On January 1, 1818, the British-led military of 800 Dalit troopers defeated a 2,000-person battalion composed virtually totally of high-caste Brahmin elite. The battle was one of many many confrontations that finally led to the British overthrow of the ruling Peshwa. Right now, 1000’s of Dalits collect yearly within the village of Bhima Koregaon, within the modern-day West Indian state of Maharashtra, to commemorate the anniversary of the group’s victory there.
Within the months main as much as the 2018 battle bicentennial, high-caste Maratha and right-wing Hindu teams started to voice displeasure with the deliberate celebration, arguing it was an anti-national act to have fun the victory of the British. On the primary day of the 12 months, lots of of 1000’s of celebrators and protesters arrived. Clashes broke out between Maratha and the lower-caste Mahar, killing one individual and injuring 5.
Initially police investigated Hindutva leaders as doable instigators of the violence. However inside six months, they recognized new culprits: human rights activists and attorneys who had organized a public assembly that they referred to as Elgaar Parishad on December 31, 2017, within the metropolis of Pune.
Over the course of the subsequent couple years, the police arrested 16 human proper defenders, social activists, attorneys, and church leaders—together with Father Stanislaus Lourduswamy, the oldest individual to be accused of terrorism within the nation.
A priest who stood up for the rights of tribal and Dalit youth in East India, Father Stan Swamy insisted he had by no means attended Elgaar Parishad, but he remained below police custody for months. Then, final summer season, he died whereas nonetheless incarcerated. He was 84.
A struggle for justice
On the time of his loss of life, Swamy (also called Father Stan) had devoted greater than three many years to working for the welfare of his nation’s most weak. Born within the southern state of Tamil Nadu in 1937, the Jesuit priest spent a lot of his ministry working in Jharkhand combating on behalf of tribals and Dalits, particularly when their pursuits intersected with problems with land, forest, water, and labor rights. He questioned why the federal government had not applied constitutional provisions for the well-being, safety, and improvement of the native tribals, Dalits, and natives.
Father Stan helped the natives earn livelihoods, stated Damodar Turi, a group activist who labored alongside the priest for 16 years. And he would liaison for them when the native authorities seized their land regardless of legal guidelines designed to guard it. Father Stan additionally intervened to assist girls in these communities, combating towards discrimination, dowries, and honor killings.
In 2017, Swamy started advocating on behalf of roughly 3,000 tribal and Dalit youth whom the federal government had began arresting indiscriminately across the time that the Bhartiya Janata Celebration (BJP) got here to energy in Jharkhand in 2014. He and different activists sued the federal government, difficult its authority to detain the youth. That case is ongoing.
Whereas Father Stan confronted the ire of the native BJP authorities and was implicated in a case of sedition in July 2018, much more controversy had begun to stir.
A few week after Elgaar Parishad, a neighborhood businessman filed a formal complaint arguing that human rights activists and attorneys who had taken half within the occasion were at least partially at fault for the 2018 bicentennial’s violence. (Residents should file formal complaints for the federal government to open a case.)
Over the subsequent few years, Swamy endured two police raids. One was performed by officers from Maharashtra, the state the place the bicentennial had occurred, roughly 1,000 miles away, and the opposite by the Nationwide Investigation Company (NIA), India’s counterterrorism activity power/
In July 2020, members of the NIA interrogated Father Stan about his position at Elgaar Parishad. That September, the NIA requested he current himself in Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra, for additional interrogation. Swamy supplied to proceed with the interrogation by way of videoconference however refused present up in individual because of well being causes, citing superior Parkinson’s, previous age, and numerous illnesses, in addition to the exorbitant rise in pandemic circumstances and the nation being on pink alert.
Swamy knew his work for the tribals and Dalits had made him a goal. His lawsuit towards the federal government, he stated in a video message, had develop into “a bone of competition with the state.” He stated, “They needed to place me out of the way in which, and one straightforward manner was to implicate me in some severe circumstances,” despite the fact that Bhima Koregaon was “a spot I [had] by no means been to in all my life.”
“He was undoubtedly a ‘thorn within the flesh’ for the [BJP] authorities, and so they discovered it handy to get him away from there as a result of he was one of many few who was empowering the tribals and really pleading their case within the court docket of legislation,” stated Father Frazer Mascarenhas, a fellow Jesuit, who was appointed a custodian of Swamy whereas he was within the hospital.
Within the video, Father Stan additionally stated authorities officers questioned him about e mail extracts reportedly discovered on his pc that linked him with the Communist Celebration of India, a Maoist group that the federal government has deemed a terrorist group. He denied these claims.
