Elgar Parishad a laboratory to test war on State: Why people crying hoarse over Stan Swamy should not look away from truth

·10-min read

The death of an 84-year-old Catholic priest, even if on account of post-COVID-19 complications, would have gone unnoticed and unmourned, barring in his immediate parish circle. But the very fact that Stanislaus Lourduswamy, better known as Stan Swamy, died on Monday technically in judicial custody has sparked a barrage of concern, comments and criticism, including from the EU Special Representative for Human Rights and the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders. Sections of the political opposition in India have seized upon this death to berate the Union government and sought to blame the State.

The common theme of the reactions has been three-fold: first, that Stan Swamy died because he was not given bail despite being unwell; second, that he was denied medical care; third, that he was falsely framed on 'terrorism' charges. Each of these is patently false and misleading. None of these reflects the actual facts. All of these are a gross distortion of the truth that underscores the purpose behind the targeted attacks on the Government of India, the State and the National Investigation Agency or NIA €" to discredit the charges against a group of 'activists', among them Stan Swamy, who were arrested for being associated with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and conspiring to create violent disaffection against the state. These 'activists' are not from any single community nor do they all profess a single faith. Hence, the question of targeting Stan Swamy for being a Catholic priest does not arise.

So, what are the bare facts of the case? Here is a quick checklist of the charges, the judicial proceedings, and the steps taken to protect the rights of the accused even while they stand charged with grave offences:

  • On 8th January, 2018, a case was registered (FIR No. 04/2018) at Vishrambaug Police Station in Pune, Maharashtra, regarding provocative speeches during 'Elgar Parishad' organised by 'activists' of Kabir Kala Manch on 31st December, 2017 at Shanivarwada, Pune. The speeches, clearly aimed at creating enmity between caste groups, did incite violence, resulting in loss of life and property.

  • During subsequent investigations it was found that top CPI (Maoist) leaders were in contact with these organisers of 'Elgar Parishad' to preach Maoist ideology and promote unlawful activities. Given the widening scope of inquiry into what happened during 'Elgar Parishad' as disturbing facts began to emerge, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs ordered the investigation to be transferred to NIA. Accordingly, NIA took charge of the investigations and registered a case (RC- 01/2020/NIA/MUM), known as 'Bhima Koregaon Case', on 24th January 2020.

  • It was during these investigations that the NIA came across the role of Stan Swamy in the Bhima Koregaon case as a member of the CPI (Maoist) who was actively involved in furthering its unlawful activities. The NIA found he was in communication with CPI (Maoist) leaders and cadre. He was also the convener of 'Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee', known as PPSC, which is a Maoist organisation.

  • On the basis of the evidence it had gathered on his role in the case, the NIA arrested Stan Swamy on 8th October, 2020 at Ranchi, Jharkhand. Stan Swamy's advocate Peter Margin was present when he was arrested after being duly informed of the relevant sections of the law. The NIA ensured compliance with required medical tests after his arrest and before he was produced in a Special Court. Every entitlement of an accused was ensured, including appropriate comfort and care, while he was taken from Ranchi to Mumbai. The NIA did not seek Stan Swamy's police custody for interrogation keeping in mind his age and the fact that there was already sufficient evidence on record.

  • As required by Section 54 of India's Criminal Procedure Code, Stan Swamy was examined by a doctor and his health was certified to as stable before being produced in court. He also underwent a medical check-up before being taken into judicial custody.

  • Stan Swamy was produced before the NIA Special Court in Mumbai on 9th October 2020. He did not complain of ill-treatment by the investigators. A supplementary chargesheet was filed against him and the other accused in the Bhima Koregaon case under Sections 120 (B), 121,121(A), 124(A) and 34 of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 13,16,18, 20, 38 and 39 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The court, after perusing the chargesheet, ordered his judicial custody €" he was to be held at Central Jail, Taloja, Mumbai.

  • In view of his age and pre-arrest health issues, Stan Swamy was allotted a separate cell in the prison hospital. As advised by the medical officer, two attendants were provided. The cell had all necessary facilities and Stan Swamy was provided with a wheelchair, walker, walking stick, straws, sipper, mug, commode chair, battery cells for his hearing aide, dental treatment. He had access to a visiting psychiatrist and telemedicine consultation.

  • Stan Swamy had sought bail from Bombay High Court but his application was rejected. The NIA Special Court had rejected his bail application on 23rd March, 2021. The judge had observed: "If the seriousness of the allegations made against the applicant are considered in proper perspective, there will be no hesitation to conclude that the collective interest of the community would outweigh the right of personal liberty of the applicant, and as such the old age and the alleged sickness of the applicant would not go in his favour, so that the discretion to release the applicant can be exercised in his favour€¦"

  • Stan Swamy had filed a criminal appeal before Bombay High Court on 21st May, 2021. In response, the State of Maharashtra filed the report of a Board of Doctors constituted by JJ Hospital. He was advised by the court to get medical care at JJ Hospital. He refused the proposal. Subsequently, on 28th May, 2021, Bombay High Court accepted Stan Swamy's plea to be treated at Holy Family Hospital, Bandra, along with one attendant as per rules. Holy Family Hospital is a multi-specialty hospital run by the Catholic Ursuline Sisters. The State of Maharashtra was directed to provide him with protection during his treatment. The duration of his stay at Holy Family Hospital was extended till 6th July 2021.

