New Delhi: Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren has raised questions about the arrest of Ranchi-based senior activist Father Stan Swamy by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). In a late-night tweet on Friday Soren said that by arresting 83-year-old Swamy, what kind of message the BJP-led central government wants to send. Describing Swamy as someone who has been raising voice for the poor, disadvantaged and Adivasis, Soren further said, “what kind of zid (stubbornness) is this to suppress every protesting voice raised against you?”
गरिब, वंचितों और आदिवासियों की आवाज़ उठाने वाले 83 वर्षीय वृद्ध ‘स्टेन स्वामी’ को गिरफ्तार कर केंद्र की भाजपा सरकार क्या संदेश देना चाहती है?
अपने विरोध की हर आवाज को दबाने की ये कैसी जिद्द?
— Hemant Soren (घर में रहें – सुरक्षित रहें) (@HemantSorenJMM) October 9, 2020
Ranchi-based tribal rights activist and Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy was arrested in the Elgar Parishad case on Thursday by NIA. He was later taken to Mumbai. Prior to his arrest, he had been questioned on multiple occasions in connection with the case. Anticipating his arrest, two days before the arrest he had recorded a video detailing interrogation by the NIA.
Moreover, in a written statement Swamy had stated: “I was interrogated by the NIA for 15 hours during a span of 5 days (July 27, 28, 29, 30, Aug. 6). Apart from my bio-data and some factual information, several extracts allegedly taken from my computer implicating my connection to Maoist forces were placed before me. I told them all these are fabrications stealthily put into my computer and I disowned them.”
On Friday afternoon, a number of activists and concerned citizens organised a protest in Ranchi against the arrest of Swamy. Speaking to The Wire, Ranchi-based noted economist and activist Jean Dreze, who was part of the protest said, “Stan’s arrest is a symbol of the routinisation of draconian laws that would not exist in a functioning democracy. The victims are not just a few dissenters but also thousands of powerless people who are being harassed on a daily basis.”
According to the eminent economist, the tribal rights activist Swamy is a frail old man who was neither hiding nor running away. “In fact, he has patiently cooperated with the investigation agencies. Sending him to jail without trial is pointless except as a demonstration of ruthlessness,” Dreze added.
Condemning the arrest another participant of the protest, Aloka Kujur, an activist from Jharkhand said that Stan Swamy is an intellectual activist and BJP is afraid of him because he has been against the plundering of natural resources from the state. “Stan Swamy is arrested because over the years he has been writing against atrocities on Adivasis, plundering of natural resources and organising people to fight against injustice in the state,” Kujur told The Wire.
Swamy, a champion of Adivasi rights
It can be recalled that Swamy along with others were charged with sedition for supporting the Adivasi Pathalgadi movement in July 2018 by then BJP-led government. After he was charged with sedition, Swamy had written an article raising several questions about the validity, legality and justness of several steps taken by the then government. “These are the questions that I have consistently raised. If this makes me a ‘deshdrohi’, then so be it !,” Swamy had concluded his article with these words. The case against him and others was revoked after the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)-led government came to power in December 2019.
On Friday, more than 2,000 people had released a solidarity statement titled “We Stand with Stan”. According to the signatories, the arrest of Stan Swamy is an attack on all those working for human and constitutional rights in Jharkhand. “We firmly believe that the Bhima-Koregaon case, being driven by the Modi government, is a baseless fabrication. The central government, in the guise of the Bhima Koregaon case, is trying to build a false narrative of a national Maoist conspiracy against the state that involves these activists. The main objective of the case is to target and harass activists who work for the rights of Adivasis, Dalits and the marginalised, and raise questions against the anti-people policies of the government. The Bhima Koregaon conspiracy case exposes the extent to which the central government is willing to undermine constitutional values and suppress dissent,” the statement read.
Meanwhile, the president of Jesuit Conference of South Asia, George Pattery, has also released a statement, demanding immediate release of Swamy. Expressing shock over the arrest of the activist, the Jesuit Conference has urged civil society organisations to join solidarity protest on October 12.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) has also demanded Swamy’s immediate release. “The CBCI makes a strong appeal to the concerned authorities to immediately release Fr Stan Swamy and to permit him to go to his residence. The Catholic Community has always been lauded by all as a body of loyal, law abiding and service minded citizens of Mother India. The community has always been contributing to nation building and continues to collaborate with the government in working for the common good of all Indians and the progress of our nation. We earnestly urge that the rights, duties and privileges of all citizens are duly safeguarded, and peace and harmony prevail among all,” the statement released by the CBCI Secretary General Archbishop Felix Machado noted.
Moreover, on Saturday, All India Catholic Union (AICU) demanded immediate release of Swamy, noting that the AICU expresses its apprehensions that “the arrest of the frail, old and ailing activist in the midst of the extraordinary situation created by the Corona pandemic, seems part of a project to silence dissent and protest against alienation of the natural and forest resources of the Tribals.”
The Catholic Union national president Lancy D’Cunha said “the ordinary Catholic women and men stood in solidarity with Fr Stan, a national hero, and with the country’s Tribals whose struggles the Jesuit priest had espoused for more than half a century. Every citizen of India who has respect for the constitution and the rights of the poor, the Dalits, the disposed and the Tribals,makes common cause with these peoples’ movements.”
Besides Swamy’s arrest and his subsequent judicial custody, the NIA has also presented over 10,000-page chargesheet against Swamy, and got six others arrested – journalist and activist Gautam Navalakha, academic and civil liberties activist Anand Teltumbde, Delhi University associate officer Hany Babu and three cultural activists of Kabir Kala Manch, Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor and Jyoti Jagtap.