India protests against arrest of octogenarian priest on sedition charges

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People across India protested against the arrest of Fr Stan Swamy, an octogenarian Rights activist, on sedition charges on Monday.

People across India protested against the arrest of Fr Stan Swamy, an octogenarian Rights activist, on sedition charges on Monday. According to sources, cities across India witnessed an unprecedented show of solidarity with the Jesuit priest, arrested and jailed for his alleged ‘Maoist links’.

From North to South and from East to West, hundreds of people expressed their shock and grief over the arrest of the philanthropist priest, who has been working for the uplift of the Indian tribal people for decades. They also have affirmed their resolve to stand firm with him, and to fight against his illegal detention.

The protesters shouted slogans and carried placards in several Indian cities and towns seeking immediate release of Fr Stan Swamy.

Rights activists, priests, nuns, and people from all walks of life raised the same demand.

“Give voice to Father Stan, who gave a voice for the voiceless,” said a slogan on a placard that a young girl carried, while joining a silent human chain in Bengaluru.

Arrested on October 8

The National Investigation Agency (NIA), functions under the Union government run by a BJP-led coalition, has arrested Father Stan Swamy on October 8 from his residence in Ranchi, the capital of eastern India’s Jharkhand state, for his alleged involvement in the “Bhima-Koregaon violence” on January 1, 2018.

Investigators claim those arrested have links to a banned terrorist group. They are also facing several charges including sedition. Earlier, the NIA had arrested 15 other social and rights activists and sent them to judicial custody in this case.

Father Stan has consistently denied the charges as fabricated. He viewed it a means to silence his criticism of the government’s violation of tribal people’s basic rights as humans.

Moreover, he had questioned the government for jailing more than 3,000 tribal youths. The tribal youths had opposed the acquisition of their lands. But the government branded them as members of the banned Maoist group.

The agency took the 83-year-old priest to Mumbai the next day and presented him at the Sessions Court. The court sent him to judicial custody until October 23, and lodged him in Taloja Jail in the Mumbai.

New Delhi

In New Delhi, some 200 people gathered at downtown Jantar Mantar to observe the National Day of Solidarity for Father Stan Swamy.

Prominent human rights activists Shabana Hashmi, Harsh Mander and Apoorvanand Jha addressed the gathering. They said the government has exposed itself with the arrest of the Jesuit priest, who raised voice for the voiceless. Fr Stan has been working for the rights of poor tribal communities for decades, they added.

A press release from the director communications at Jesuit Conference of South Asia noted that the NIA arrested Father Swamy from his residence in an allegedly “false and fabricated case of Bhima-Koregaon violence” on January 1, 2018.

It stated that Father Stan has consistently worked on the various issues of the Adivasi communities on land rights, forest rights, labor rights, and representation of the community members in Jharkhand.

The priest has been vocal about the indiscriminate arrest of thousands of young Adivasis by labelling them as Naxals.

The Jesuit activist then filed a PIL in the Ranchi High Court appealing it to release the under-trials on a personal bond. He also appealed the court for the speedy trial of the prisoners, the release added.

Meanwhile Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar, through a Zoom meeting said her heart beats for Father Swamy. He “worked for Atmanirbhar Adivasi.”

Assam

At Guwahati in Assam, at an ecumenical programme, people expressed solidarity with Father Swamy. The participants demanded immediate release of Fr Stan and all the intellectuals and activists arrested in fabricated cases.

Meanwhile in Assam, intellectuals, editors, politicians and others had a virtual meeting that attracted over a hundred participants. While expressing their solidarity with Father Swamy, they condemned the arbitrary act of the government and its law enforcing agencies.

Bengaluru

In Bengaluru, large number of people from all walks of life formed a 3-km-long human chain against what they called as “the illegal treatment and arrest of Father Stan Swamy.”

The human chain extended from the Brigade Road to Shantinagar Bus Depot. The protestors alleged that the Jharkhand state has falsely implicated the Jesuit activist to “stall the judicial process to give justice to the innocent Adivasis in the region.”

Archbishop Peter Machado of Bengaluru joined a 3-kilometer-long human chain complying with Covid-19 protocols in Karnataka state’s capital city.

“Instead of harassing, the government should encourage the great service he has been doing for the poor and underprivileged.  The priest must be released immediately,” the prelate told media, during the protest.

Kochi, Kerala

In Kochi, Kerala, various Christian denominations demanded the release of Father Swamy, who was arrested “in gross violation of human rights and democratic norms.”

In a statement, the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council expressed shock at the arrest of the Jesuit priest.

The Church has always worked “for the development of the poor and the downtrodden … It is through hard-working, sincere and committed persons” like Father Swamy that the Church carried on this work, said the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council in a statement.

Several other bishops also issued statements pledging their support for Father Swamy. They also urged the government to release him immediately.

In Patna, Bihar

In Patna, Bihar, many social and human rights organizations joined a protest rally to express solidarity with Father Swamy. Hundreds people waved posters and chanted for the release of the priest. They alleged that the NIA had legally ‘abducted’ the priest on trumped up charges.

The participants include renowned activists such as, Padmashree Sister Sudha Varghese, noted journalist and PUCL activist Nivedita Jha and members and associates of the Bihar Dalit Vikas Society.

Trichy, Tamil Nadu

In Trichy, Father Swamy’s home state, Jesuit priests and staff of St. Joseph’s College observed a silent protest.

The protesters questioned the need for the NIA to take the aged priest to Mumbai amid the global pandemic.

“We are proud of Father Swamy, and his stand for the oppressed tribal people in the country, especially in Jharkhand,” Father A. Santhanam, a Jesuit who coordinated the protests in Tamil Nadu, told UCA News on Oct. 13.

“We appreciate his commitment and courage in facing these troubles for the sake of standing with for the oppressed people. The government must be thinking that harassing those speaking for the oppressed can terrorize rights activists. It only emboldens us to stand for the right cause.”

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