- According to a statement issued by Hindus for Human Rights, USA and signed by 35 allies, the groups have condemned the government of India for “persecution of Father Stan, denying him dignity and care, and hounding him to his death.”
The death in India of octogenarian human rights activist Stanislaus Lourduswamy, popularly known as Stan Swamy, has sparked anger across India and amongst the South Asian diaspora in the U.S., with critics decrying the government’s alleged misuse of anti-terrorism laws. An Indian Roman Catholic priest, a member of the Jesuit order, and a tribal rights activist for several decades, Father Swamy was denied bail even as his health deteriorated in prison. Swamy, who was living with Parkinson’s Disease, had recently contracted Covid-19 in prison. At a hearing for his bail application in May, the court noted Swamy had a “severe hearing problem,” and was “physically very weak.”
For decades, Swamy fought for the human rights of India’s marginalized and indigenous groups, speaking and writing in-depth about caste-based injustices. India’s caste system was officially abolished in 1950, but the 2,000-year-old social hierarchy imposed on people by birth still exists in many aspects of life. The caste system categorizes Hindus at birth, defining their place in society, what jobs they can do and who they can marry. In October last year, Swamy was arrested and charged under the country’s anti-terrorism laws, which critics have described as draconian.
According to a statement issued on July 7 by Hindus for Human Rights, USA and signed by 35 allies, the groups have condemned the government of India in no uncertain terms for “persecution of Father Stan, denying him dignity and care, and hounding him to his death.” Amongst the signatories include Ambedkar International Center, USA; Coalition Against Fascism in India, USA; Americans For Kashmir, USA; Amnesty International USA; Aotearoa Alliance of Progressive Indians, New Zealand; The Humanism Project, Australia; Progressive India Collective, USA; Indian American Muslim Council, USA, and the Indian Farmers and Workers Support Group, Vancouver, Canada, amongst other.
According to their statement, Father Swamy’s death was the “direct result of the inhumanity of a regime that filed a false case against him.” The statement further pointed out that “It is the direct result of the draconian law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), and the inhumane treatment meted out to prisoners during a global pandemic,” adding that, “in this, Fr. Stan is not alone: there are many other political prisoners held under false pretenses under the same draconian law, who are all still at risk of death, including fourteen of the Bhima-Koregaon 16.”
According to the outraged groups, this was not unforeseen. According to them, the authorities persecuted Father Stan and the other arrestees; over and over again, despite being warned that, especially after the outbreak of the pandemic, death would result if they did not release them.
The statement says that “far from heeding these warnings, the Central government took extraordinary measures to subvert a review of this baseless case by the Government of Maharashtra which may have resulted in its dismissal, and transferred the Bhima-Koregaon case to the NIA. The NIA, and the Taloja jail authorities, in turn, did all they could to keep Fr. Stan under deplorable conditions in prison, just as they continue to persecute other Bhima-Koregaon arrestees.”
Condemning the continued persecution of the rest of the arrestees “under false and trumped-up charges during a global pandemic”, the groups are demanding the release of all the rest of the Bhima-Koregaon arrestees and a repeal of the unlawful UAPA.
Swamy, along with 15 other activists and academics, was accused by authorities of being involved with a “banned terrorist organization” and for being co-conspirators in a 2018 violent incident, according to a statement by the country’s anti-terrorism task force soon after his arrest, as stated by CNN. In the incident, known as the Bhima Koregaon case, bloody clashes broke out between lower-caste and other regional groups in the state of Maharashtra.
Hundreds of thousands of Dalits — who are ranked the lowest in India’s caste-based system — had gathered in the village of Bhima Koregaon to mark the 200th anniversary of a battle in which they, as part of the then-British colonial army, defeated an upper-caste ruler, when the violence broke out.
Authorities accused Swamy of having ties with the organization responsible for the violence, and allege that he had links to Maoist rebels, who are considered one of the country’s biggest security threats. In a video recorded days before his arrest, Swamy denied all involvement and said he had never visited the location where the violence took place. A Jesuit for 64 years and a priest for 51 years, Swamy’s demise and its resulting outcry, is expected to dog the Modi government.