In the tragic death of Stanislaus Lourduswamy, popularly known as Stan Swamy, SJ (April 26, 1937 – July 5, 2021), India has lost a pre-eminent tribal rights activist and friend of the poor and the marginalised.
When he was arrested eight months ago for his alleged involvement in the 2018 Bhima Koregaon violence case, though he was hundreds of miles away from that place on that fateful day, it made little difference to him.
In the forest village near Ranchi in Jharkhand, where he lived in a hut-like accommodation, the creature comforts he had were not much better than those in the jail. Of course, he lost his freedom!
He cooperated with the police, providing access to his personal computer and answered all their queries. There was no way he could leave the country for he was 83 at the time of arrest and was suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
Ordinarily, he should have been exempted from arrest, more so when there was apprehension that he might catch Covid-19 in jail.
Denied sipper or straw
The intention of the jail authorities and the judge who heard his case was apparent when his request for a sipper to drink water as his shivering hands could not hold a glass of water, was virtually rejected on one flimsy ground or another.
He could have been provided a plastic straw which would not have cost more than 10 paise.
His detention in jail was against all canons of justice as bail, not jail, was the natural course of justice, as the Supreme Court had once rhetorically declared.
Charged with sedition
Just to prevent bail to him, he was charged with sedition without any rhyme or reason.
Even when the apex court eloquently spoke against slapping sedition charges against anyone who raised his voice against a government policy, Stan Swamy was not granted bail.
While his health deteriorated to the point of imminent death, the custodians of law and order found ways to keep him in jail. Had he been granted bail on the worsening of his health, he could, perhaps, have been saved.
Finally, the high court had to intervene to grant him bail and provide him the much-needed medical care. Alas, it was too late to save him from the clutches of death.
Lived among tribals
A Jesuit, like Pope Francis, Stan Swamy could have settled down in a retirement home but he preferred to stay with the tribals, whom he believed were the original inheritors of the land.
For Stan Swamy, the Constitution was second only to the Bible. He wanted the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution to be implemented in both letter and spirit.
He lent his voice against those who wanted to deprive the tribals of their access to forest wealth and push them to the margins of society. He could not have imagined that he would, eventually, have to sacrifice his life in the fight against injustice.
In Stan Swamy’s death, the nation has gained a martyr who sacrificed his life in the service of his less fortunate brethren.
The writer was, until recently, Secretary and Chief Executive, Deepalaya, one of the largest NGOs in India. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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