Dear Fr. Stan Swamy,
I really do not know what to say tonight! I am heartbroken – simply shattered.
Your death has truly left a void in my life and in the lives of millions of others everywhere! This morning – after you showed some improvement, we were praying that you would pull through this ordeal too! But your pilgrimage on earth is just over! Knowing you, I am sure that you will not want us to mourn your death; instead, I say, “Goodbye dear Stan: You will live forever!”
“Goodbye dear Stan: You will live forever!”: We thank the Almighty for the Gift of You to so many people everywhere: particularly the excluded and the exploited, the Adivasis and Dalits, the poor and the marginalised; and also, to the Country, the Church and the Society of Jesus.
“Goodbye dear Stan: You will live forever!”: We cannot help but think of your incredibly committed and simple life-style. Your frugality was known to all. You have lived your vow of poverty to the fullest; your material needs were few; your actual possessions were even less. The media had a field day, when some time ago the ‘authorities’ came to seize your possessions- they could find and take away almost nothing!
“Goodbye dear Stan: You will live forever!”: You have taught us all, the true meaning of ‘solidarity’ - what it means to actually walk the talk; that to meaningfully empower the exploited and the excluded, one has to be in solidarity with them in their struggles and to accompany them visibly and vocally, with prophetic courage for a more just and humane society. You did this unreservedly to the very end!
“Goodbye dear Stan: You will live forever!”: Today, we celebrated the amazing work you have done on this earth! You were a known Adivasi rights activist working on various issues of the Adivasis: land, forest and labour rights; questioning the non-implementation of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, which stipulates setting up of a Tribes Advisory Council with members solely of the Adivasi community, for their protection, well-being and development; your work also involved opposition to the setting up of ‘land banks’, which you believed would free up land belonging to the community in favour of the corporate sector. Besides, you helped form a group called the ‘Persecuted Prisoners’ Solidarity Committee’ that sought to do a study of the nature of undertrial prisoners (3,000 Adivasis illegally put in jail) and to have recourse to legal action, so that justice could be done. Your work involved expressing dissent with several official policies and laws, which you were convinced were violative of the Constitution. The Adivasis and other excluded, who have been denied their legitimate rights, saw in you a person who left no stone unturned, to champion their cause. They will miss you very much!
“Goodbye dear Stan: You will live Forever!”: You were an extraordinary person; in a selfless manner, you gave and did not count the cost! As a young priest, you lived in an interior Adivasi village, sharing a small room with one of the local families. During that time, you mastered the Ho language, studied their culture and customs, ate their food and even sang and danced with them. Insertion into the tribal way of life was always paramount to you and in a way also ‘your forte’! You believed in youth, gave them a sense of identity and helped them to critically analyse what was happening to their tribal society. With the generosity and help of the locals, you also built your own residence which was an ‘open house’ to one and all!
“Goodbye dear Stan: You will live Forever!”: Tonight, we once again listen to those heartfelt words which you said a short while before you were arrested on October 8, 2020. “What is happening to me is not something unique - happening to me alone. It is a broader process that is taking place all over the country. We are all aware how prominent intellectuals, lawyers, writers, poets, activists, students, leaders, they are all put into jail because they have expressed their dissent or raised questions about the powers that be. We are part of the process. In a way, I am happy to be part of this process. I am not a silent spectator, but part of the game, and ready to pay the price whatever be it.” Yes, you were never a silent spectator!
Even in prison and from the moment you were hospitalised you reached out to others, the less fortunate prisoners, your caregivers in every possible way! You tell us with such positivity, that even a caged bird sings. You are not a silent spectator. We have just completed a moving three-hour programme: celebrating YOU: your commitment, the way you accompanied the excluded and the exploited, your legacy to each one of us. The message was clear: you have not died; you will continue to live in each one of us. Yes, you have gone to that eternal reward you richly deserve and we say, “Goodbye dear Stan: You will live Forever!”
(Fr Cedric Prakash)
July 5, 2021
(Fr Cedric Prakash (GUJ) is a human rights, reconciliation and peace activist/writer. He was a close friend of Fr. Stan Swamy. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)