To The Jailed Priest Who Loves People: Friends Remember Stan Swamy
Even as Father Stan Swamy fights for bail, his friends remember him as the man who “loves and lives for the poor.”
(Human rights activist and Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy, jailed in connection with the Elgar Parishad case, passed away as a pretrial prisoner after suffering a cardiac arrest on 5 July. This story was first published on 8 April, and has been republished from the archives to mark his death.)
A four-minute call every 10 days from Taloja jail and a chirpy “I am managing here” keep the hope alive for friends of 83-year-old human rights activist and Jesuit priest Stan Swamy, booked by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in the Bhima-Koregaon case.
“One day, he asked for a pair of pant and shirt in jail. I knew it was not for him. He would never ask for a material need. When I probed, he confessed it was for a fellow inmate who was poor and didn’t have money to afford clothes. That defines Stan Swamy.”Joe Xavier, Stan Swamy’s friend
Even as the Parkinson's patient, arrested since October 2020, fights bail rejections and deteriorating physical health, his friends and fellow Jesuits remember him as the man “who loves and lives for the poor.”
‘Sipper not a Big Deal For Stan’
In one of the ten calls made to his friend Joe Xavier, the jailed priest sounded displeased. In so many days of being imprisoned, he had just one complaint. “Why did the sipper incident become so huge? I never meant it for the world to know about this.”
In November 2020, outrage intensified over the violation of human rights of political prisoners, when it came to the fore that the octogenarian who has been suffering from a nervous ailment like Parkinson’s disease was not given a straw and a sipper in Taloja jail to drink water and eat his food. But, according to Father Xavier, Stan Swamy did not want “such a small matter to blow up.”
He says, “The straw was there in Stan’s bag when he was taken to jail but since bags are not allowed inside, the straw also got left behind. Inside the jail, he managed to get a plastic straw and sipper for himself but when he remembered that he had the good ones in his bag, he asked the jail authorities and they said they didn’t have. After that, one of the other Bhima Koregaon accused narrated this incident to their family and that’s how our lawyer got to know and filed the petition. But, when Stan Swamy got to know, he wasn’t very happy about it.”
But, why was it not a big deal for Father Stan Swamy? “For him, it was a small matter because it was his personal need. Even if he didn't get a sipper, he would manage with his shaking hands,” says Joe Xavier, who had worked closely with his friend to set up the Bagaicha social centre near Ranchi that works for the development of Adivasi community.
‘Simple, Selfless and Stubbornly Committed’
When an ailing Stan Swamy came to stay with his friend Joe Xavier in Bengaluru, he was hit by acute appendicitis pain. “He told me he is in excruciating pain but one should not worry about it too much because it would fade away in a week. After my insistence, when he finally visited the doctor, he was asked to go in for an immediate operation.”
“Stan is a simple and selfless man. He didn’t need or care for material needs like clothes or money. He would never make any complaints about himself.”Joe Xavier
Father Xavier recalled how Swamy would participate in each and every street agitation and protest being held in Bengaluru. “Despite his ailing health, he would just go sit with the protesters to show solidarity.”
Father Tony, another close confidante of Stan Swamy, recalled how the latter refused to get his Parkinson’s disease treated because he thought it would take away from the time he could otherwise dedicate to work for the poor.
“One of his friends who practices alternative healing process systems had suggested to Stan that his Parkinson’s sickness that caused tremors could be healed if he spares three months at the healing centre to undergo some specific treatments. However, Stan told him that three months of time was too much for him to spare for he had so many things to do. Such was his commitment to his work.”
‘Loves and Lives For the Poor’
“Stan believed that jal, jameen aur jangal belonged to the native inhabitants of the land. If the government wants any portion of that, they have to negotiate with the tribals and not go around usurping them,” Joe Xavier recounted.
“While he had several friends across the country, there were also many who did not like Stan Swamy simply because he asked uncomfortable and uncompromising questions. Whether it was a Jesuit father or a corporate, if he felt someone is not favouring the poor, he would question their actions.”Joe Xavier, Stan Swamy’s Friend
Father Tony who had helped Stan Swamy in his research on Adivasi youths wrongfully detained as political prisoners, which had culminated into a book ‘Jail Mein Band Qaidiyon ka Sach’ , says:
“In the courtyard of Bagaicha centre, also Swamy’s spartan home, he had built a memorial of all the Adivasi martyrs who gave up their lives while fighting for their rights. He would visit this memorial every morning when he was in Ranchi. On 2 February every year, he would participate in the shaheed diwas observed on the death anniversary of eight Adivasis who were open fired at under the Babulal Marandi administration in 2001 for protesting against the hydroelectric dam project being built on Koel-Karo rivers.”
'Jail, The Last Resistance’
When the NIA raided his home, Father Stan Swamy had told his friends that going to prison for fighting for the poor, would be his “last resistance.”
“He knew how State prosecution works against activists who stand up for Dalit-Adivasi rights. He was prepared for prison,” says Father Tony. He recalls the last words of Father Stan Swamy before going to prison.
“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.
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