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Thursday, December 02, 2021

Father Stan’s fight goes beyond his death, says his lawyer

The 84-year-old Stan Swamy died undergoing treatment at a private hospital in Mumbai in July while he was under judicial custody.

By: Express News Service | Ahmedabad |
November 13, 2021 11:44:16 pm
A group of activists holding a silent protest demanding release of all political prisoners and repeal of UAPA with posters and candle lights in memory of Fr Stan Swamy outside Kanoria Art Gallery. (Express photo by Nirmal Harindran/File)

Father Stan Swamy’s fight goes on, even beyond his death, said lawyer Mihir Desai, who represented the Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist in the Elgaar Parishad case.

The 84-year-old Swamy died undergoing treatment at a private hospital in Mumbai in July while he was under judicial custody. He was booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in the Elgaar Parishad case.

“People ask me if I feel guilty for Father Stan’s death. I tell them I don’t. In a court case, when a policeman beats up or kills somebody, we don’t have anything personal to feel guilty about, but we do feel responsible about. The nation has come to a stage today for which all of us are responsible, that maybe we didn’t fight hard enough. Maybe we don’t feel guilty, but we should feel responsible. That is the only way Father Stan would have wanted. He would have wanted to fight against whatever led to his death or led to the unjust incarceration or death of a large number of people in this country,” Desai said at the release of the book titled ‘Father Stan Swamy: A Maoist or a Martyr?’ by Dr Prakash Louis at Saint Xavier’s High School in Naranpura of Ahmedabad Saturday.

The book throws light on the life and works of Swamy who worked for over three decades on the issues faced by the Adivasi communities in Jharkhand related to the land forest and labour rights. It also mentions the NIA investigations against Swamy that termed him a Maoist and his final days during which he fought for the dignity of jailed political prisoners. Swamy died as the oldest Indian citizen who faced terror charges.

In the backdrop of Swamy’s case, Desai threw light on the importance of making a distinction between victory and success of a case. “We have lost Stan’s case, it’s not a victory no doubt, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a successful case because through his demise he sent a message. It has opened up other larger issues for which he fought — the issues of UAPA, prison conditions, rights of prisoners and senior citizens (were brought) to focus like never before. The whole episode is extremely unfortunate but the success of Father Stan is that he keeps fighting even beyond his death,” said Desai.

The senior counsel also weighed upon the alleged frivolous use of the stringent anti-terror law UAPA by police and enforcement agencies in India. “The NCRB data says UAPA has been used to arrest 1,360 people in the past year. This was when there was a lockdown in the country and we did not see any incidents of violence. It is because UAPA is such a law where the act of violence is not required for its use. In the past 10 years of the use of UAPA, 66 percent cases are such where there was no attempt to commit violence,” he said.

He further highlighted the anomalies of the act. “In UAPA, banned organisations are mentioned in a schedule. For example CPI (Maoist), but in the act it is mentioned that CPI (Maoist) and all its fronts. Now, who will decide what is a front?”

When Father Stan Swamy was arrested, the government filed an affidavit opposing his bail calling him a criminal saying he is part of various front organisations that are obviously terrorist organisations, Desai said. “Apart from People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), no other organisation was mentioned in the affidavit. I am also a PUCL member and it is being shown as a frontal organisation. Similarly, other civil society bodies are being shown as frontal organisations of those banned,” he said.

Usually, in UAPA cases, there is a provision of being kept in police custody for one month and then the accused is shifted to judicial custody. “But in Stan Swamy’s case, the NIA said they did not wish to keep him in their custody and sent him directly to jail. Then why did they arrest him when they don’t have to carry investigation?” Desai asked.

He also reminded that Swamy was denied medical care — even a sipper to drink — until the high court granted him medical bail. He alleged that despite taking Swamy to a government hospital thrice in the past, the authorities failed to undertake the RTPCR Test for Covid-19. It was only in a private hospital that Swamy was tested and found positive for Covid-19, Desai said.

“By the time he could get decent medical attention, he was no more. We are still fighting his case in court because we don’t want his name to be attached to a stigma of being a terrorist,” he added.

Mufti Abdul Qayyum, who was wrongly sentenced to death for the Akshardham Terror Attack in 2002 and faced 11 years in prison before being acquitted by the Supreme Court in May 2014, said not just Muslims but the underprivileged tribals and Dalit people have also suffered equally in India. “It is not like only Muslims in India face the worst oppression, the underprivileged tribal and Dalit people have suffered equally. I met Soni Sori during a program in Goa in which I got to know about the horrific tortures inflicted on her,” he said. “I didn’t know Swamy personally but I was also a part of injustice and oppression and have experienced them for several years. Apart from the judicial trial, we have also faced media trial for years as well,” he added.

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