Stanislaus Lourduswamy popularly known as Stan Swamy was an Indian Roman Catholic priest, a member of the Jesuit order and a tribal rights activist for several decades.
He studied theology and did a Masters in Sociology at the University of Manila, Philippines in the 1970s.
The 84 year old Jesuit priest died on Monday at the Holy Family Hospital in a Mumbai suburb after suffering cardiac arrest. Reports state he was denied bail even as his health deteriorated in prison. Swamy was living with Parkinson’s Disease and had recently contracted Covid-19 in prison. At a hearing for his bail application in May, the court noted Swamy had a “severe hearing problem” and was “physically very weak.”
Swamy, a tribal rights activist based in Jharkhand, worked in the state for over three decades on various issues of the adivasi communities on land, forest and labour rights. This includes questioning the non-implementation of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, which stipulated setting up of a Tribes Advisory Council with members solely of the adivasi community for their protection, well-being and development in the state.
In 2016, moved by the plight of Adivasi prisoners in the tribal state, Swamy did a research on them which was published as a report titled ‘Deprived of rights over natural resources, impoverished Adivasis get prison: a study of Undertrials in Jharkhand’. The study found that 31 per cent of undertrials and a little over a third of the convicts were tribals. The percentage of tribals in jail was far higher than their proportion of the population.
However, in October 2020, he was arrested and charged under the country’s anti-terrorism laws along with 15 other activists and academics, and for being co-conspirators in a 2018 violent incident, according to a statement by the country’s anti-terrorism task force soon after his arrest. His arrest sparked outrage worldwide, prompting several opposition politicians, national and international rights groups to demand his release.
In a video that went viral two days ahead of his arrest, Swamy suggested his arrest was linked to his work, as it involved dissent against government policies. “What is happening to me is not something unique happening to me alone. It is a broader process that is taking place all over the country. We are all aware how prominent intellectuals, lawyers writers, poets, activists, students, leaders, they are all put into jail because they have expressed their dissent or raised questions about the ruling powers of India. We are part of the process. In a way I am happy to be part of this process. I am not a silent spectator, but part of the game, and ready to pay the price whatever be it.” Swammy was the oldest person to be accused of terrorism in India
The death of the human right activist has sparked anger across the country, with critics decrying the government’s alleged misuse of anti-terrorism laws.