Father Stan Swamy, a tribal rights activist arrested in the Elgaar Parishad case last year, passed away at a private hospital in Mumbai on Monday. The 84-year-old Jesuit priest, who had been hospitalised on May 30 following the directions of the Bombay High Court, was put on ventilator support on Sunday.
His lawyers had moved the Bombay High Court on Monday morning, seeking an urgent hearing on his medical bail plea.
But who was Stan Swamy and why was he arrested in the Elgaar Parishad case?
Who was Stan Swamy, and what kind of work did he do?
Father Stan Swamy was a Jesuit priest and a tribal rights activist based in Jharkhand. He had worked in the state for over three decades on various issues of the adivasi communities on land, forest and labour rights. This includes questioning the non-implementation of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, which stipulated 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 statement given two days before the NIA took him into custody, Swamy had said that he had challenged the “indiscriminate” arrest of thousands of young adivasis and moolvasis with investigating agencies labeling them as “Naxals”.
Swamy had filed a public interest petition in the High Court against the state, asking for all such undertrial prisoners to be released on a personal bond, and the conduct of a speedy trial. He had also sought the appointment of a judicial commission to investigate the reasons for delays in the trial process.
Swamy’s work also involved opposition to the setting up of “land banks”, which he argued would free up land belonging to the community to set up small and big industries.
Swamy’s statement says that his work involved expressing dissent with several policies of the government, and laws enacted in violation of the Constitution.
“This, I believe, is the main reason why the state is keen to put me out of the way. The most feasible way is to implicate me in serious cases and stall the judicial process to give justice to the poor innocent adivasis,” the statement said.
What was the case that the NIA took him into custody for?
The NIA, which took over the investigation into the Elgar Parishad/Bhima Koregaon case, alleges that all the accused have links with the banned CPI (Maoist). Arrests have been made in the case since 2018 — so far 16 people have been arrested, including activist-lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, who was working with communities in Chhattisgarh; Nagpur-based lawyer Surendra Gadling; Delhi University associate professor Hany Babu; and three members of the cultural group Kabir Kala Manch.
On January 1, 2018, lakhs of Dalits had gathered near Pune to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon, which was won by the British army — largely comprising soldiers from the Dalit community — against the Peshwas in 1818. There was violence, with vehicles of those assembled being burnt, and assaults on them.
Following an eyewitness account, an FIR was registered at Pimpri police station on January 2, naming Hindutva leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide, for alleged incitement.
On January 8, however, another FIR was filed by Pune police claiming that the violence took place due to an event held on December 31, 2017 called Elgar Parishad at Shaniwar Wada in Pune. The Pune police arrested activists claiming that the event was organised as part of alleged Maoist activity, and that the accused were involved in it.
And what was the allegation against Swamy, specifically?
The NIA had arrested Swamy from Ranchi on October 7 last year, and brought him to Mumbai the next day. The NIA did not seek his custody. Swamy was sent to judicial custody till October 23. The NIA also named Swamy in a supplementary chargesheet along with seven others.
Swamy was questioned multiple times by the NIA, including at the Jesuit residence in Bagaicha. Searches were also conducted at his residence with the NIA claiming his links to Maoist forces. In the chargesheet, the agency claimed that he was a CPI (Maoist) cadre and was actively involved in its activities. It was also claimed that he was in communication with other cadres and had received funds from them. The NIA also claimed that he was a convenor of Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee (PPSC), which it claimed was a frontal organisation of CPI (Maoists). The NIA also claimed that it had recovered incriminating documents, literature and propaganda from him.
Swamy said that the NIA placed several extracts before him claiming they were taken from his computer implicating his connection to Maoists. “I told them all these were fabrications stealthily put into my computer and I disowned them,” his statement said.
He also denied allegations of Maoist links, and said in the video that he has never been to Bhima Koregaon.
“I would just add that what is happening to me is not unique. Many activists, lawyers, writers, journalists, student leaders, poets, intellectuals and others who stand for the rights of adivasis, Dalits and the marginalised and express their dissent to the ruling powers of the country are being targeted,” he had said.
This article first appeared on indianexpress.com