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Father Stan Swamy made Jharkhand home, fought for voiceless: Hemant Soren

Apart from rights groups, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren also expressed shock over his death. “He dedicated his life working for tribal rights,” Soren said as he targeted the Centre.

Written by Abhishek Angad | Ranchi |
Updated: July 6, 2021 7:54:53 am
Father Stan Swamy

IN 2017, Father Stan Swamy filed a PIL in Jharkhand High Court against prolonged detention of 72 prisoners belonging to SC/ST and backward castes for alleged Left-wing extremist activities – and charged under provisions of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) – in just one one district, West Singhbhum.

Claiming violation of Article 21, which deals with personal liberty, he questioned the protracted pre-trial or trial proceedings and asked for a court-monitored inquiry in all 24 districts of Jharkhand.

Three years later, on October 8, 2020, even as his PIL was pending in the court, Swamy was arrested by the NIA for alleged links to Maoist forces in the Bhima Koregaon violence case, and booked under UAPA. The 84-year-old was kept in jail for more than eight months and denied bail, sought on medical grounds.

On Monday, Swamy, who is known for his work for the underprivileged and downtrodden, died in a Mumbai hospital.

Apart from rights groups, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren also expressed shock over his death. “He dedicated his life working for tribal rights,” Soren said on social media as he targeted the Centre.

Days before his arrest, Swamy had questioned the NIA investigation in connection to him: “What is the ‘crime’ I’m supposed to have committed?” He said he had challenged the “indiscriminate” arrest of young Adivasis and Moolvasis after labeling them as ‘Maoists’, as they “question and resist unjust land-alienation and displacement”. This, he said, could be the reason why he was being “targeted” in the Bhima-Koregaon case.

Swamy questioned the non-implementation of 5th Schedule of the Constitution, “halfhearted action” on Forest Rights Act and non-implementation of the provisions of Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act – or PESA – among others.

Originally from Trichy in Tamil Nadu, Swamy made Jharkhand his home, fighting the battles for the voiceless.

Activists and members of civil society organisations recalled that Swamy studied in the Philippines, where he was acquainted with a series of protests and demonstrations against the administration in the 1970s. During further studies, he made friends with Brazilian Catholic Archbishop Helder Camara, who had famously said: ‘When I ask why they are poor, they call me a Communist…’. Camara was among Swamy’s early influences.

After returning to India, he worked as director of Indian Social Institute in Bangalore. Later, he quit and moved to Jamshedpur, and then to Chaibasa in West Singhbhum district, to work for the tribals.

James Herenz, convenor of rights group NREGA Watch, recalled that although PESA has not been implemented in Jharkhand, Swamy worked “continuously” for its implementation. He also took up fights for justice. “An NREGA activist, Niyamat Ansari, was murdered in 2011 allegedly by a nexus of Maoists and contractors and he protested for justice. He mentioned Ansari’s name on a stone plaque as a martyr, which was installed in Bagaicha [which Swamy founded] in Ranchi, along with the names of other revolutionaries who died for Jharkhand,” Herenz said.

In Chaibasa, Swamy worked on PESA implementation and on displacement of tribal people due to mining, townships, industries, dams, among others. Later, the Church gave him land and Swamy moved to Ranchi and founded Bagaicha – a Jesuit social research and training centre – 15 years ago.

In 2018, Swamy and other activists were booked under sedition charges and under 66A of IT Act for social media posts on the Pathalgadi movement.

Rights body Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha said in a statement: “Stan lives in our struggles and memories. His death is the result of murder by the state. We hold the NIA and the central government wholly responsible and strongly condemn their role in Stan’s death…”

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