  • Stan Swamy suffered a cardiac arrest on 3rd July while in Holy Family Hospital's care. Dr EN Dsouza of Holy Family Hospital announced on 5th July that Stan Swamy had passed away while undergoing treatment.

These, then, are the irrefutable bare facts that provide the perspective that is missing from the shrill denunciation and critical commentary on the death of Stan Swamy. On the basis of these facts, some observations can be deduced.

First, anybody who claims Stan Swamy died in the state's custody due to lack of medical treatment and care is a brazen calumnist. Stan Swamy was in the care of doctors at Holy Family Hospital, not a government or prison facility since 28th May. He chose to check into that hospital, instead of JJ Hospital. Holy Family Hospital is a Catholic establishment and is acknowledged to be a multi-specialty hospital. He had access to the best healthcare and specialists. He died of cardiac arrest, which is not unknown among his age group.

Second, prima facie, as the court's observations bear out, the evidence against Stan Swamy cannot be brushed aside as "false" or "fake". He was being prosecuted on specific criminal charges under the established laws of India. It was prosecution, not persecution. Whether or not he deserved to be granted bail is a matter not of lay opinion but judicial consideration €" the courts decided against giving him bail after perusing the charges and the evidence on record. The laws of India (or for that matter in any country where the rule of law prevails) do not discriminate on the basis of age, gender, caste, community or faith. Exceptionalism is an unfair expectation.

Third, nothing separates or insulates an ideologue from the violent outcome of his or her ideology. It would be facetious to argue that a Maoist ideologue or a believer in Maoist ideology or a subscriber to Maoist views should be immune from prosecution when the ideology is proven to be an instrument of violence. Stan Swamy not only subscribed to Maoist ideology but also was connected to Maoists who used that ideology as a weapon in their war on the state. In the past, he was charged for fomenting a rising against constitutional order in the garb of the Pathalgadi movement in Jharkhand€"it had little or nothing to do with tribal rights as he and his supporters would later claim.

Fourth, the Bhima Koregaon case is a complex issue involving several strands of treacherous activism aimed to incite social conflict, community hate and upheaval that both challenges and threatens constitutional rule of law. 'Elgar Parishad' was a laboratory to test war on the state by other means, to expand the scope of urban Maoism, and to target both human lives and property. The garb of 'intellectual' activism has been blown to smithereens by the NIA investigation. We must await the court's judgment in the case. Till then, to claim innocence would be incorrect.

Fifth, to suggest that Stan Swamy was targeted for being a Catholic priest working among tribal communities and fighting for their rights is a gross distortion of the story that has emerged so far about his linkages and activities. These are not overnight developments; they have existed over a period of time and Stan Swamy was not 84 all the while. The political opposition in India would do well to remember that other regimes have targeted Christian missionaries because of their activities €" an old priest was expelled from India when Rajiv Gandhi was in power; a British pastor who fed the poor and hungry of Calcutta's bustees was deported when Indira Gandhi was in power. There are other examples. In sharp contrast, a Spanish Catholic priest working in India for close to seven decades was granted citizenship after Narendra Modi became prime minister. Previously, his citizenship applications were rejected when Congress was in power, most recently in 2012.

Sixth, it would be in order to bear in mind that Maoists and their 'intellectual' allies are guilty of terrifying violence that agitates against every canon of a democracy, that militates against every principle of a Republic, and, that flies in the face of the Constitution and its provisions. In the past two decades, Maoists have killed 3,600 civilians and 2,616 security forces personnel. There has been a number of grisly massacres. Vehicles have been bombed, patrol parties have been ambushed, trains have been derailed. Villagers have been killed for not toeing the Maoist line. Schools have been destroyed, critical communications networks blown up, poverty and fear have been enforced to glorify Maoism. To exonerate defenders of Maoist ideology while blaming Maoist cadre for Maoist terrorism would tantamount to according to privileges to the inspirer denied to the inspired.

Every death should be mourned. Sadly, while some deaths are mourned, victims of a deadly ideology and its practitioners are glossed over. Human rights are not the exclusive entitlement of a few to be denied to the many who have died and continue to die, gruesome death at the hands of Maoists.

The author is senior adviser, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Government of India.

Also See: Stan Swamy, accused in Elgar Parishad case, worked to promote Maoist activities: Officials

Stan Swamy dies at 84: Who was the tribal rights activist arrested in Elgar Parishad case?

Portrait of an old man as a martyr? What Left-‘liberal’ media won’t tell you about Stan Swamy

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