By – Europa Doley and Sania Muzamil
“But we’ll still sing in Chorus
A Caged Bird still can sing”
On 8th October 2020, Father Stan Swamy, a Tribal Rights activist and a Jesuit priest from Jamshedpur, was arrested by the National Investigation Agency under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for his alleged role in the 2018 Bhima Koregaon violence. He passed away at a private hospital in Mumbai on 5th July, this year. The 84 year old was one of the several intellectuals arrested in connection with the Elgar Parishad/Bhima Koregaon case. He was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and despite a number of pleas filed before Bombay High Court by Swamy’s lawyer regarding his deteriorating health, the court rejected all of them. Swamy was finally shifted to the Holy Family Hospital, Mumbai on May 28. Unfortunately, he died after prolonged illness.
A virtual condolences meeting for Father Stan Swamy was conducted on the same day from 6:30 PM where his colleagues, activists, friends from Judiciary and Judges, people from media and his family shared their memories of Swamy and prayed that his soul rest in peace.
The first slot to speak was allotted to the members of various Jesuits provinces in the country and few others from abroad. Father Jerry Cutinha, a member of Jesuits Province of Jamshedpur where Father Stan was also part of, spoke about how he left his life of an academician to become a social activist and fight for the rights of the tribals of Jharkhand. Other Jesuits also pointed out that his arrest gained worldwide attention and he became an inspiration for all, a hope to the voiceless.
“I am not a silent spectator
I am part of the game
I am ready to pay the price
Whatever be it!”
- Stan Swamy SJ
Further, vocalist and Ramon Magsaysay awardee TM Krishna talked about how no person was willing to arrange a Covid-19 test for the priest. He also talked about the lack of human empathy for ensuring basic needs and appealed for a collective social energy through public and judicial action to keep the movement alive. Krishna considered it “vulgar” that an 84-year-old man was allowed to die. He finally hoped Swamy’s death would be a “galvanising moment for all to ask for the repeal of UAPA and other preventive detention laws.”
Journalist and novelist Nayantara Sehgal said that as a writer in mourning, Father Stan was a man of God who taught the true meaning of religion, to love our neighbour. Sehgal said Swamy did not die but was killed because he worked for the poor, their forest and land rights.
The second session started with the powerful words by Fr. Stan, presented in a video on recent protests in India. Former Judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Madan Lokur expressed his disappointment in the way the courts have handled Swamy’s case and showed deepest concerns against the violation of human rights in the country. Renowned journalist N.Ram also paid his homage to the departed soul and called attention to the authoritarian trends that have gained ground over the last few years. Indian writer Nayantara Sahgal claimed that Swamy didn’t die but rather was killed by the authoritarian regime just because he worked for poor, marginalized communities that are often ignored by the state.
Advocate Mihir Desai who was the lawyer of Fr. Stan strongly called out the NIA for deliberately, wrongfully and maliciously arresting him. Members of a few organisations based outside the country, working on human rights globally, also mentioned Stan as an inspiration to thrive as a better society and defend the rights of those who are deprived of basic necessities. Everyone showed great concern over the lack of proper health facilities or conditions in prisons, especially in the light of the Covid 19 pandemic.
The session with the Civil Society and the family members of Stan Swamy commenced with a song that used his writings as an inspiration. Members of the Civil Society including luminaries like Teesta Setalvad (a prominent Human Rights activist) and Irfan Engineer (Director of Centre for Study of Society and Secularism) expressed their sincere condolences at the untimely death of Stan Swamy. The members of the Civil Society proposed plans for the monitoring of prison and hospital facilities by independent bodies.
They unequivocally demanded for the immediate scrapping of the colonial and repressive UAPA which has been mercilessly invoked by the current government to stifle voices of dissent and for the immediate release of the 15 other accused in the Bhima Koregaon case and for those who have suffered under this draconian act. The members of the civil society also demanded for legal aid for all the accused and for the Judiciary system to not merely be a tool for the state to target those who voice the injustices being committed by the regime against the oppressed. Swamy’s relatives expressed sorrow and shock at the loss of a champion of Human Rights and articulated their thoughts and memories of him. They also talked about the simplicity and humility with which Stan tirelessly worked for the rights of the adivasis throughout his life.
The concluding session was chaired by Henri Tiphagne who appeals to UN special rapporteur Mary Lawlor and other human rights defenders to take action on this killing that arose due to the vengeance of the state and call for the immediate release of all the Bhima Koregaon and other UAPA undertrial prisoners in all the states across the country. He emphasised on how Father Stan lived by the motto “ Not only me, but all others”.
In her speech, Mary Lauler talked about Father Stan’s vital work on indigenous rights and expressed her solidarity to those afflicted by this tragic loss. She further pledged that she would be writing a report on the draconian and inhuman laws through which human right activists are being repeatedly charged by the state as conspirators and terrorists. She added that Father Stan’s arrest and subsequent custodial death are a blot on the reputation of the Indian Democracy and vowed that she will continue to raise her voice against it. Reminiscing about Father Stan she called him a wise guide and conveyed her thoughts of how human rights defenders make imaginative connections with those they haven’t met to improve the situation of the oppressed.
The entire session was a unanimous call to all activists and humanitarians to collaborate and fight against the inhumane and oppressive hands of the state and a fitting commemoration of departed Father Stan Swamy and a re-invocation of his pledge to serve all of humanity and work for the freedom and upliftment of the most marginalised and oppressed.
Europa is an art enthusiast, an occasional reader and a musicophile. She’s doing her Master’s in Gender Studies from Ambedkar University Delhi and her interest revolves around the issues faced by marginalised communities. Currently, she is interning at kractivist.org
Sania advocates for equal gender and human rights, and calls for a free world for all. She has a postgraduate degree in English Literature from the University of Delhi and is currently studying and researching Gender perceptions and manifestations. She is currently interning at kractivist.org