The Future of Activism is Bleak. Stan Swamy, 83, Who Has Worked for India’s Poorest Arrested

Social Commentary

The Future of Activism is Bleak. Stan Swamy, 83, Who Has Worked for India’s Poorest Arrested

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

Several activists, scholars and lawyers have been jailed over the past two years as they await trial in the Elgar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon case. Adding to that long and dreadful list, the National Investigation Agency on Thursday made a seventh arrest. Eight-three-year-old tribal rights activist Father Stan Swamy was taken into custody, making him the oldest person in the country to be charged with terrorism-related offences, according to The Wire.

A Jesuit priest, Father Swamy who has worked for the adivasi community for three decades, was picked up from his home in Ranchi, Jharkhand. The NIA officials reportedly spent 20 minutes at his home before taking him away. Swamy, a member of the CPI (Maoist), has been arrested in connection with the probe in the 2018 violence in Maharashtra’s Bhima Koregaon village. It all started with a public event in Pune on Dec 31, 2017, which the NIA had Maoist links, and the inflammatory speeches delivered there led to the violence.

Swamy was questioned by the NIA in July and August and summoned to the agency’s office in Mumbai this week. “No warrant was presented,” a colleague on the campus said. Earlier in the day, Swamy had stated that he had been interrogated by the central agency for 15 hours over a span of five days. He claims that the investigating officials presented several extracts of information allegedly taken from his computer implicating his connection to “Maoist forces”. According to him, these fabrications had been stealthily put into his computer and that he denied the allegations in the strongest terms.

Two days prior to his arrest, the activist had recorded a video statement claiming that the NIA was fabricating evidence against him.

In the statement, Swamy had said that he is in no position to undertake the journey, given his age and the pandemic. “…what is happening to me is not unique. Many activists, lawyers, writers, journalists, student leaders, poets, intellectuals and others who stand for the rights of Adivasis, Dalits and the marginalised and express their dissent to the ruling powers of the country are being targeted,” Swamy’s statement said.

He also said that he had challenged the “indiscriminate” arrest of thousands of young adivasis and moolvasis with investigating agencies labeling them as “Naxals”.

Condemning the arrest, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) said: “…the arrest of Fr. Stan by the NIA is malicious and spiteful as Fr. Stan has consistently denied any link with extremist leftist forces or Maoists. He had also clearly told the NIA that some so called extracts allegedly taken from his computer shown to him by the NIA were fake and fabricated and that he disowned them.”

The arrest has sparked outrage across the board. Author and historian Ramachandra Guha said, “Like Sudha Bharadwaj, Stan Swamy has spent a lifetime fighting for the rights of adivasis.”

Public interest lawyer Prashant Bhusan vouched for his “extraordinary human rights record”.

Congress leader and Member of Parliament Jairam Ramesh stated that the arrest was truly outrageous. “I have known Father Swamy and am well aware of his work with the adivasis,” he wrote on Twitter.

Journalist Vinod K Jose said that the arrest of activists is “destroying India”.

The arrest of Swamy only reiterates what liberal India has been saying for the past few years – that the future of activism in the country is indeed dark.