Father Stan Swamy’s Death Emblematic of Institutional Oppression
The author, Safa Shameem, is a third year BBA-LLB student at St. Joseph's College of Law, Bangalore.
The tragic passing of Stanislaus Lourduswamy serves as a constant reminder of our failing justice system as he becomes the latest entry in a long and odious list of dead political detainees. His institutional death has triggered a wave of national outrage against a system that is fundamentally rotten.
The Jesuit priest, who dedicated decades for the upliftment of Dalits and Adivasis and fought endlessly for the poor and dispossessed, was among the 16 people accused of being involved in the conspiracy of the Bhima Koregaon caste violence. He was labelled a Maoist, and booked under the draconian anti-terror law, with not a scintilla of evidence to link him to the case.
Incarcerated amidst COVID, he spent eight months in the Taloja Central Jail, wherein he underwent psychological and emotional torture. Despite his old age and comorbidities, he was repeatedly denied bail. Further, due to the frequent hand tremors caused by Parkinson’s disease, Fr. Stan required sippers and straws to consume water, and access to these basic amenities, including warm clothes, were denied by the prison authorities and was made available to him only after an application to the court.[i] His condition deteriorated rapidly to the point where he could not eat or bathe by himself.[ii] Even as he languished with COVID-19 owing to the deplorable state of Taloja jail, limited medical care and overcrowded spaces, the National Investigation Agency and the State Prison Authorities had opposed his shifting to a private hospital. A pattern of institutional oppression is evident here, “from the denial of sipper in the jail, to his death while in custody.”[iii]
On May 29th, The High Court passed an order directing the authorities to transfer him to the Holy Family hospital. After his recovery, he suffered a cardiac arrest and was put on ventilator support on July 4th. Subsequently, just one day before his bail hearing, he succumbed to pulmonary infection, Parkinson's and other health complications and breathed his last.[iv]
This unfortunate incident has brought the spotlight back on the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act which has become an instrument of injustice and oppression, designed to kill those who express dissent under the pretext of protecting the sovereignty and integrity of India. There has been a series of arbitrary arrests of Human Rights Defenders, Activists, Lawyers and Intellectuals, aided by laws such as sedition and these activists are still stuck in a ceaseless battle, all undergoing the same agony, with no trial in sight. We are witnessing a gross violation of fundamental rights, and this anti-terror law needs to be reviewed by none other than the final guarantor and interpreter of the Constitution.
The true extent of the sheer indifference and inhumane treatment meted out to Fr. Stan is largely hidden. This abuse of power, misapplication of laws and criminal indifference against political dissenters is a stark reflection of how callous and devoid of humanity our justice system has become. With each passing day, it becomes painfully obvious that the spirit of the world’s largest democracy is slowly diminishing.
[i] The Wire Staff, Stan Swamy Passes Away After Contracting COVID-19 in Jail, Lawyer Demands Judicial Inquiry, THE WIRE, (July 05, 2021) https://thewire.in/rights/stan-swamy-death-covid-19-judicial-inquiry [ii] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-57718361 [iii] A death foretold: On activist Stan Swamy's death, THE HINDU, (July 07, 2021), https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/a-death-foretold-on-activist-stan-swamys-death/article35179643.ece [iv] FPJ Web desk, 'Your country did not deserve you': Father Stan Swamy passes away in prison; netizens devastated, THE FREEPRESS JOURNAL, (JULY 05, 2021) https://www.freepressjournal.in/viral/your-country-did-not-deserve-you-father-stan-swamy-passes-away-in-prison-netizens-devastated
Image Credits: https://www.reuters.com/world/india/death-84-year-old-indian-priest-custody-stirs-outcry-2021-07-06/