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Friends, human rights groups remember Fr Stan Swamy, issue calls for justice

Updated on: 06 July,2021 08:46 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Nascimento Pinto |

A day after the 84-year-old Jesuit priest passed away at a Mumbai private hospital while in custody, people around the world paid tribute to the tribal rights activist and termed his death an injustice. He was arrested in connection with the Bhima Koregaon conspiracy case in October 2020 and had been recently shifted for treatment

Friends, human rights groups remember Fr Stan Swamy, issue calls for justice

Representatives of the Bombay Catholic Sabha stand with banners outside St Peter's Church in Bandra. Photo: Atul Kamble

A day after Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist Father Stan Swamy died in custody, friends, family, and human rights groups issued statements expressing grief and calling for justice. The 84-year-old was laid to rest at St Peter’s Church in Bandra, where the funeral service was carried out on the evening of July 6. The board outside the church, which had previously kept count of the number of days he had been lodged in jail, now reads ‘Goodbye Fr Stan, you are an inspiration”. 

Many people gathered at the spot to show their support for the priest, who had been admitted to Holy Family Hospital in May due to health complications. The poster by the Bombay Catholic Sabha in solidarity read, “Sorry Stan, we failed you”, and “Forgive Us Not, Father”. 

On the morning of July 6, family and friends of Swamy released a statement, calling his death an “institutional murder”. The signatories, comprising the kin of those who were arrested in the Bhima Koregaon conspiracy case along with Swamy, wrote: “While we grieve at the passing away of Father Stan Swamy, we unequivocally hold the negligent jails, the indifferent courts and the malicious investigating agencies firmly responsible for his unfortunate death. ”Their statement further highlighted how it was “unconscionable” that a person as old as Swamy was put in jail during a pandemic. “We fear for the health and lives of our family members and colleagues, who are facing similar injustices in the same jails, under the same unaccountable system,” it read.

In October 2020, Jharkhand-based Swamy was booked by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) under the anti-terror UAPA law in connection with the Bhima Koregaon conspiracy case, and was lodged at Mumbai's Taloja Central Jail before he was shifted to the private hospital. The priest suffered a cardiac arrest on July 4 and was put on a ventilator, before he passed away on July 5. He was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and other age-related ailments, and contracted Covid-19 on May 30.

The St Peter's Church signboard on May 28, which showed the number of days Father Stan Swamy was in jail. Photo: Keenan Burroughs

A few hours after his death at the hospital, Snehashish, an Ambedkarite who had spent time at Bagaicha, a social centre in Jharkhand, which was also Swamy’s residence, shared personal memories of the priest in a Twitter thread. “Bagaicha is as much a training centre, a community place, it is as much a beautiful and lively place full of trees, plants, birds, animal, Birsa statue, and the memorial-wall with the names of Aadivasi martyrs, and all of them were centred around Father Stan's presence there,” he wrote in remembrance.

The United Nations Human Rights office also tweeted about the activist, who helped defend the rights of adivasis in Jharkhand. “We are saddened & disturbed by the death of 84-year-old human rights defender Father Stan Swamy, after prolonged pre-trial detention. With COVID-19, it is even more urgent that States release every person detained without sufficient legal basis,” the tweet read.

St Peter’s Church in Bandra, where the funeral service was conducted, had been actively showing solidarity with the priest, by displaying the number of days he was being held in prison. Parish priest Fr. Frazer Mascarenhas, who is a part of the Jesuits order of the Roman Catholic church, had said the sole intention of putting the signboard was to tell the people to pray for Swamy, who had been victimised. The church had also put up banners in support of the priest in December 2020 but had to shift them indoors after the Bandra Police had objected to it. 

Also Read: Bandra’s St. Peter’s Church puts up signboard in support of 84-year-old Father Stan Swamy

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