Veteran Tribal Activist Fr. Stan Swamy Arrested

J. Felix Raj


Octogenarian, 83-year-old Fr. Stan Swamy’s arrest is a violation of human rights.  He was arrested in Ranchi, taken to Mumbai on Friday, and is sent to judicial custody at Taloja central jail till October 23. We are distressed and troubled. We express our deep concern over the arrest and demand his immediate release.

Fr. Stan Lourdu Swamy is a Jesuit of Jamshedpur province of the Jesuit Society. He is a veteran tribal rights activist who has worked for over five decades in Jharkhand, fighting for the rights of the Adivasi community. He was part of the Jharkhand Organisation against Uranium Radiation (JOAR), a campaign against Uranium Corporation India Limited in 1996.

The social worker was arrested by the National Investigation Agency from his Ranchi residence on Thursday evening. He was produced before the special court in Mumbai on Friday which remanded the octogenarian to judicial custody till October 23 in connection with the Elgar Parishad-alleged Maoist links case.

NIA arrested Fr. Swamy from his Ranchi residence in connection with the violence in Bhima Koregaon near Pune in January 2018. He was placed under arrest for his alleged links with the banned CPI (Maoist), NIA officials said.

Fr. Swamy, who has been questioned twice earlier by Pune Police and the NIA, was taken from his Ranchi residence on Thursday in a cloak-and-dagger operation, leaving the local police and the administration in the dark.

Fr. Swamy, known for his life-long work for the betterment of tribals, 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.

Rights activists from across the country have condemned his arrest. In Ranchi, activists held a solidarity march later in the day to protest against his detention and the Hemant Soren-led Jharkhand Government’s silence on the manner he was picked up.

In a video posted hours before his arrest, Swamy said, the NIA had been interrogating him and had questioned him for 15 hours during a span of five days.

"Now they want me to go to Mumbai, which I have said that I won't go," he said, citing his advanced age and the pandemic.

"I have never been to Bhima Koregaon for which I am being made an accused," he said. He added that he had asked for questioning through video conference and hoped that better "human sense" would prevail.

"...what is happening to me is not something unique happening to me alone, 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. Swamy said in the video.

He 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," Fr. Swamy said.

NIA officials claimed that investigations established he was actively involved in the activities of the CPI (Maoist). The NIA also alleged that he was in contact with conspirators -- Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Hany Babu, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde to further the group's activities.

The Bhima Koregaon case was taken over by the NIA on January 24. Pune Police has alleged that the violence was caused following speeches given by members of the group Elgar Parishad a day before.

Fr. 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. Swamy has claimed that none of the governors — the discretionary heads of these councils — has ever reached out to 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 lead to the Pathalgadi movement.  Fr. 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. Swamy has also been a vocal advocate for the release of under-trials. He says they have been unfairly lodged in jails and labelled Maoists. In 2010, he published a book about this, titled, ‘Jail Mein Band Qaidiyon ka Sach (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 Naxal Movement.

Fr. Swamy has also 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.

He wrote in 2018 that, between 2006 and 2011, about 30 lakh applications for title deeds were made under the FRA all over the country, of which 11 lakh were approved and 14 lakh rejected, while 5 lakh remain pending.

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.

Fr. Stan has appealed to Indian people to fight a worrying trend that undermines the nation's fundamental principles of socialism, secularism and democracy.

This is the right time all of us need to stand together for Stan and demand his immediate release with a hope that we shall overcome.

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Oct 11, 2020

Dr. Felix Raj, SJ

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