Stanislaus Lourduswamy : a short story of a Jesuit priest.
Stanislaus Lourduswamy (26 April 1937 – 5 July 2021), popularly known as Stan Swamy, was an Indian Roman Catholic priest, a member of the Jesuit order, and a tribal rights activist for several decades. Swamy was the oldest person to be accused of terrorism in India. Fr. Stan Swamy S.J. Stan Swamy in 2010 Born Stanislaus Lourduswamy 26 April 1937 Tiruchirappalli, Madras Presidency, British India Died 5 July 2021 (aged 84) Mumbai, Maharashtra, India Occupation Catholic priest, activist Years active 1978–2021 Known for Tribal rights activism
On 8 October 2020, Swamy was arrested and chargesheeted by the National Investigation Agency under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for his alleged role in the 2018 Bhima Koregaon violence and links to the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Jharkhand Chief minister Hemant Soren and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan both objected to Swamy's arrest.
Swamy was born on 26 April 1937 and hailed from Trichy in Tamil Nadu. In the 1970s, he studied theology and received a masters degree in sociology in the Philippines, where he encountered a series of protests and demonstrations against the administration. During his further studies, he made friends with Brazilian Catholic Archbishop Hélder Câmara, whose work with poor people influenced him.
Swamy was a former director of the Jesuit-run Indian Social Institute, Bangalore from 1975 to 1986. He has questioned the non-implementation of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, which stipulates setting up of a Tribes Advisory Council with members solely of the Adivasi community for their protection, well-being and development in the state.
In a video circulated two days ahead of his arrest, Swamy suggested his arrest was linked to his work, as it involved dissent against government policies. He is quoted as saying
What is happening to me is not something unique happening to me alone. It is a broader process that is taking place all over the country. We are all aware how prominent intellectuals, lawyers writers, poets, activists, students, leaders, they are all put into jail because they have expressed their dissent or raised questions about the ruling powers of India. We are part of the process. In a way I am happy to be part of this process. I am not a silent spectator, but part of the game, and ready to pay the price whatever be it. Activism in prison
While incarcerated in Taloja central jail, in a letter to his Jesuit colleague, Swamy highlighted the plight of the prisoners stating, "Many of such poor undertrials don't know what charges have been put on them, have not seen their chargesheet and just remain in prison for years without any legal or other assistance." He ended the letter saying, "But we will still sing in chorus. A caged bird can still sing."
Arrest and protests
Swamy was implicated in the 2018 Bhima Koregaon violence, while he claimed that he was not in Pune during the said period, and he was accused of being a Maoist sympathiser. It was alleged that the Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee (PPSC) founded by him and Sudha Bharadwaj, "to fight for the release of around 3,000 men and women who have been labelled as Maoists and imprisoned", was a front for Maoist fundraising. The Jesuits have denied the allegation of Fr. Stan Swamy being a Maoist, by stating that it was against the ethos of the Jesuit order. He was arrested by the NIA on 8 October 2020, from Bagaicha, a Jesuit social action centre, and chargesheeted under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, under which bail can be denied.
The case was initially investigated by the Pune Police but later handed over to the NIA. He was earlier arrested in June 2018 in Ranchi on similar accusations. There have been widespread protests across India with the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), All India Catholic Union, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, Kerala Catholic Bishops' Conference (KCBC), Kerala Latin Catholic Association (KLCA), Kerala Jesuit Provincial, Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC), and the international Jesuit community, calling for his release. The Ranchi Catholic Church too released a statement saying it was "distressed and troubled" at the way he was arrested. The arrests have been termed as politically motivated due to his work among the adivasi community, the release of undertrials, Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee among others. Leaders of other minority religions have also protested his arrest. In a protest on 21 October 2020, leaders of opposition political parties such as Shashi Tharoor, Sitaram Yechury, D. Raja, Supriya Sule and Kanimozhi along with economist Jean Dreze, Dr Joseph Marianus Kujur, the director of the Ranchi-based Xavier Institute of Social Sciences, activists Dayamani Barla and Rupali Jadhav, and lawyer Mihir Desai called for Stan's release.
Bail and prison
The interim bail on medical grounds was rejected by the special NIA court on 23 October 2020. On 6 November 2020, Swamy submitted an application to the special court requesting a straw and sipper as he was unable to hold a glass due to Parkinson's disease. The NIA requested 20 days to respond to the application. On 26 November 2020, the NIA responded that they did not have Swamy's straw-sipper. Swamy also filed for bail the second time on the grounds that he was 83 years old and suffered from Parkinson's disease. The Court adjourned the next hearing to 4 December 2020 while directing the jail authorities to respond to his request for straw-sipper and warm winter clothes. Around 50 days after being arrested and amidst public outrage from citizens, the Taloja jail authorities provided Swamy with a sipper. Activists Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira are also lodged at Taloja prison along with Stan Swamy.
Swamy had applied for bail in November 2020 which was dismissed by the special NIA court on 22 March 2021.
On 28 May 2021, the Bombay High Court directed the Maharashtra government to admit Swamy to a private hospital for 15 days, considering his rapidly deteriorating health, preferably the same day of the order. He was admitted to the Holy Family Hospital, Bandra.
Illness and death
Swamy suffered from Parkinson's disease and other age-related illnesses. He fell multiple times while in prison. He suffered from hearing loss in both ears and had undergone surgeries.
In November 2020, in response to the delay in arranging a straw and a sipper for Swamy, social media users ordered straws and sippers online, to be delivered to the NIA's Mumbai office and the Taloja jail.
On 18 May 2021, in a note submitted to the Bombay High Court, it was reported that Swamy was gravely ill in prison. The Court ordered the formation of an expert committee to examine Swamy. While appearing before the Court over video conferencing on 21 May 2021, Swamy refused to be admitted to either JJ hospital or any other hospital and requested only interim bail so that he could go to his home in Ranchi, citing his rapidly deteriorating health. Swamy tested positive for COVID-19 in May 2021.
On 4 July 2021, Swamy was put on ventilator support at Holy Family Hospital, Mumbai, as his health deteriorated. He died on 5 July 2021 ahead of his bail hearing in Bombay High Court.
In January 2021, Swamy was awarded the Mukundan C. Menon award 2020 for human rights.
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