“What was Father Stan Swamy’s crime? Swamy was helping the tribals of Jharkhand receive protection by legal means, yet, he was arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). He was denied bail despite his medical condition, was treated with apathy,” says Bengaluru-based advocate S Balan. Nine days after the octogenarian human rights activist passed away, anger still simmers amongst the public.
On July 14, activists and residents of Bengaluru, including former minister Lalitha Naik, gathered at Maurya Circle in the city to pay their tributes to the late Jesuit Priest who died on July 5 in a Mumbai hospital under judicial custody. The protesters held pictures of the deceased activist, placards and posters of a poem titled God Set Him Free, written as a tribute to Swamy.
“Repeal UAPA, release all political prisoners,” the protesters chanted as they termed Stan Swamy’s death as an “institutional murder.” They demanded that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the judiciary be booked for subjecting him to “inhumane treatment and for his murder.
The NIA arrested Father Stan Swamy, the 84-year-old Jesuit priest, in October 2020, under UAPA. According to the central agency, Stan Swamy was purportedly involved in an alleged conspiracy leading to caste violence near Bhima Koregaon in 2018. The officials have not been able to provide any solid evidence to substantiate the accusation. Besides, he was imprisoned without a trial. Swamy, who had Parkinson’s disease, also contracted the novel coronavirus infection while in jail. When the activist requested straw and sipper due to Parkinson’s disease, the NIA took about 20 days to respond, and finally gave it to him after public outrage. He died of a cardiac arrest in Mumbai’s Holy Family Hospital while his bail petition on medical grounds was being heard in the Bombay High Court.
“Fr Stan Swamy was killed by the system, police and the judiciary. The octogenarian, who worked for the welfare of the people was arrested, termed as a ‘terrorist’ and jailed under the UAPA without substantial proof. The judiciary became an accomplice when it denied him bail, dragged his pleas to receive a sipper,” said professor NV Narasimhaiah. Referring to the Delhi High Court order of June 15 in Delhi Riots Case, the professor noted that even the court acknowledged the state does not know how to differentiate between a terrorist and a protester voicing their dissent.
Swamy’s case never once went for trial since his arrest. Those responsible for his death should be booked and tried under the Indian Penal Code Section 302 (Murder), Balan added.
“India is touted to be the largest democracy in the world. However, looking at the current scenario, it does not seem so. The UAPA should be scrapped as the law is undemocratic, violates human rights; people are being arrested without any evidence, without any explanation of what their crime is. People cannot be put behind bars for months and years without hardcore evidence. This is not how a democracy works, this is unacceptable,” said a Bengaluru resident who joined the protest and did not want to be named.
Condemning the circumstances that led to Stan Swamy’s death, Lalitha Naik, a social activist and author, said that every person arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case, as well as those arrested under UAPA, should be released.