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Death Foretold, Govt Wanted Him to Die in Jail: Friends Bid Adieu to Stan Swamy

After Father Stan Swamy passed away waiting for interim relief, his friends remembered him as an 'inspiration'.

Updated
India
5 min read

"A death foretold. We knew the government wanted him to die in jail," said John Dayal, human rights activist and a close friend of Father Stan Swamy, who passed away as a pretrial prisoner, after suffering a cardiac arrest on 5 July.

The 84-year-old human rights activist, also suffering from Parkinson's disease, was waiting for bail on medical grounds, after being arrested in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case in October 2020. Arrested under the stringent UAPA and lodged in Taloja jail, he was awaiting his trial.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Father Stan Swamy with human rights activists John Dayal and Harsh Mander.</p></div>

Father Stan Swamy with human rights activists John Dayal and Harsh Mander.

Talking to The Quint, Dayal said, "Our pain, shock and grief are tinged with an element of distaste." He added, "The cold blooded manner in which he was denied bail, a revengeful government made it clear that they wanted to teach him, and through him to the others who are arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case, that they will break any dissent, any voice for the people."

In an obituary published in the Deccan Herald, Dayal writes about Father Stan Swamy, "In life and in his martyrdom, Fr Stan Swamy has become a beacon for all who struggle for human rights, especially the rights of the tribals and other marginalised people, and a role model for young men and women across the nation."

'An Inspiration'

In April, while Father Stan Swamy battled for bail, his close friends had told The Quint that the octogenarian was a man 'who loved and lived for the poor.

One of his closest friends, Father Joe Xavier, who had been in touch with Father Stan Swamy since he went to jail, had recalled his last words before NIA arrested him. "“I have already lived my life. I can register the last bit of my resistance by going to jail so that I can be satisfied that I have justly stood for the cause that I have been fighting for," Father Stan Swamy had told his friends when the NIA raided his home in Jharkhand for the first time.

"He has enormous ability to bear pain," Father Joseph Xavier had said about his Father Stan Swamy at a press conference, earlier in May.

The press conference in which Father Xavier spoke was organised by the kin of the 16 accused in the case seeking interim relief for their loved ones, from paucity of clean water, lack of room for social-distancing, inadequate health facilities, an absence of doctors, and other COVID-19 horrors reported from Taloja, where the pretrial prisoners were lodged.

Father Xavier shared that his friend - who had braved a bevy of excruciating ailments - had in his last phone call, finally broke-down and shared that his health condition had significantly deteriorated. He said he was "highly fragile now".

Amid surmounting pressure from Swamy's friends and well wishers, as well as civil society groups, the Bombay High Court had, thereby, permitted Swamy to be hospitalised. At Mumbai’s Holy Family Hospital, Swamy had, in fact, tested positive for COVID-19. Over the next few weeks his health condition had deteriorated significantly. On Sunday, 4 July he was placed on ventilator support. On Monday, a day before his bail hearing, Stan Swamy passed away from a cardiac arrest.

After the news of his passing away, Father Xavier told The Quint that his last message to Father Stan Swamy would be, "You are my inspiration."

Aloka Kujur, who have fought extensively for tribal rights in Jharkhand, mourned the death of Father Stan Swamy, while showing displeasure at the State for jailing him under "fabricated charges". She said, "When the father was arrested, he was not given medicine. He was a Parkinson's patient, he needed a sipper, which was not being given to him. He had to go to court for that. So this whole system proves that they were constantly harassing him. This is why I think that he was harassed until death."

Referring to Father Swamy's detention, at that age and condition of ill-health, as an "immense injustice" and "unconscionable", family and friends of the other accused in the case, recalled his "heartbreaking speech" at his medical bail plea hearing.

"He told the court in no uncertain terms that he did not expect to live long and wished to die amongst his people in Bagaicha, Ranchi. It is appalling that such a simple request could not be met by our judicial system."
Family and friends of the other accused in the case

Father Stan's 'Only' Plea

Father Stan had repeatedly requested the judiciary to consider “only one thing”: an interim bail.

On 21 May, amid crippling auditory struggles, and with Taloja jail staff re-iterating the court’s questions to him, Swamy made his singular plea amply clear.

He did not want to be hospitalised, anymore. He had had enough of that already.

“I would rather be at Ranchi with my friends,” Stan Swamy had unambiguously stated, even as the Court repeatedly dangled the prospect of treatment at Mumbai’s JJ Hospital before him.

“My deterioration is more powerful than the small tablets that they give… Whatever happens to me I would like to be with my own.”
Stan Swamy

Bemoaning a steady regression of his ‘body functions’ during the eight months of his incarceration Swamy had entirely rejected the idea of being admitted at the government hospital.

“I have been there twice. I am not for being hospitalised in JJ Hospital. It will not improve, it will keep going. I would rather die here very shortly if things go on as it is.”

That day’s proceedings in the case had concluded with the court merely posting the matter for 7 July, and directing Taloja jail to strictly follow the recommendations of the JJ Hospital committee.

On 30 May, amid worsening health, Swamy was shifted to Holy Family Hospital on the directions of the court.

'We Will Still Sing in Chorus'

Referring to Fr Swamy's demise as "not a natural death", but an "institutional murder", family and friends of the other accused in the case, said in their statement (published in Scroll):

"Despite his feeble health, he inspired everyone with the strength of his character and his unshakeable integrity. Even as his health degraded in the prison, his thoughts and prayers were always with his co-prisoners. In his letters, he wrote about his other prison mates who were also falsely fabricated in different cases, and agonised over the prevailing injustices in society."

Earlier in January, thanking people for showing solidarity, he had written a letter from prison, which marked his 100 days in custody and said: “...We 16 co-accused have not been able to meet each other, despite being in the same jail."

“But we will still sing in chorus. A caged bird can still sing," Father Stan Swamy wrote.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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