Who Killed Stan Swamy – Ill Health or UAPA and Apathy By Authorities?

As Stan Swamy's health kept deteriorating, UAPA charges ensured he suffered in jail, without evidence, without bail

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"I deeply appreciate the overwhelming solidarity expressed by many during these past 100 days behind the bars. At times, news of such solidarity has given me immense strength and courage, especially when the only thing certain in prison is uncertainty. Life here is on a day-to-day basis. On the other hand, 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."

A 'caged bird' is now free...

These were the words written in a letter from prison, by a jailed priest 'who loved and lived for the poor', and passed away battling falling ill, prolonged illnesses and neurodegenerative diseases. He also had to face multiple bail rejections and lack of empathy by the authorities despite his poor health and old age.

Despite his health worsening with every passing day, he was only shifted to a private hospital after the court intervened. By then, it was already too late. And UAPA charges slapped against him, ensured he continued to suffer in jail, without evidence.

84-year-old Catholic priest and Tribal rights' activist, Father Stan Swamy, accused and arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case, passed away following a cardiac arrest on 5 July.

Stan Swamy died a pre-trial prisoner, desperately waiting to prove his innocence and walk free.

'A Simple and Selfless Man'

Father Stan Swamy's friends recall him as a simple and selfless man who 'never thought of himself or material gains for himself' and dedicated himself for the service of the poor.

He stayed and worked in Jharkhand for over three decades, fighting for tribal rights.

One day, he asked for a 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 Father Stan Swamy.
Joe Xavier, Late Stan Swamy’s friend

UAPA Ensured He 'Suffered' In Jail

Stan Swamy was arrested from his residence in Ranchi, Jharkhand by the National Investigation Agency(NIA) on 8 October 2020, in the Bhima Koregaon case. He was charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act(UAPA) among other charges and was lodged in Mumbai's Taloja jail.

He was arrested for alleged links with naxals and the banned outfit – CPI(Maoists). He was the 16th person to be arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case, and also the oldest.

He was already weak and frail at the time of arrest. He suffered from an advanced stage of Parkinsons – a neurodegenerative disease that made his hands shake at all times. He suffered from loss of hearing and chronic pain due to spondylosis. He was dependent on fellow prisoners for day-to-day activities.

Taloja Jail was reportedly ill-equipped of handling medical emergencies. Yet, authorities of the overcrowded jail, stopped Stan Swamy from being shifted to a private hospital for addressing Stan Swamy's health issues. Taloja jail authorities even denied the octogenarian a straw and sipper to drink from and forced him to somehow manage drinking from plastic cups with shaky hands. A basic sipper to an old man, suffering from Parkinsons, was provided only after the court ordered so.

Father Stan Swamy's repeated pleas for better healthcare went unheard. His repeated bail pleas on medical grounds, in the face of a raging pandemic, were rejected.


'I Would Rather Die Here Very Shortly if Things Go On As It Is...'

And yet, Father Stan Swamy hardly complained about his health. A four-minute call every 10 days from Taloja jail and a chirpy “I am managing here” kept the hope alive for his friends.

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, Late Stan Swamy’s friend

Amid repeated pleas falling on deaf ears, Stan Swamy's health deteriorated in May 2021. On 21 May, when he appeared before the Bombay High Court for a virtual hearing of another bail plea, from Taloja jail, his lawyer Mihir Desai recalled that he was 'too frail' and found it very difficult to hear, think about or even answer appropriately the questions posed by the court.

And even in that condition, he made one strong appeal before the court – he would rather die that go to JJ Hospital for his treatment.

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.
Father Stan Swamy to Bombay High Court on 21 May 2021

'My Deterioration is More Powerful Than the Small Tablets That They Give'

The already frail man tested positive in the over-crowded Taloja jail. Even as he suffered in prison, NIA and the jail authorities kept opposing shifting him to a private hospital for his treatment.

Father Stan Swamy was shifted to Mumbai's Holy Family hospital, 10 days later, on 30 May, only after the Bombay High Court intervened.

Eight months ago, I would eat by myself, do some writing, walk. I could take a bath by myself. But all these are disappearing one after another. So, Taloja Jail has brought me to a situation where I can neither write nor go for a walk by myself. Someone has to feed me. In other words, I am requesting you to consider why and how this deterioration of myself happened. My deterioration is more powerful than the small tablets that they give.
Father Stan Swamy to Bombay High Court

'Presumption of Innocence is a Human Right'

Even as Swamy continued to suffer and degenerate, he challenged UAPA's bar on grant of bail, if the accusation is prima facie true – a violation of Article 14(Right to Equality) and Article 21(Right to Life and Liberty)

Swamy was unable to convince the court that he deserved to be treated like a human being; that his health was his fundamental right that the state must protect. Such is the injustice of the very foundation of UAPA, that an otherwise “innocent until proven guilty” was perverted to mean “not even human, guilty or not”.

Presumption of innocence is a fundamental tenet of our criminal jurisprudence and is a human right. In any event, when such harsh conditions are imposed in respect of grant of bail, even before the trial is conducted the same inverts on its head the presumption of innocence.
Father Stan Swamy in a plea before Bombay High Court

'An Octogenarian Ought Not to be Punished With Incarceration That is Inhuman and Unnecessary'

Father Stan Swamy was put on ventilator support on 4 July 2021. Highlighting his 'irreversibly deteriorating health', a rights group wrote an open letter to the Bombay High Court Chief Justice.

It is beyond comprehension why a veteran tribal rights activist with multiple ailments must be compelled to suffer in this manner at his age on charges that are yet to stand scrutiny in court. He has already spent nine months in custody, and there is little hope of early conclusion of the trial in this case registered in 2018. We believe an octogenarian ought not to be punished with incarceration that is inhuman and unnecessary.
People’s Union for Democratic Rights, In Open Letter to Bombay High Court

A 'Caged Bird' is Free

Father Stan Swamy breathed his last following a cardiac arrest on 5 July, just a day before the Bombay High Court was supposed to hear his bail plea.

Despite massive outrage, he continued to suffer and degenerate, till his last day... Desperately waiting to walk free. Desperately waiting for some empathy from the authorities.

"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. I have already lived my life..."

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Topics:  UAPA   Stan Swamy   Father Stan Swamy 

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