the personnel, Fr. David Solomon SJ is the Director, Fr. Sebastian Lakra SJ is the administrator and I, Stan Swamy, am a staff member. Ms. Sugia Horo is the programme coordinator and office assistant. Then, there are three other staff members, who help out with the maintenance such as, preparation of food, cleaning and gardening.

Int: There are more letters I need to discuss with you. These letters are from your computer. (He mentioned a few letters relating to some funds and some meetings and persons. He mentioned about one Mr Abhay. Another dada writing to Stan dada…)

Stan: I do not know any dada. I do not use the language of dada. I do not know who Mr. Abhay is, who you say has written this letter. Moreover, if a letter does not contain the name of the ‘sender’ and name of the person ‘to whom it is sent’, then I think it is not worth considering. It must be discarded as junk. Therefore, it serves no purpose that you keep on producing these types of letters. I only know one Mr. Abhay Xaxa, a scholar from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), hailing from Chhattisgarh, who was very much involved with issues affecting the Adivasis. Very sadly, he died a pre-mature death a few months ago.

Int: Okay, since you are denying the authenticity of these letters and your lack of knowledge about these persons I have mentioned, please make a statement. And please note, I am only noting down the responses you give me to my queries. I will submit them to my superior officers who would make the conclusions about them.

Stan: That’s fine. This is my statement, “All my contacts with social activists has been within Jharkhand state, and the only occasion to contact people out of Jharkhand was in the context of setting up PPSC covering the 4 central states (Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal and Chhattishgarh) in view of coordinating efforts on behalf of under-trial prisoners in all these states with the possibility of going to the Supreme Court of India. Apart from that, I do not have any relation/contact with anyone. I have absolutely no relation or contact with any ultra-forces/persons”.

(Then, almost at the point of getting up to leave, he looked at a stone-slab (Pathalgadi) at the courtyard of Bagaicha, wherein the martyrs of Jharkhand who laid down their lives for protecting their land water and forest have been written to commemorate them and their contribution to the society). The Interrogator then made a comment: “You have mentioned the names of people who died by police firing, but why you have not mentioned people’s names who were killed by Maoists?

Stan: It is possible that some Maoists could have been involved in some of these incidents, but their identities have not officially been established and our efforts are to give voice to the voiceless. 6 August 2020 (one and half an hour)—he arrived at 11.15 am.

Int: I have come to inquire about one case and will go back..In  your computer, a folder titled “Earth Summit” containing a file describes a communication between two Lok-Manch workers.

There are two points on which I want some clarification from you:
(1) The letter says, “Since the Indian state is becoming more and more fascist, we need to join forces with banned groups to counter the state fascism;
(2) in order to do this we will need funds, at least some $6-10 million; and
(3) all these works would be done out under the direction of father Stan”.

Stan: It is rubbish. I disown this letter and communication. It is a fabrication, stealthily inserted into my computer. We are a religious body. You have seen this place, our set up and how we live. Do you need more explanation?

Int: I have been asked to find if the fund that comes for Lok-Manch project activities has been going to the ultra-left activists. What do you have to say about it?

Stan: Neither I nor Bagaicha has anything to do with ultra-left activist. Bagaicha is a place for poor adivasis and Dalits and not for anyone whom you term as ‘ultra-left’. About LM, I only know some of the activities they undertake.

Int: Can I see your passport?

(Stan gave him his passport. The interrogator glanced through it. He made his assistant to take a photo of the passport. Having seen the passport, I was asked why I had not told him earlier about my visit to China.

Stan: I replied, “I have mentioned to you about the countries I visited and have spent some time on specific works and not those through which I have just passed. My visit to China was just like a tourist’s visit. Hence, I did not mention it to you.”

The NIA interrogator told me that he would make a report of the interrogation, but some superior officer would draw the final conclusion.

[Courtesy: Indian Social Institute, Bangalore]

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Vol. 54, No. 14-17, Oct 3 - 30, 2021