The 84-year-old Jesuit, who was arrested on charges of “terrorism” for defending the rights of tribal communities in the state of Jharkhand, died today in a Mumbai hospital after contracting COVID-19 in prison. Saddened and anguished, Indian Jesuits will “take forward” his legacy.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Fr Stan Swamy died today after he was taken into custody nine months ago on terrorism charges for his work with tribal peoples. He was 84 years old.
In late May a court allowed the Jesuit priest to be moved from Taloja prison to the Holy Family hospital in Mumbai when he was already in poor health.
As his conditions worsened yesterday, he was transferred to the intensive care unit. Meanwhile, his application for release was still being before the court. Death came first.
Fr Stanislaus D'Souza, the Jesuit provincial of India, issued a statement announcing the clergyman’s death.
“With a deep sense of pain, anguish and hope we have surrendered Fr. Stan Swamy, aged 84, to his eternal abode on July 5, 2021,” reads the press release.
He is now with “the author of life [. . .] who gave him a mission to work among the Adivasis, Dalits and other marginalized communities so that the poor may have life [. . .] to the full, with dignity and honour.”
“The Society of Jesus, at this moment, recommits itself to take forward the legacy of Fr. Stan in its mission of justice and reconciliation. The funeral details will be communicated [. . .] soon.”
Despite his age and advanced Parkinson's disease, Fr Swamy was arrested on 8 October 2020 by India’s National Investigation Agency in Jharkhand, where he had dedicated his life to defend the rights of local tribal communities from certain economic interests.
As part of an investigation into the clashes that took place in 2018 at the commemoration of the battle of Bhima Koregaon, the Jesuit, together with 15 other activists, was accused of contacts with Maoist guerrillas.
Fr Swamy steadfastly denied the charges, claiming that some documents were planted in his computers in order to file false accusations against him. Several times the court in Mumbai refused his bail application.
Only after he contracted COVID-19 in prison, was he moved to the Holy Family hospital.
In a highly charged hearing on 22 May, he refused to go to a public hospital, asking to be released so as to die among his people.
“During these eight months there has been a slow but steady regression of every function of my body,” he said. “Taloja prison has brought me to a condition where I am unable to write or walk alone.”
“I am asking you to consider why and how this deterioration of my health has occurred. [. . .] I don't think it would make any difference. Whatever happens I want to be able to be with my people.”