Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren on Wednesday, 21 October, said that Father Stan Swamy – arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) from Jharkhand over his alleged links to the Elgar Parishad case – had traversed the forests of Jharkhand to guide and help tribals, Dalits and the downtrodden for decades, and is now being hassled and ill-treated for amplifying the voices of the subaltern people.
Chief Minister Soren was among many politicians, intellectuals, activists and religious leaders who had addressed a virtual press conference organised by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) to condemn the role of investigating agencies in carrying out “illegal arrests and harassment” of 16 people arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case so far.
While strongly demanding the release of Father Swamy – the most notable demand made by speakers at the virtual presser – Chief Minister Soren said that the alleged use of central agencies to meet the ‘hidden agenda of undermining the Constitution’ was worrisome and should be opposed by all.
“Today, it is the issue of Stan Swamy, tomorrow it will be your turn, then it will be our turn. Tomorrow it will be your state, today it is our state.”Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren
People Have to Take a Stand: Kanimozhi
Chief Minister Soren was echoed by DMK Member of Parliament in Lok Sabha K Kanimozhi Karunanidhi, who said that although it was true that the Centre has been trying to suppress and muzzle dissenting voices, the success with which it has been able to do so was helped by the silence observed by society.
Kanimozhi warned that if the society remains silent, the powers that be will have no respect for the constitutional fabric of India and in order to ensure that this doesn’t happen, people and parties must set their differences aside and fight draconian laws, such as the UAPA.
Remove NSA, UAPA & Sedition: Yechury
Calling for the removal of the National Security Act and the UAPA as it stands now, CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury pointed out the laws have been “grossly misused” against those arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case, most of whom are above 60 years of age.
Reiterating Kanimozhi’s words, Yechury said that “for evil to succeed, truth only needs to be silenced.”
He further acknowledged Stan Swamy’s work with the Adivasis and marginalised in Jharkhand since decades and strongly condemned his arrest.
Release Father Swamy, Demands Tharoor
Congress Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor said that Father Swamy, who has spent decades for the upliftment of the downtrodden in Jharkhand, has been arrested without any regard for his health.
Stressing his own education at a Jesuit (an order of priests in the Roman Catholic Church) run institution, Tharoor said “no Jesuit priest can ever be guilty of violence or incitement to violence.”
Tharoor mentioned that this trend must stop now, while calling upon the government to release Father Swamy on bail.
What Did the Others Say?
According to the press release, PUCL’s collective demands are as follows:
1. Immediate release of octogenarians Stan Swamy and Varavara Rao imprisoned in the Bhima Koregaon case and 95 percent disabled Prof Saibaba kept in Anda cell in Nagpur Central Prison, on humanitarian grounds to enable them to take appropriate treatment and care in a facility of his choice.
2. Dropping charges against all the 16 accused in the BK case, setting them free and closure of Bhima Koregaon conspiracy case.
3. Repeal of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.
Opening the meeting, V Suresh, General Secretary of the PUCL, observed that while the vast majority of those accused under UAPA are finally acquitted in the case, the stringent requirements for bail make it very difficult for those charged under this Act to get bail, and consequently, they end up being imprisoned for years under fabricated charges.
“The ‘Bhima Koregaon model’ of arresting people unconnected with the incident, by roping in academics, lawyers, cultural artistes, film makers, journalists and activists for allegedly conspiring to overthrow the government, has now become the model used by the NIA and Central Government in the Delhi violence of February 2020 and in Hathras incident also.”PUCL
Mihir Desai, Senior Advocate of the Bombay High Court, on his part, said:
“The chargesheets relied entirely on unsigned, unverified, uncorroborated typewritten letters and the testimonies of a few witnesses, whose names had not yet been revealed to the accused.”
As a lawyer, Desai clearly rubbished the evidence as unsubstantial, and the charges as completely flimsy.
According to the Press Release, Desai pointed out that despite ample documentary evidence of the involvement of Hindutva leaders, Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, in the violence at Bhima Koregaon on 1 January 2018, the Pune police chose to investigate only accusations against Elgar Parishad.
Desai also said that the fact that the accused, especially the elderly ones, are being denied COVID-19 related bail points to the intention to persecute.
Marianus Kujur, the director of XISS, Ranchi talked of Stan Swamy’s life, principles and work.
“Stan has always stood for inclusiveness, diversity and for the poor,” Kujur observed.
Eminent economist Jean Dreze pointed out that there are several draconian laws, such as the UAPA and certain state laws, that are increasingly being used to target Dalit, Adivasis and the marginalised people, not just intellectuals, and brand them as Maoists.
Stan Swamy worked on the issues of undertrials and it is ironic that he himself has become one now, facing the same fabricated charges, said Dreze.
Dreze further called upon the parties to give a pre-commitment to repeal of such laws if they came to power, as part of their commitment to democracy at large.
D Raja, General Secretary of the CPI, pointed out that during the Bhima Koregaon violence, thousands of Dalits were not only attacked, but they were also charged with violence in hundreds of cases.
He also requested organisations and political parties to stand up for GN Saibaba who is being denied bail despite being 90 percent disabled.
The central government is ruthless government and does not believe in Constitution and democracy as opposed to BR Ambedkar’s vision and values, said D Raja.