Father Stan Swamy, the 84-year-old Jharkhand-based tribal activist who was one of the accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, died on Monday at 1.24 pm after suffering a cardiac arrest, Live Law reported.
News of Swamy’s demise broke during an urgent bail hearing following his cardiac arrest early on Monday morning. After suffering a cardiac arrest at 4.30 am, Swamy never regained consciousness, Dr D’Souza of Holy Family Hospital told the court.
Swamy was an undertrial prisoner at the Taloja central jail since his arrest in October 2020 in the Bhima Koregaon case.
In January 2018, violence broke out a day after the annual celebration, called the Elgar Parishad, at Bhima Koregaon, a panchayat village in Maharashtra, to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon. In 1818, Dalits of the village had fought the battle as soldiers (mahars) in the British army and defeated the Brahmin Peshwa Bajirao II.
Swamy and 15 other activists and scholars were accused of having Maoist links and backing the event that led to the violence. They were arrested under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and have been awaiting trial for the past three years.
Based in Jharkhand, Swamy worked for the rights of the Adivasi communities. He was taken into custody by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on October 8, 2020. He had filed a petition in court against the state demanding undertrial prisoners to be released on a personal bond.
The NIA had claimed in its chargesheet that Swamy was a CPI (Maoist) cadre who was communicating with other cadres, receiving funds from them and was a convenor of CPI (Maoists)’s frontal organisation- Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee. It also claimed that it had recovered incriminating documents, literature and propaganda from him. Swamy said these were fabricated.
On Sunday, the National Human Rights Commission, India had issued a notice to the Maharashtra Chief Secretary asking that every possible medical treatment be provided to Swamy “as part of life-saving measure and protection of his basic human rights.”
In the notice, the NHRC mentioned that this direction follows an earlier order of the Commission advising the Maharashtra government to provide adequate medical care and treatment to Swamy, who was hospitalized in Holy Family Hospital.
The NHRC also mentioned that a complaint on May 16 stated that Swamy was being denied medical facility during the coronavirus pandemic and also alleged that he had not been vaccinated yet nor was there proper medical care in the jail hospital. The petitioner had further alleged that the majority of jail staff had tested positive for the virus, especially most of the kitchen staff, and a number of undertrial prisoners had also contracted the coronavirus.
Subsequently, Swamy had tested positive for Covid-19 on May 30.
Mary Lawlor, a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, expressed her concerns over Swamy’s critical health condition on Sunday.
Following his worsening health condition, the Bombay High Court was hearing Swamy’s bail application on an urgent basis on Monday and had adjourned it for Tuesday, during which time the Holy Family Hospital informed the court about Swamy’s demise.
Urging for a judicial enquiry, Swamy’s lawyer said he has “no complaints against Holy family but we cant say the same thing about NIA and the state.”
The court directed that an inquest and post-mortem examination be conducted forthwith, along with other requisite formalities, after Swamy’s lawyer pointed out that it was a custodial death.
Since Swamy was a priest and the Jesuits are his only family, his body will be handed over to his friend Father Frazer Mascarenhas, retired Principal of St Xavier’s College.
Though it is not yet decided if Swamy will be buried or cremated, the court has ordered that a small funeral in accordance with the Covid-19 protocols and SOPs can be held in Mumbai. “There are no plans to take him to Ranchi or anything,” said Swamy’s lawyer.
Journalists and Activists Blame Government
Journalists and activists across the country raised their voices condoning the incident while blaming the government for Swamy’s death.
“Father Stan Swamy, we as a country killed you. My head hangs in shame. Rest in peace, Father, hero, champion of human rights,” tweeted journalist Rana Ayyub.
“Father Stan Swamy is no more. Shameful day for this country and its law enforcement system. Blood on their hands,” wrote journalist Aditya Menon.
Echoing the same, poet Meena Kandasamy called Swamy’s death a “judicial murder” and blaming the NIA, Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, she further wrote: “Everyone is complicit: NIA, Modi-Shah, the judiciary that never saw the nonsense-upon-stilts which was Bhima Koregaon case, jails, ruling class and media.”
Jignesh Mevani, an MLA in the Gujarat Legislative Assembly and the convener of the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch, wrote: “Fr Stan Swamy shall never die. He will live in our hearts as a hero, the brave dissenter who stood against the fascist Modi government at the cost of his life. Modi & Shah have Fr. Stan Swamy’s blood on their hands. The country will never forgive them.”
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh tweeted: “Who in the apparatus of the Indian state will be held responsible for this tragedy? Make no mistake — it is the Indian state that killed Fr. Stan Swamy, who was such a passionate crusader for social justice.”
Eamon Gillmore, a special representative for European Union Human Rights, tweeted: “I am very saddened to hear that Fr Stan Swamy has passed away. A defender of indigenous peoples’ rights. He was held in detention for the past 9 months. The EU had been raising his case repeatedly with authorities.”
Calling it a ‘judicial murder’, several others, including historian Ramchandra Guha, Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, National Convenor of Congress Ruchira Chaturvedi, political activist Yogendra Yadav, and Al Jazeera English journalist Anmol Saxena, blamed the central government and court for Swamy’s ‘unjust imprisonment’ and subsequent death.