Human rights activists vow to fight ahead with ideals of Fr Stantext_fields
Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist Father Stan Swamy, aged 84, died in NIA's custody at Holy Family hospital in Mumbai on July 5th around 1.30 PM. A condolence meeting conducted by Jesuit priests and Indian Social Institute, mourning the custodial death of Father Stan Swamy, vowed to fight ahead with the ideals of Fr Stan and demanded to fight for repealing the stringent law UAPA.
"Father Stan had a deep love for Jesus and the poor. This made him see, judge and act differently. He embraced a simple life and worked tirelessly for the rights of poor Dalits and indigenous people. Right up to his last breath, imprisoned and deprived of basic human rights, he continued to march in solidarity with marginalized people. Even as we mourn his undeserved, untimely and unjust demise, we shall celebrate his life," Father Stany D'Souza, Jesuit Provincial of India, said. "We lost a committed, compassionate elder brother who lived and worked for the mission of the Society of Jesus, reconciliation and justice. He championed the noble ideals of love and compassion, equality and justice, truth and peace, sacrificed his life for them. He is an example for us Jesuits to emulate and become effective Jesuits," Father Stany said.
Father Jerry Cutinha, Jesuit of Jamshedpur Provincial, where Father Stan Swamy is a member said, "He was a courageous man who would call a spade a spade. He knew no fear, and he was happy to take on any institution and any corporate if he felt they are wrong. One of his main tasks was implementing the constitutional provision for the tribal people, the same constitution he was accused of subverting. Persisting with constitutional means, he fought for the rights of the tribal people that made him an effective threat to those who kept on exploiting the tribal people for long. Stan didn't back off in the face of a ruthless political or corporate force. Before his arrest in Ranchi, when I met him, he told me, 'if working for the poor, marginalized groups is a crime and sedition, I am ready to face any consequence, I am ready to go to the prison,' Jerry recalled.
Father Stan was admitted to the hospital in May end. Reports were coming in about Taloja jail, which appallingly lacks any facilities for treating the prisoners. According to his advocate Mihir Desai, Father Stan was attended by three Ayurveda doctors while he was suffering from diarrhoea. Father Stan had informed his colleague, Father Joe Xavier, that he felt really unwell on May 11th. But NIA filed an affidavit before the high court opposing his bail, saying there is no conclusive proof for his ailments. The urgent bail plea seeking temporary bail plea on medical grounds challenged the orders of the special NIA court. The plea was being heard when his counsel informed the court that Stan Swamy passed away.
Arun D'Souza representing the Mumbai Province, says, "They may have got rid of one Stan, but all of us across the globe would stand up and become other Stans where we are, fighting for justice, fighting to make a better world."
"Father Stan fought for human rights and human dignity until his last breath", Jesuit Provincial of Madhurai province Father Danis Ponnaiah said.
Advocate Mihir Desai pointed out that this is a case of deliberate, wrongful and malicious arrest, not a case of 'NIA making a mistake'. "In the three raids made in Stan Swamy's residence, NIA couldn't find anything, but they decided to put this person behind bars. We shouldn't let his loss be a failure at large. We should ensure that his legacy lives on," he said.
Former Supreme Court Judge Madan Lokur said that the passing away of Father Stan is a tragedy in many lives. "I've been extremely disappointed at how the courts, the prosecution and all those concerned with his detention have been reacting. Starting from the time he wanted a straw, he had to go to court for that. The court gave twenty days to the prosecution to file a reply. This is really inhuman. All of us are Indian citizens, all of us love our country, we have different ways of expressing our love for the country, but just because somebody expresses it in a manner different from the way somebody in power wants it to be expressed, it doesn't mean that the person is a terrorist" Madan Lokur said.
"Let us not forget Sudha Bharadwaj, who had been languishing in bad health, in Byculla jail for past two and half years. It is unfortunate that the country's justice system, particularly the court, is not acting in time. Once in a while, we get good news; high courts, in particular, deliver such judgments that we welcome. I'm very disappointed at the higher judiciary of the country and the special court in this case. We need to bring in more solidarity in the resistance, along with the Jesuit community." Senior journalist N Ram said. He also raised the question of the National Human Rights Commission not visiting the jail where BK16 accused are lodged.
Human Rights activist and lawyer Henri Tiphagne who had filed several complaints at the NHRC, recalled his experience of approaching Justice HL Dattu regarding the case of Stan Swamy, where he ensured intervention.
Father Stan's close relatives too attended the meeting. "We've grown up hearing his ideology; he followed the path of peace", his niece Sheeba said. "We are still unable to digest that he is no more. He didn't deserve this ending. He always wanted to be in Ranchi during his last time. The fact that none of us can attend his funeral is even more saddening," father Stan's grand-niece Lincy said.
"Something has to be a galvanizing moment. The CAA protests were a galvanizing moment. We need many more for public action. This smokescreen of terms like Maoist, Naxalite and Urban Naxal are all methods by which you create the illusion of evil being the centre of anybody who fights for human rights." TM Krishna said.
Writer Nayantara Sahgal emphasized that Father Stan Swamy was killed in custody. "Father Stan Swamy didn't die. He was killed for he spent his life working for the human rights of the poor and the deprived. We are living in an endless state of mourning, in an endless state of grief, for those who had been deliberately killed," she said.
Gerald Staberock representing World Organization against Torture said that through this case, we must address the inaction, address the accountability of the institutions and address the issue of pandemics in prisons and the need to release prisoners. "I can't believe that in a democracy, the national human rights institutions don't see it as their primary duty to secure the liberties of human rights defenders", he added.
Representing the International Federation of Human Rights, Alice Mogwe said that the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Father Stan Swamy were clearly aimed at punishing him for his work by a government that is seemingly shutting down any sign of dissent or criticism on its policies. "The fact that he was detained and his bail requests were rejected multiple times is unacceptable. This fact raises serious questions about the Indian judiciary," she said.
Journalist and Activist Teesta Setalvad pointed out that "Father Stan, before being on a ventilator, was worried about others incarcerated in the jail, not just his fellow accused. Our constitutional courts need to have regular monitoring and need to ensure that legal aid is provided more timely. I will say that we owe to Stan and the 4000 incarcerated Adivasi youths of Jharkhand".
Father Stan had filed a Public Interest Litigation on behalf of these youths in 2017 at the Jharkhand high court. The Supreme Court order passed in March 2020 to decongest the prisons by the release of prisoners on parole or interim bail (only whose terms are up to seven years) excludes charges under certain acts and laws, which include the Unlawful Atrocities (Prevention) Act.
Jesuit priests and colleagues are expecting Father Stan's post mortem report on July 6th morning. Following this, the Eucharistic ceremony of final farewell for Father Stan will be held in the evening at St Peters Church in Bandra, following CoVID SoP.