21/07/2021.- On July 6, we woke up with the terrible news of the death of Father Stan Swamy, an 84-year-old Indian Jesuit, who had been imprisoned since October 2020 in Taloja prison, in the State of Maharastra. His death has shocked the Society of Jesus and the whole world by the cruelty of the circumstances.
Father Stan was known in India for his work in defence of the rights of the indigenous communities or adivasis in the state of Jharkahand, where he founded and directed the Bagaicha Social Centre. A work to which he dedicated most of his life and which led him to live with these communities and accompany them in their demands, always from his way of understanding the link between faith and justice. It was last October when his name went around the world, due to his arrest by the National Intelligence Agency.
Father Stan, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease and other age-related ailments, was charged with having ties to Maoist terrorist groups as part of the investigations into the Bhima Koregaon incident that took place in January 2018. His arrest joined 15 other activists previously imprisoned on similar charges. All of them were subjected to the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), a draconian rule that allows preventive detentions and, as some jurists have highlighted, goes against the basic principles of the Indian Constitution, such as liberty, equality, right to life, freedom, etc.
The day before his arrest, Father Stan recorded a video denying any connection with the case and warning of the political motivation of his imminent arrest, which is none other than having defended the rights of tribal peoples. Specifically, the right to consultation and land ownership in the state of Jharkhand, where indigenous peoples are constantly subjected to forced displacement by advancing mining concessions and other extractivist projects. As he said then:
“What is happening to me is not something that is happening to me alone. It is a broader process that affects the whole country. We are all aware of how prominent intellectuals, lawyers, writers, poets, activists, student leaders are being imprisoned just because they have expressed dissent or raised questions about the ruling power in India. This is part of a process and partly I am happy, because I am not a silent witness, but part of the game. And I am ready to pay the price whatever be it”.
Neither the deterioration of his health during his detention, nor the reports that have shown the falsity of the evidence used by the National Investigation Agency in the Bhima Koregaon case, led to his release. It was only after he contracted COVID-19 that the judges authorised his transfer to a hospital last May. However, it was too late. Father Stan’s failing health did not hold out and he died a few days after his admission.
The Justice in Mining Network denounces the climate of repression that currently exists in India and the criminalisation of human rights defenders. We also want to show our support and solidarity to the family and friends of Father Stan, and to the entire Ignatian family, especially to the Indian Jesuits who continue to walk alongside the most disadvantaged and excluded.
As Fr Xavier Jeyarat SJ, director of the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat of the Society of Jesus, pointed out during the homily in memory of Fr Stan in Rome: “We have to celebrate [Fr Stan]; celebrate his birth in heaven. His death is not the end. His death has raised many voices, loud and clear. He planted the seed of hope for many when he said: ‘A caged bird can still sing´”.