Saintly activist: Bengaluru pays tribute to Stan Swamy

‘Saintly activist:’ Bengaluru pays tribute to Stan Swamy

He had worked at the Indian Social Institute in this city, and always spoken up for the marginalised

Stan Swamy (84), who died on Monday, was a Bengaluru resident for many years.

Tribal rights activist Fr Stan Swamy (84), who died on Monday, had worked at the Indian Social Institute in Bengaluru for 16 years.

Historian Ramachandra Guha was among the first Bengalureans to respond to his passing: “Fr Stan Swamy spent a lifetime working for the dispossessed and disadvantaged. His tragic death is a case of judicial murder, for which the Home Ministry and the courts are jointly culpable.”

Metrolife speaks to those who knew him, and this is what they said:    

‘Deliberate refusal to hear pleas’

Salil Shetty, vice president, Global Programs of The Open Society Foundations, first met Stan Swamy in the 1980s when he was at the Indian Social Institute. “He was always there when it came to fighting for the rights of Dalits, adivasis, women, the minorities and the excluded,” he recalls. He says the deliberate refusal to hear Swamy’s repeated pleas for bail was meant to create “a chilling effect among those who stand against the authoritarian and anti-poor policies and actions of this regime. Both the executive and judiciary will have to be held accountable through an independent judicial inquiry. I am deeply regretful that my small contribution to get him released didn’t yield any results.”

‘Institutions watched in silence’ 

Saji Thomas, associated with Human Rights Defenders Alert-India and former programme director of People’s Watch, says many writers, poets, advocates and student activists are under threat for trying to reclaim their rights, as Stan Swamy had said. “India has a lot of democratic institutions but what we saw was their helplessness in not being able to save Stan Swamy,” says Saji. 

‘His home was open to all’ 

While working in Bengaluru, Stan Swamy was admired for his dedication and selfless service. Dr Joseph Xavier SJ, Director, Indian Social Institute, knew Stan Swamy for more than 20 years. “He would mingle with the poorest of the poor, live amidst them and work with them in getting them their rights. He had dedicated his life to the welfare of the adivasis in Jharkhand. Their lands were taken away by the corporates and they were displaced, and their habitats were threatened. He was then dubbed as Maoist,” says Fr Jose. He recalls that Stan Swamy’s house was open to anyone. “He always said, ‘My pain is nothing compared to the suffering of the people’,” recollects Fr Jose.  

Man with a conscience

Vrinda Grover, advocate, Supreme Court, says Stan Swamy had done extensive documentation about how extractive industries had moved into Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. “One of the patterns that he had noticed was the detention of a large number of adivasis in prison. He had then filed a PIL in the Jharkhand High Court saying their Constitutional right to speedy trials and liberty had been jeopardised. He had asked me to appear in court but before I could, raids and arrests had begun. The High Court had asked the state to file a detailed reply to his petition giving district-wise data, and the state is yet to fully comply with it,” explains Vrinda. It’s sad that a man who actually goes to the court to raise the issue of false incarceration and detention is then detained himself and dies due to the criminal neglect shown by the criminal justice system,” she adds. 

‘Work meaning to his life’

Actor and activist Chetan Ahimsa, who works for the welfare of tribals, says Swamy’s work in Jharkhand inspires those working for ‘our tribal populations’.

“Stan Swamy studied how institutional discrimination branded 97% of jailed adivasis wrongly as having Maoist links. Nearly that same percentage of tribal inmates earned less than Rs 5,000 a month. This allowed him to draw parallels to show how those who were both socially and economically disadvantaged were the ones who faced jail sentences under anti-terror laws,” says Chetan.

This is institutional murder

Shivasundar, columnist and human rights activist, describes Stan Swamy as a ‘saint,’ and says the government has hatched a plan to suppress the voices of dissent emerging all over the country. “They charged Stan Swamy under a draconian law because his fight gave a voice to the adivasis. He was jailed and denied bail on flimsy grounds. How could an 84-year-old be a threat?” wonders Shivasundar.