An elderly Jesuit priest has been detained by India’s counter-terrorist task force the National Investigations Agency for suspected links to Maoist rebels and other terrorist groups. Thousands of Indians have come out to protest defence.
Father Stan Swamy, born Stanislaus Lourdusamy, is accused of being party to a conspiracy that led to a violent clash between Dalit, a term used to denote ‘Untouchable’ castes in India, protestors and police at Bhima Koregaon, Maharashtra on 1st January 2018.
The 83 year-old tribal rights activist was taken from Bagaicha, his Jesuit social work centre, where he has worked for the last 15 years, on 8th October and placed into custody until 23rd October, says the National Catholic Reporter. He has been charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, under which bail is denied to the accused.
In Ranchi, the capital of Jharkand state, where Swamy is being held, hundreds of tribal people demanded his release. And 2,000 social activists from around India called his arrest an attack on people working for human and constitutional rights in his state.
Bishop Mascarenhas, a former secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India c0ndemned the NIA’s conduct, saying:
“The timing of their arrival at the residence of the priest, after the sun has set and darkness has fallen, perhaps manifests the evil designs of those who are dealing with the case.”
In a statement, the Jesuit Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat has come out in defence of in solidarity with Swamy, saying:
Fr. Stan, a human rights defender has been in Bagaicha, for the past 15 years, primarily working with the Adivasis (Indigenous community), for the defense, propagation and protection of their rights as enshrined in the Constitution of India. Fr. Stan’s room was raided twice, once on Aug. 28, 2018 and again on June 12, 2019, and he was questioned for more than 15 hours over a span of 5 days in July – August 2020.
“Stan professed his commitment to the Constitution of India and peaceful means of expressing dissent while questioning any form injustice done to the vulnerable adivasis by state and police. He always dared to speak truth to power and expose the large-scale abuse of power using anti-terror and sedition laws and land grabbing without due process of consultation as required. He also meticulously documented and published the untold sufferings of hundreds of Adivasi youth, who were falsely implicated and imprisoned for exercising their right to defend their resources.
We, as Jesuits involved in works of education, caring and defending the rights of the poor and the vulnerable all over the world, stand in solidarity with Stan and other human rights defenders in India and strongly condemn the arrest of Fr. Stan Swamy, demand immediate release and refrain from arbitrary arrests of innocent law abiding citizens.”