Wired published a report alleging that legislation enforcement used hacking instruments to plant “false incriminating information on targets’ computer systems that the identical police then used as grounds to arrest and jail” the human rights defenders and attorneys arrested in reference to the Bhima Koregaon violence.
After Father Stan refused to journey to Maharashtra, on October 8, authorities arrested him at his house and flew him in a single day to Mumbai.
Inside weeks, Father Stan utilized for bail on medical grounds and was rejected. In November, he sought permission to acquire a straw and sipper cup, as his superior Parkinson’s left him unable to carry a glass securely. The federal government denied his requests for a number of weeks earlier than f inally relenting.
“If issues proceed this fashion, then I’d die quickly,” Father Stan, who was barely capable of converse, told the Bombay Excessive Courtroom by way of video conferencing in Could 2021. “Please grant me medical bail in order that I could be with my folks … throughout my final days.”
Just some days later, his well being situation started to deteriorate. He examined constructive for COVID-19 whereas in jail and was hospitalized, positioned within the intensive care unit, and placed on ventilator help. Father Stan suffered cardiac arrest and died on July 5, 2021, the day earlier than his bail trial date.
Mascarenhas stated that whereas within the hospital, Father Stan referred to the federal government’s therapy of him as “focused maltreatment.”
The search for justice
One 12 months after his loss of life, for a number of days firstly of July this 12 months, Christians and Indians from all backgrounds gathered in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Jharkhand, and Bengaluru to commemorate Swamy’s life and contribution.
However his loss of life and the bigger Elgaar Parishad controversy haven’t gone unnoticed by leaders in India and around the globe. In 2020, P. Chidambaram, a senior politician, questioned whether or not Father Stan and the 15 others arrested for his or her alleged position within the occasions surrounding the bicentennial violence had been being handled justly.
Jairam Ramesh, a number one politician from the opposition Congress Celebration, had his personal questions.
“There isn’t a excuse, ever, for a human rights defender to be smeared as a terrorist, and no cause they need to ever die the way in which Father Swamy died, accused and detained, and denied his rights,” wrote Mary Lawlor, a UN human rights professional, within the days following Swamy’s loss of life.
Exterior the nation, in July of this year, a decision looking for impartial inquiry into Stan Swamy’s loss of life was introduced by a California congressman. And in June, Father Stan posthumously acquired the Martin Ennals Award, an honor for human rights activists.
Within the aftermath of his loss of life, Swamy’s Catholic order has tried to clear his title.
“Father Stan Swamy didn’t die for nothing. We actually wish to struggle this until the tip,” Swamy’s legal professional Mihir Desai, who demanded a judicial inquiry into his loss of life, instructed The Wire. “This case isn’t any extra about simply Father Swamy’s loss of life. We wish to expose the state jail and the investigating company (NIA) whose legal motion has led to this.”
Father Stan’s quest for justice, human rights, and kingdom values value him dearly, says Denzil Fernandes, govt director of the Indian Social Institute in Delhi.
“He’s an instance of people who find themselves able to threat their lives, to threat being jailed, but they stand by the reality and never buckle down below stress,” he stated.
Swamy’s advocacy prolonged to Christians and non-Christians alike.
“Father Stan has all the time stood with the reason for humanity. Be it mob lynching towards the Muslim group, or wherever human rights violation befell, Father Stan was all the time there,” stated Dayamani Barla, a tribal chief and award-winning journalist. “No one ever perceived him as completely working for his group.”
Aakash Ranjan, a group chief who labored alongside Father Stan to supply meals to the hungry, described him as “the spine of all of the actions in Jharkhand and a task mannequin to us children.”
Swamy’s phrases could also be a method that he continues to encourage his colaborers even after his passing. Whereas in jail, with assist from others, Father Stan reached out to associates and coworkers via letters, which have since been compiled and added to his memoir.
In those letters, he shared concerning the hardships he had endured by the hands of the police and the nation’s authorized system. He famous that these trials nonetheless introduced “a way of brotherhood and communitarianism the place reaching out to one another is feasible even on this adversity.”
Within the prologue of his memoir, penned in 2019, he wrote, “‘Why reality has develop into so bitter, dissent so insupportable, justice so out of attain?’ As a result of reality has develop into very bitter to these in energy and place, dissent, so unpalatable to the ruling elite, justice, so out of attain to the powerless, marginalized, disadvantaged folks.”
“But,” he continued, “reality have to be spoken, proper to dissent have to be upheld, and justice should attain the doorsteps of the poor. I’m not a silent spectator.”