PUCL is extremely saddened and anguished by the death of Fr. Stan Swamy today, 5th July, 2021 in the Holy Family Hospital, Bandra, where he was undertaking treatment pursuant to an interim order of the Bombay High Court in his bail petition in the Bhima Koregaon case. What is most tragic is that even as the High Court Division Bench had started hearing the bail petition, news trickled in that he had passed away.
PUCL salutes a valiant fighter for the rights and voices of millions of Adivasis of India, especially those living in Jharkhand, his adopted state of over 2 decades. Possessing a genial and gentle demeanour, Fr. Stan was a giant of a human being who unceasingly and fearlessly exposed how the then BJP ruled State government and police had imprisoned thousands of Adivasis for long years in jail without bail for the only fact that they opposed the destruction of the dense forests in Jharkhand and handing over the traditional Adivasi homeland to big Corporates for mining and industrial projects. With others, he authored a report in 2016 titled, “Deprived of rights over natural resources, impoverished Adivasis get prison”.
Fr. Stan’s efforts led to the filing of a PIL before the Jharkhand HC demanding release of thousands of innocent Adivasis arrested for the Pathalgadi movement. Later in end 2019, after the change of government, the Hemant Soren led Jharkhand Government released thousands of Adivasis. It is no wonder that the BJP-led Central Government had Fr. Stan in its cross hairs.
Fr. Stan was arrested in October, 2020 in the Bhima Koregaon case and kept in Prison even though he was 84 years old, was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and had to be assisted for even ordinary chores like holding a glass of water. The vengefulness of the NIA and the brute nature of the Indian Government are exposed by the strident attack launched by the NIA who fought viciously to deny bail to Fr. Stan even when it became apparent that his health was deteriorating. An equally heartless and pitiless prison administration adamantly refused timely medical treatment even when it was clear that he was suffering what appeared to be typical Covid symptoms.
Eventually, it was thanks to the sensitive response of the Bombay HC that he was given interim medical bail and ordered to be kept in the Holy Family Hospital in Bandra, Mumbai where he was found to be suffering from severe Covid. Tragically while Fr Stan recovered from Covid, the trauma endured while in prison took its toll on his health and Fr. Stan eventually died today.
It is very clear that the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the Central Government and the Prison authorities are together responsible for this wholly unnecessary and fully preventable death which actually amounts to `Institutional Murder’. We strongly condemn the totally callous, insensitive and vengeful approach of the prosecution authorities to the prayer for interim bail to Fr. Stan and other prisoners like him who suffered medical conditions making them vulnerable to Covid infections while inside prison.
Fr. Stan, if he were alive, would have fully endorsed the call that all prisoners, especially political prisoners, including the other Bhima Koregaon co-prisoners who still are in jail be released on bail, as a measure to decongest prisons and ensure safety of prisoners from being affected by Corona pandemic. Let us all give a resounding call to decongest prisons throughout the land by demanding release of all prisoners until Corona pandemic has passed away.
Ravi Kiran Jain, President
Dr. V. Suresh, General Secretary
PEOPLE”S UNION FOR CIVIL LIBERTIES