Swamy, perhaps the oldest person to be arrested under the stringent UAPA law, had been on ventilator support since Sunday following a significant deterioration in his health.
Here’s all you need to know about Stan Swamy and the case against him …
A long struggle for bail
The Jesuit priest died in the midst of a long and anguish struggle for an interim bail on medical grounds.
The 84-year-old was undergoing treatment at the intensive care unit of the Holy Family Hospital, where he was shifted from the Taloja prison in Navi Mumbai following the Bombay high court’s order on May 28 this year.
Swamy’s counsel said he was suffering from several ailments, including the Parkinson’s disease, and had moved the high court earlier this year to seek medical treatment and interim bail on health grounds.
He had tested positive for coronavirus at a private hospital last month and was subsequently shifted to the ICU.
Last month, the NIA had filed an affidavit before the HC opposing Swamy’s bail plea. It had said that there did not exist “conclusive proof” of his medical ailments.
Social activists in Ranchi mourn the death of Stan Swamy. (TOI Photo | Mahadeo Sen)
Last Friday, Swamy, through advocate Desai, had also filed a fresh plea challenging section 45D(3) of the UAPA, that imposes stringent bar on grant of bail to an accused charged under the Act.
The section, Swamy had said, created insurmountable obstacles for an accused to be granted bail and was thus, violative of one’s fundamental right to life and liberty.
His medical bail plea and the fresh plea were listed for hearing last Friday, but could not be taken up by the HC due to “paucity of time.”
The court had at the time adjourned the hearing to July 6, and extended Swamy’s stay at the private hospital till then.
On Monday, the bench was presiding over an urgent application moved by Desai to hear Swamy’s medical bail plea.
The bench began the hearing asking for Swamy’s latest medical reports from the hospital authorities, when the NIA intervened objecting to the urgent mentioning.
Desai intervened, urging the HC to let Dr D’souza address the court for “just a minute”.
The court was then told that Swamy suffered a cardiac arrest on July 4 early morning.
“He was put on a ventilator then, but he never regained consciousness following the cardiac arrest. He was finally declared dead this afternoon,” Dr Dsouza told the court.
The doctor said Swamy had recovered from Covid-19, but had lung complications, and was also a known case of Parkinson’s disease. “A possible combination of these led to septicemia,” Dr D’Souza told the HC.
Offering condolences to Desai, the bench said, “We are all very shocked. What to now say further? We appreciate your efforts. You made him (Swamy) agree to get admitted to the hospital and he got the best medical treatment. Unfortunately, he could not survive.”
Desai told the HC that he had no grievances against the HC and the private hospital where Swamy was treated, but he could not say the same for the NIA and the state prison authorities.
Not the last straw
Even in November last year, Swamy had to struggle to get sipper and straw to be able to eat in jail.
Swamy had made three applications before the special NIA court, seeking directions to the NIA to provide him with a sipper and straw to help him eat. “I cannot hold a glass as my hands are unsteady due to Parkinson’s,” Swamy had said in his application.
The NIA had asked for four weeks to respond to Swamy’s request.
In December, the NIA told both the special court and the Bombay high court that the state prison authorities had provided a sipper to him. “Not just sipper and straw, we are providing him other facilities too like a wheelchair, walking stick, walker, and two attendants were also provided to him,” the NIA had told HC.
While in the Taloja prison, Swamy had written to his friends saying that other prison inmates helped him bathe and eat. “My two inmates help out during supper, in washing my clothes and give massage to my knee joints,” he wrote.
Who was Stan Swamy?
Swamy was a Jesuit priest who spent long years working among the Advasis in Ranchi.
He was born in Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu and studied theology. He did a Masters in Sociology at the University of Manila in the 1970s. Later, he studied at Brussels where he struck up a friendship with Archbishop Holder Camara whose work among Brazils poor influenced him.
He later worked as director of the Jesuit-run Indian Social Institute at Bengaluru from 1975 to 1986.
He came to Jharkhand some thirty years ago and took up work among the tribals. Among other issues he took up the causes of tribals marginalised after their lands had been taken over for dams, mines and townships, often without their consent.
In 2016, moved by the plight of Adivasi prisoners in Jharkhand, many of whom were falsely branded as “Naxalites”, Swamy did a research on them titled ‘Deprived of rights over natural resources, impoverished Adivasis get prison: a study of Undertrials in Jharkhand.’
