On July 5, 2021, India, home to 700 indigenous groups with a population of more than 104 million, witnessed an ‘institutional murder’ with the death of an 84-year-old Jesuit priest, Father Stan Swamy.
His crime: joining hands with India’s indigenous people in their non-violent struggle to resist corporate takeover of their lands for mining and other big-ticket projects. In that way, Father Swamy helped them assert their cultural and political autonomy against mighty corporations.
The government machinery swung into action and rounded up an elderly and an ailing Swamy. It branded him an active sympathizer of outlawed ‘Maoist’ rebels and charged him with a draconian anti-terror law and he paid a heavy price for siding with India’s tribal people.
Repeatedly denied bail, Swamy, suffering from Parkinson’s disease,was locked up in a cramped prison and died in a hospital on July 5, 2021.
The paradigm of “development,” assiduously followed by India’s elites, includes indiscriminate extraction of scarce mineral and natural resources, which are unfortunately located in the Scheduled Areas, where tribal people dwell.
India’s constitution confers a special status on forest dwellers in the “scheduled areas”, which makes the President of India and governors of the provincial states custodians of administration in the scheduled areas. There is also a provision that bans transfer of land to non-tribal people in the scheduled areas. In several cases, the Supreme Court has time and again reinforced the validity of these Constitutional and legislative provisions.
Born in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Father Swamy served the indigenous people in eastern Jharkhand state. On April 26, the birth anniversary of Father Swamy was observed in the country.
“Usually, after death, one is buried. But Father Swamy was sown. His ideals and sacrifices have to be taught to people,” said Justice K Chandru, a retired Madras High Court judge in Tamil Nadu, the home state of Father Swamy.
The priest was picked up by India's anti-terror National Investigation Agency on Oct. 8, 2020, which accused him of being a party to a conspiracy hatched by outlawed Maoist rebels to unleash violence at Bhima-Koregaon in the western Indian state of Maharashtra on Jan. 1, 2018.
Father Swamy was charged along with 16 others under the provisions of the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The 84-year-old Father Swamy died as an undertrial in Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra.
The Jesuits have already filed a case in the Mumbai High Court to clear his name from the alleged case of treason after Arsenal Consulting, a Massachusetts-based digital forensics firm, said in its report that digital evidence used to arrest Father Swamy “in the Bhima-Koregaon case was planted on his computer’s hard drive.”
The hackers, said the Arsenal report, “first attacked Father Swamy’s computer on Oct. 19, 2014, using a Remote Access Trojan called Netwire.”
Several programs were organized in different parts of India, including his residence in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand state, to commemorate Father Swamy’s birthday.
His friends have instituted a fellowship in his name. The fellowship, a joint initiative of Swamy's friends and the Jesuit-run social organization founded by the late priest, is to keep alive his legacy.
The one-year-long fellowship pays a monthly stipend of 15,000 rupees (US$183).
However, the Indian Church and the Vatican are yet to give the late priest his due share of respect.