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Father Stan Swamy: Natural Death or Custodial Murder?

“I cannot hold a glass as my hands are unsteady due to Parkinson’s”, Swamy had stated in an application. It is even more outrageous that he was even denied a straw or a sipper to eat as his ailment restricted him from eating on his own.

Credits: Dominic Xavier

After nine months of bigoted imprisonment on vague charges, Father Stan Swamy, a Jesuit priest, and tribal rights activist succumbed to his deteriorating health and suffered a cardiac arrest in a private hospital after being shifted from Taloja Jail in Mumbai. Swamy was put on ventilator support at the Holy Family Hospital after he faced alarming breathing difficulties with doctors examining him saying that his condition was “critical” due to post-Covid complications. It was a death that was allowed to happen despite being priorly anticipated by his collapsing health in prison. The 84-year old Christian priest was among the 16 people accused in the Bhima-Koregaon case. He was arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which enables prolonged detention for questioning; but his age or ailing due to Parkinson’s disease drew no sympathy to the callous disregard to his health from either the prosecution agency or the trial court, which adhered to the state narrative of there being little or no proof of him being a part of Maoist plot to overthrow the government. There have been several unjust arrests under the UAPA in the past few years with little or no proof; but the death of Stan Swamy was very cruel and would weigh on the collective conscience of the country for a very long time.

The Elgar-Parishad case is associated with the suspected provocative speeches delivered at a conference that was held in Pune around four years back on 31 December, which, as per the police, incited violence the subsequent day near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial located on the borders of the western Maharashtra city. In the Elgar- Parishad case, Stan Swamy being the eldest among the co-accused had been charged for supposedly being members of frontal organizations working on behalf of the Maoists groups by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). The case was fit for bail, but it was denied to Swamy, mainly due to the statutory bar on bail under the anti-terrorism law cited against him.

Credits: TOI

It was stated by Swamy’s counsel that he was suffering from several ailments including Parkinson’s disease and was tested positive for coronavirus last month. Due to his ill health, he moved to the High Court to seek interim bail on health grounds to seek proper medical treatment earlier this year but his plea was denied saying that there was no “conclusive proof” of his medical ailments following which, Swamy filed a fresh plea challenging section 45D(3) of the UAPA, that imposes a rigorous bar on grant of bail to an accused charged under the act. This was done through his advocate Desai, last Friday. Both the pleas’ were listed for hearing last Friday, but the High Court said that it could not be taken up because of the “paucity of time”. He was even denied a sipper or straw last November despite several applications stating he was not able to eat without a straw. “I cannot hold a glass as my hands are unsteady due to Parkinson’s”, Swamy had stated in an application. After this, it became fairly obvious that his stay at the prison, especially with the ongoing pandemic and his deteriorating health was deleterious to his well-being. Was this indifference acceptable? Can it not be called a murder instead of a natural death?

Several political parties and activists expressed their fury against the “custodial murder” of Stan Swamy and demanded accountability from the government. “It’s over. Modi and Shah have accomplished the custodial killing of the gentle Jesuit social worker Father 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,” stated a tweet from Kavita Sharma, a member of the Communist Party Of India.

One can see a pattern of organized oppression, right from the denial of a straw in jail to the denial of bail, resulting in his death while in custody. The bigger question here is the legitimacy of the “bail-denying” aspect of the UAPA and the cogency of the Koregaon-Bhima case which should be further investigated otherwise the ferocity of the samaritans and the death of Father Stan Swamy would all be in vain.

Sidra Fatima is a student pursuing English Honours from Jamia Millia Islamia.

Edited by: Diptarka Chatterjee

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Written by Sidra Fatima

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