From Bujha Singh to Stan Swamy, the Indian state has proved that it doesn’t care for seniors when it comes to suppressing any voice of dissent

Bujha Singh Stan Swamy

July 5, 2021 will go down as another black day in the history of the world’s so-called largest democracy. It was then that an 84-year-old Roman Catholic priest, Stan Swamy, died in the custody of the Indian state while waiting for his bail. He was moved to a hospital after contracting COVID 19 and died of cardiac arrest.

Swamy had worked among the tribals in Jharkhand, and was vocal against the repression of Adivasis, the indigenous peoples, facing eviction from their traditional lands by the extraction industry with the backing of the government.
He was arrested on trumped up charges after being accused of terrorism for merely standing up for the marginalised. His health had deteriorated in jail during the pandemic, and yet the authorities remained adamant not to release him on humanitarian grounds. He was one of those scholars who were arrested on malicious charges to suppress any voice of dissent at the behest of the current right wing Hindu nationalist regime led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Swamy’s demise coincides with the 51st anniversary of the extra-judicial killing of an 82-year-old former Indian freedom fighter, Bujha Singh, who died in police custody on July 28, 1970. Singh, who had participated in the struggle to rid India of British occupation, was murdered by the police for his association with the revolutionary communist movement sparked by an uprising of landless tillers who have been fighting against the rich and the elites since the 1960s.

Following an uprising in the Naxalbari village of West Bengal by poor farmers, who claimed a right to the land, there was a campaign of police repression. People like Singh joined the radical movement. All reports indicate that he died in a staged shootout by Punjab police under a different regime.

Half century later, the history of Singh was repeated in the form of what many have called an “institutional murder” of Swamy. It is pertinent to mention here that an 81-year-old Telugu poet and political activist, Varavara Rao, continues to be incarcerated under brutal conditions even though he recently tested positive for COVID 19.
Like Swamy and Singh, Rao had also dared to question the power and stand up for the Underdog.

All this reflects poorly on India’s democracy and flies in the face of Modi, who had called for fighting Corona with Karuna (compassion). His government remained indifferent to a petition seeking unconditional release of political prisoners due to the spread of the pandemic in Indian jails.

Rather than trying to get to the bottom of the problem of social unrest caused by systemic injustice and inequality, the state is going after veterans such as Singh, Swamy or Rao, to instil fear in the minds of political dissidents. To achieve that end, Indian officials can go to any length.

It’s a shame that Indian society claims to be respectful of its seniors, but remains insensitive to these horrific stories. The tales of these two men shows that the Indian system’s brutal side remains unchanged, even as the disparity between the rich and the poor has grown over the past 50 years. There is no respite for the most underprivileged and underserved, despite tall claims of development and progress.

Gurpreet Singh is a journalist


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