Stan Swamy dies at 84: Who was the tribal rights activist arrested in Elgar Parishad case?

Father Stan Swamy, a tribal rights activist and Jesuit priest arrested in the Elgaar Parishad case last year, died on Monday. His counsel in...

Father Stan Swamy, a tribal rights activist and Jesuit priest arrested in the Elgaar Parishad case last year, died on Monday. His counsel informed the Bombay High Court when the court took up his bail plea.

The 84-year-old's lawyers had moved the Bombay High Court on Monday morning, seeking an urgent hearing on his medical bail plea after the Jesuit priest was put on ventilator after his health deteriorated early Sunday.

Swamy, 84, died at 1.30 pm on Monday, Dr Ian D'Souza, director of the Holy Family Hospital in suburban Bandra, told the Bomaby High Court's division bench of Justices SS Shinde and NJ Jamadar.

D'Souza told the court that Swamy suffered a cardiac arrest early Sunday morning following which he was put on ventilator support. He (Swamy) did not recover and passed away this afternoon, the official told the court.

The cause of the death is pulmonary infection, Parkinson's disease and post COVID-19 complications, he said.

Swamy's counsel Mihir Desai said there was negligence on part of the Taloja prison authorities, who failed to provide immediate medical attention to the Jesuit priest.

His death comes amid several prolonged efforts to secure his bail amid his deteriorating health.

Swamy was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in October 2020 and had been in jail since then.

So who was he and what kind of work did he do?

  • Swamy, who is one of the oldest person to be charged under the strigent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, was a Jesuit priest and a tribal rights activist based in Jharkhand.
  • He had worked in the state for over three decades on various issues of the adivasi communities on land, forest and labour rights.
  • Swamy is also the founder of Bagaicha, an organisation dedicated to uplift Adivasis, including fighting against the illegal detention of minors, falsely accused of being Maoists.
  • According to The Wire, Swamy championed the idea of conducting research on Naxalite undertrials in Jharkhand after seeing the fate of several Adivasis suffering in jails on false charges of being “left-wing extremists”.
  • As per his research, the study found that of the 102 imprisoned youth they spoke with, as many as 97 percent that said allegations against them were wrong. The government had imposed the stringent law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act on them without evidence. A large number of acquittals eventually vindicated the study, reports Scroll.in.
  • Two days before NIA took him into custody in connection to the Bhim Koregaon case, Swamy in a video message said that he had challenged the “indiscriminate” arrest of thousands of young Adivasis and moolvasis with investigating agencies labeling them as “Naxals".
  • Suffering from Parkinson's disease and bilateral hearing loss, Swamy was languishing in jail since October 2020. Swamy was arrested from his home in Ranchi in connection with the violence in Bhima Koregaon near Pune in January 2018.
  • He was charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and terror-related offences of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The NIA had claimed that Swamy had helped the cause of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) through various civil rights organizations he worked with.
  • The activist stated that he was being falsely implicated by central agencies and had told the NIA on at least four occasions during his interrogation that fake evidence had been planted on his computer. He said he was falsely implicated by central agencies because of his work in Jharkhand and his anti-government stance over multiple development projects undertaken in the state.
  • He was also considered to be the oldest person to be accused of terrorism in India, had also struggled to procure a straw and a sipper – both of which had been seized from him during his incarceration

Deteriorating health

  • Swamy had applied for bail in November last year both on medical grounds and on merits. He had said in his plea that he suffered from Parkinson's disease and had lost hearing in both his ears. Swamy had also argued that while in the Taloja prison, he had to be shifted to the prison hospital owing to his ill health.
  • In May, his health had deteriorated, leading to civil society groups urging the authorities to bring him immediate medical attention. Finally, on 30 May he was hospitalised on directions of the Bombay High Court.
  • He had tested positive for COVID-19 during hospitalisation.
  • On Sunday, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued a notice to the Maharashtra government in the wake of a complaint alleging the serious health condition of imprisoned 84-year-old Father Stan Swamy. In the notice sent through the state's chief secretary, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has called upon him to ensure that every possible efforts are made in providing Swamy proper medical care and treatment as part of life-saving measure and protection of his basic human rights.

The Elgar Parishad case relates to alleged inflammatory speeches made at a conclave held in Pune on 31 December 2017, which the police claimed triggered violence the next day near the Koregaon- Bhima war memorial.

Pune Police claimed the conclave was backed by Maoists. Later, the case was taken over by the NIA. Several other activists including Sudha Bharadwaj and Varavara Rao were arrested in the case.

With inputs from agencies

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