One of India’s most prominent tribal rights activists, 84-year-old Father Stan Swamy, died in hospital on Monday even as his application for bail on terror charges remained pending.
The activist and Jesuit priest, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, was undergoing treatment at a local hospital in India’s Mumbai city for several weeks. He was put on ventilator support on Sunday after his health deteriorated.
Swamy was arrested from Ranchi in India’s eastern Jharkhand state and brought to Mumbai in Maharashtra, where he was detained in October 2020 facing charges under various anti-terror laws for allegedly supporting far-left Maoist rebels.
He had sought bail after his health declined. His application, however, did not convince the judicial authorities who denied his repeated requests. The Bombay High Court had eventually, on 17 June, issued an order allowing him to stay in hospital until 5 July.
Hospital officials on Monday informed the court that Swamy suffered a cardiac arrest early on Sunday morning and never regained consciousness after that, according to local media reports. He was declared dead on Monday afternoon. Hospital authorities said pulmonary infection and Parkinson’s disease, among other conditions, caused his death.
Last year, after his arrest, Swamy had filed a plea in court seeking a straw and a sipper cup because his hands shook due to Parkinson’s disease. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) denied seizing a straw and sipper from him after which the court had directed the jail authorities to provide them to Swamy.
The NIA sought 20 days’ time to respond to the request – that resulted in widespread criticism – after which his request was subsequently granted by officials on 4 December, according to reports.
Dr Stanislaus D’Souza, the Jesuit Provincial of India, in a statement on Monday expressed his condolences to Swamy’s family and friends. “The Society of Jesus, at this moment, recommits itself to take forward the legacy of Fr Stan in its mission of Justice and reconciliation,” the statement said.
The country’s opposition leaders, meanwhile, criticised the courts and attacked leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including India’s prime minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah, over his death.
“It’s over. (Narendra) Modi & (Amit) Shah have accomplished the custodial killing of the gentle Jesuit social worker Fr Stan Swamy, who spent his life serving the oppressed. I hope the judges who denied him bail never get to sleep at night: they have blood on their hands,” tweeted Kavita Krishnan, an activist and a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).
Historian Ramachandra Guha said Swamy spent a lifetime working for the dispossessed and the disadvantaged. “His tragic death is a case of judicial murder, for which the home ministry and the courts are jointly culpable,” Mr Guha tweeted.
Jairam Ramesh, a senior member of the opposition Indian National Congress party, tweeted: “Who in the apparatus of the Indian state will be held responsible for this tragedy? Make no mistake — it is the Indian state that killed Fr Stan Swamy, who was such a passionate crusader for social justice.”