His study found that 97 per cent of undertrials interviewed said that allegations that they were linked to Maoists were false, and 96 per cent of them earned less than Rs 5,000 a month, underlining the fact the poorest and the most vulnerable in the state were the among the ones arrested under stringent anti-terror laws.
Charges against Swamy
NIA officials had said investigations established that Swamy was actively involved with the CPI (Maoist).
The NIA also alleged that he was in contact with “conspirators” — Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Hany Babu, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde — to further the group’s activities.
The agency alleged that Swamy had also received funds through an associate for furthering their ideological agenda. Besides, he was convenor of the Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee (PPSC), which the authorities dubbed a frontal organisation of the CPI( Maoist).
They said literature, propaganda material of the CPI(Maoist) and documents related to communications for furthering the group’s programmes were seized from his possession.
Swamy on his part had alleged that material had been planted on his computer and he was being falsely accused.
Ahead of his arrest, Swamy had posted a video saying the NIA had been interrogating him and had questioned him for 15 hours during a span of five days.
“Now they want me to go to Mumbai, which I have said that I won’t go,” he had said, citing the pandemic. The video, posted on YouTube, was recorded two days before his arrest.
“I have never been to Bhima Koregaon for which I am being accused,” he had said.
Activists, leaders express shock, grief
Activists as well as leaders from various political parties expressed anguish over the death of Swamy. Some even demanded that the government fix accountability for his “custodial murder”.
Kavita Krishnan, a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) politburo, tweeted, “It is not Father Stan we mourn for… We condole the death of the judicial process, Constitution in India today”.
“It’s over. Modi and Shah have accomplished the custodial killing of the gentle Jesuit social worker Fr Stan Swamy, who spent his life serving the oppressed. I hope the judges who denied him bail never get to sleep at night: they have blood on their hands,” she said in another tweet.
Social activist Harsh Mander called Swamy’s death a tragedy for the nation.
“Devoted to selfless defence of Adivasi rights. Gentle, brave, even from prison he grieved not for himself but injustice to poor prisoners. A cruel state jailed him to silence his voice, the judiciary did nothing to secure his freedom. A tragedy for the nation,” he said.
Anti-graft crusader and RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj termed Swamy’s death an “institutional murder”.
“With UAPA, the process is the punishment. The death of 84-year-old Father Stan Swamy should be recognised for what it is – institutional murder. RIP Father Stan,” she tweeted.
Rights activist Shabnam Hashmi also spoke in the same vein.
Karwan-e-Mohabbat, a people’s campaign devoted to equality, freedom and justice said, “Father Stan Swamy has died. He is now free. The state that inflicted cruelties on this brave, noble soul has murder on its hands”.
Several leaders in Kerala condoled the death of Swamy, with chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan saying such “travesty of justice should have no place in our democracy.”
Apart from Vijayan, minister K Rajan, assembly speaker M B Rajesh, former chief minister Oommen Chandy and former leader of the opposition Ramesh Chennithala were among those who condoled the demise of Swamy.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said Swamy deserved justice and humaneness.
“Heartfelt condolences on the passing of Father Stan Swamy. He deserved justice and humaneness,” he wrote on Twitter.
PDP president Mehbooba Mufti expressed shock over Swamy’s demise, saying a “ruthless and callous” government deprived him of dignity and has blood on its hands.
Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren in a tweet alleged that the central government should be held accountable for the absolute apathy towards Stan Swamy. He said he was shocked to learn of the priest’s demise.
Elgar Parishad case
The Elgar Parishad case is related to inflammatory speeches made at a conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017.
The police claimed the speeches triggered violence the next day near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial located on the outskirts of the western Maharashtra city. It added that the conclave was organised by people with alleged Maoist links.
Swamy was amongst the oldest of the 16 accused arrested in the case. Others who were arrested includes some of India’s most-respected scholars, lawyers, academicians, cultural activists, and an ageing radical poet.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested Swamy on October 8, 2020 from Ranchi and charged him with criminal conspiracy and waging war against the country. He was also charged under various sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for supporting and raising funds for terrorist organisations.
(With inputs from PTI)