P.A. Chacko S.J.
‘Murder, murder’, they shouted. One called it institutional murder. Another said, ‘murder most foul in custody!’ Yes, seasoned citizens, reasoning men and women of India and abroad declared that they had no two opinions. It was clean, calculated and horrendous murder of an 84 year old, disease affected person.
We are speaking of Fr. Stanislaus Lourduswami, Indian Jesuit priest, popularly known as Stan Swami. The allegation that he had turned anti-national was enough for the State power to let him die in custody without timely and proper medication.
The heinous crime of murdering him happened in the world’s largest democracy. This India! According to him and those who knew him at close quarters, his greatest crime was that he voiced the anxieties and aspirations of the downtrodden tribals and the Dalits. He walked with them during street demonstrations when they were out in the streets shouting, ‘foul, foul, shame, shame’, against the State vandalism that pulverized their homestead land by business tycoons in connivance with the ruling aristocracy. He sat with them in sit-in-dharnas before the state governor’s office when they demanded that the government take back its black law that facilitated snatching away their land for quarries, highways and mines. He researched into government policies and programs and exposed the anti-development and anti-people agenda in them.
When helpless and voiceless tribals were picked up by national anti-terrorist agencies on mere suspicion of being Maoist supporters, Stan Swami studied, documented and published the extent of the false arrests. Seeing that over 3,000 tribal men and women were victims of state repression and false propaganda, he turned to legal provisions and sought to render legal aid to get them out at least on bail.
‘How could a priest do such a thing’, the ruling class mulled! It did not have to burn midnight oil to scheme and execute its sinister plan to get even with him. Instant action! Put him behind bars with the trumped up charges of anti-national activities. And ‘planted false evidences in the computer!’
His rights-based activities of empowerment of the victims of exploitation, stimulation of the thinking capacity of the downtrodden, highlighting the human and fundamental rights of people in jail or outside jail, were anathema to the rulers. Because the bulldozers of the capital owing class have to have a free run especially in areas where tribals live, and where minerals, including gold, are found in abundance. Development of people meant development of big business, red carpet for crony capitalism, free market economy, collusion between the business class and the political class, and the like. And, the mineral-rich central India, the abode of the tribals, was required to pay the price of such anti-development process. Stan Swami functioned as a human rights activist in this area.
Any dissenting voice gets dealt with strictest possible and impossible measures by the State. That was where Stan Swami faced the iron fist of the State. Some have termed it murder ‘with iron fist in a velvet glove.’ The state mechanism, the jail management, the National Investigating Agency(NSA) with its prosecutor convoy, were all tuned up to let Stan Swami degenerate steadily and rapidly. The inhuman delay of 20 days to allow him the use of a sipping straw when he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease was part of the strategy. Surprisingly, the court allowed the prosecution 20 days to look for a straw in the haystack.
When he was seriously sick, he begged the court to let him go on medical bail and be with his friends and companions. The bail was rejected twice. The insensitive jail authorities did not bother to remove him to a hospital when he was Covid affected. After a delay of 10 days, they shifted him to a hospital where he had to be put on a ventilator. The line in Robert Burn’s dirge strikes a painful note here: ‘Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.’ But the rulers and their cohorts, without a trace of conscience, stay fiddling and gambling with demons by bartering their souls for a soulless kingdom.
The United Nations body expressed shock and anguish over the death of Stan Swami. “We are deeply saddened and disturbed by the death of 84 year old Fr. Stan Swami”, stated Liz Throssel, spokesperson for the U N High Commission for Human Rights.
“Darkness at noon: Stan Swami’s death is testimony to the Judiciary’s decline”, stated new agency The Wire. And, going to an unbelievable extreme was the act of Justice SS Shinde of the Mumbai bail hearing court. He had to withdraw his oral statement in praise of late Father Stan Swami and his work after the National Investigation Agency raised objections to the same during the hearing of Stan Swami’s bail plea that was heard posthumously. One wonders if this is democracy we are living in or a nation controlled by evil men consorting with the devil! Even judges had to bow and crawl before a State agency like NIA. We have heard of such things in fictions like the Animal Farm of George Orwell. Napoleon and his fellow pigs pervert the democratic promise of the revolution.
Recently four former Supreme Court judges, Justice Aftab Alam, Justice Madan B. Lokur, Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Gopal Gowda unanimously stated that laws like UAPA and Sedition should be done away with because these are being misused. Fair enough! However, one wonders, why such concerns did not surface when they were functioning as judicial officers of the apex court!
Those in power might be feeling safe and secure by eliminating people like Stan Swami and by keeping many others buried alive in the caverns of the jail. It has been truly said by someone that all these add up to the feeling of insecurity and fear of the ruling dispensation. But, how long, how long, Mr. Power, will you keep on securing your hot seat by cornering and eliminating people who differ, people who critically think? Shakespeare in his play, Henry VIII, has apt words: ‘Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.’
Death is not the end, Mr. Power! And, Fr. Swami’s death does not go in vain. From his ashes are rising phoenix figures from the downtrodden to claim their rightful place in history. In a democratic nation, in the quicksands of political uncertainties, the crown is sure to tumble down one day. The castles of power and platitudes, which politicians build, are bound to collapse as castles of misfortune under the tsunami waves of people’s democratic power. ‘Into that haven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.” (Rabindranath Tagore).