Stanislaus Lourduswamy, popularly known as Father Stan Swamy. He was originally a Jesuit priest and a tribal rights activist based in Jharkhand who worked in the state for over three decades on various issues of the Adivasi communities on land, forest, and labour rights, including questioning the non-implementation of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. Throughout his life, he stood up for tribal rights and development.
Life and Activism
In 2010, Stan Swamy’s participation in questioning the government for not bringing the Schedule Five of the Indian Constitution, which grants special autonomy to tribes, attracted sedition cases by the BJP government. In one of the statements he gave, two days before the NIA took him into custody, he had said that he had challenged the “indiscriminate” arrest of thousands of young Adivasis and Moolvasis with investigating agencies labelling them as “Naxals.” He had filed a public interest petition in the High Court against the state, seeking the appointment of a judicial commission to investigate the reasons for delays of undertrial prisoners in the trial process. His work also opposed the setting up of “land banks,” which he argued would free up land belonging to the community to set up small and big industries. He was India’s oldest prisoner of conscience charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, (UAPA) for his role in what the National Investigative Agency (NIA) alleges was a Maoist conspiracy leading to caste clashes near the Bhima Koregaon village in Maharashtra in 2018.
Circumstances of Arrest
Meanwhile, in January 2018, lakhs of Dalits had gathered near Pune to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon, which primarily comprised Dalit soldiers. At the gathering, there was violence, and vehicles were burnt, followed by assaults on the attendees. As soon as the NIA took over the investigation into the Elgar Parishad/Bhima Koregaon case, they alleged that Stan Swamy had links with the banned CPI (Maoist), leading to his arrest on October 8, 2020. Father Stan Swamy’s arrest created unrest among organisations such as PUCL, KCBC, KLCA, and leaders like Shashi Tharoor and Pinarayi Vijayan, including several other academics and rights defenders. Later, the NIA also claimed that Stan Swamy was a convenor of Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee, a frontal organisation of CPI (Maoists) and that it had recovered incriminating documents, literature, and propaganda published/created by Stan Swamy himself.
Charges & Allegations
On October 8 2020, Stan Swamy was arrested and charged 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).
In prison, amid the COVID-19 infection and Parkinson’s, Stan Swamy’s health deteriorated, whereas his bail pleas were being denied. His increasing weakness amplified his neurological ailments, and over the year, his Parkinsonian tremors became more violent. When he got severely ill on May 21, 2021, the Bombay High Court ordered the Maharashtra government to shift Stan Swamy to the private Holy Family Hospital for treatment but refused to grant him bail. In jail, he was denied a straw and a sipper for more than month and had to file three pleas in the court for this.
Father Stan Swamy was brought to his home in Ranchi on May 28, 2021, and later admitted to a private hospital. After testing positive for COVID-19 infection, he was given ventilator support on July 4, 2021, and he breathed his last on July 5, 2021, at the age of 84.
Father Stan Swamy was honoured posthumously on June 2 2022 (9:30 pm Indian time) in Geneva with Martin Ennals Honorary Award-2022. Father Xavier Soreng SJ, Ranchi participated in the ceremony and received the honorary award, which was streamed live on Facebook.