Bengaluru institute where Stan Swamy spent 16 years remembers activist’s legacy
At the Indian Social Institute in Bengaluru where Father Stan Swamy spent 16 years of his life working, a large gathering congregated on Thursday to share stories of the soft-spoken man, who raised his voice for the voiceless. Father Stan Swamy, a tribal rights activist arrested in the Elgar Parishad case last year, passed away at a private hospital in Mumbai on July 5.
He was arrested on October 8, 2020 by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which alleged that the priest had Maoist connections and was working for frontal organisations of the banned CPI (Maoist). He was charged under the UAPA and was sent to Taloja jail. In his defence, Swamy said evidence against him was fabricated and that he never conspired to foment violence.
An urn containing the ashes of the activist was kept at the centre, standing next to it, his friends and family shared stories of anguish and made calls for action.
“Whenever we were in Ranchi, thatha would call my mother and tell her to keep idly batter ready. He wouldn’t spend more than two days with us, but when he stayed, he used to tell us endlessly about struggles of the adivasis (tribals) he was working with,” said Sheeba, Stan Swamy’s grandniece.
Recollecting her last meeting with Stan Swamy, she said that she had asked him to stay back in Bengaluru when he had come for a visit. “When he had come in 2019, he told us about what was going on in the case. We asked why he can’t take the backseat and stay back in here, away from all problems. He said he wants to be with his people,” Sheeba added.
Dr Joseph Xavier, the current director of the institute said that Stan Swamy believed in standing for truth and justice, even at the cost of pain. “Stan has created the wave. People are not questioning the government,” Dr Xavier said.
“He lived and died for what he believed in,” said Bengaluru archbishop Peter Machado. “Stan, although dead, may come alive in us. . Even though he wanted to free those who were jailed unjustly, he was made prisoner. But he freed several minds.”
Salil Shetty, a human rights activist, who was the Secretary-General of Amnesty International, quoted Brazilian Catholic archbishop Hélder Câmara: “If you feed the poor, you are a saint. But if you ask why the poor are hungry, you are communist.” Shetty said Fr Stan was neither a saint nor a communist. “He was a patriot. He was much more patriotic than the people who called him a traitor,” he added.
Why did the Indian state treat Fr Stan so cruelly? The answer is in the dignity Fr Stan showed during his interrogation, said Babu Mathew is former Registrar and faculty at National Law School of India University.
“In my reflection, whether guilty or not, they (government agencies) expect everyone to cringe before them. When they interrogated Fr Stan for 15 hours, he didn’t cringe before them. That’s why he was kept in judicial custody without ever being questioned again. He was denied medicines, warm clothes and even bail,” said Mathew.
“Fr Stan was a good social analyst. He was not a Maoist, he was a Gandhian and organic intellectual,” Mathew said. “He took used RTI (Right to Information) and approached the courts for the adivasis. In one instance, translated a Supreme Court order which said whoever owns the land, owns what is underneath it and circulated among the Adivasi. How is Maoist activity,” he asked.
Arvind Narrain who is a founding member of the Alternative Law Forum pointed out that how Stan Swamy’s case, the government and the judiciary violated his right to live. Mathew made a call for the best minds in society to fight and prove Fr Stan’s innocence.
In a short tribute, Shujayathulla E, facilitator of programs at Indian Social Institute shared a short anecdote. “We were supposed to attend a protest, by the time we reached there the protest was over. Then we were told that a group of students were protesting the Mayura circle, so we went there. As we reached, they started playing the state anthem. As I didn’t hear the announcement and started walking, Fr Stan stopped me and asked me to wait until the anthem is over,” she said .