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KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Father Stan Swamy, who was arrested under the UAPA for his involvement in the Bhima-Koregaon violence, passed away on 5th July 2021.
  • He was a Jesuit Priest who tirelessly worked for the rights of the Tribal communities in Jharkhand.
  • His demise led to debates on the prevailing importance to jail rather than bail.

INTRODUCTION

The Bhima-Koregaon case is the one which is continuously preying several persons even after more than two centuries. From young activists to older intellectuals, the violence is bringing up a number of names to be connected with the case. Father Stan Swamy is one of such intellectuals to get caught in this biggest trap. The main contentions put forth against him were that he had links with the Maoists, who played a major role in the 2018 Violence. It was stated that he was sympathetic to the Maoists. Consequently, he was arrested, and was sent to Taloja Central Jail where he was in custody since October 2020. He was shifted to a private hospital in Mumbai due to his worsening health condition. His bail plea on medical grounds was pending before the Bombay High Court which was to be heard on 6th July 2021. However, the activist breathed his last on 5th July 2021. Tributes and condolences are pouring-in from across the Country.

WHO WAS FATHER STAN SWAMY

Father Stanislaus Lourduswamy, popularly known as Father Stan Swamy, was born in Trichy, Tamilnadu, on 26th April 1937. He had restlessly worked for the upliftment of the tribal community people for more than three decades. He advocated for equality of rights among all the citizens, and was concerned over the prevailing unjust practices against the lower communities. He was a Jesuit Priest, and spent his life mainly in Jharkhand. This tribal rights activist was the convener of the Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee. The Committee was an organization which came into existence in 2015, to fight for the rights of marginalized prisoners caught up in the clutches of the “unequal” Indian Judicial System. He was actively engaged in campaigning for equality and justice to Adivasis and Dalits. He also questioned the Government’s ignorance in setting up of a Tribes Advisory Council under the Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.

Father Swamy’s name was linked to the Bhima-Koregaon incident a number of times. However, the authorities were unable to find any evidence relating to his involvement, until October 2020 when the National Investigation Agency (NIA) finally got an opportunity to arrest was add his name in its new chargesheet. The Jesuit Priest was arrested on 8th October 2020, by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. This is reported to be his 16th arrest in the case, and the 84-year old was said to be the oldest to be arrested for terrorism.

THE BHIMA-KOREGAON INCIDENT IN BRIEF

History

When talking about Father Stan, it is also important to know about the Bhima-Koregaon case. The incident is not confined to 2018 but dates back to 1818 when a battle was fought between the British and the Maratha Armies. This Bhima-Koregaon battle was fought on 1st January 1818. Interestingly, this battle was not only between the British and Marathas, but also among the different communities in Maratha. Mahar community is one such so called “lower” group which was subject to oppression by the so-called “higher” community for several years. Vexed by this ill-treatment, the Mahars decided to join the British troops to fight against the Marathas. The British emerged victorious thereby putting an end to the Maratha rule. There were, however, no regular celebrations until 1927 when Dr. B. R. Ambedkar first acknowledged the victory of Mahars. Since then, there were celebrations every year.

The Bhima-Koregaon Violence, 2018

The year 2018 marks the 200th year of the Bhima-Koregaon battle. So, to commemorate the same, the Mahars gathered, on 31st December 2017 for an event under the banner “Elgaar Parishad”. The event took place at Shaniwar Wada, Pune. As usual, lakhs of people crowded Bhima Koregaon on 1st January 2018. However, that year, violence broke out between the Marathas and the Mahars. The main issue of this fight was the question as to who conducted the last rites of Maratha Ruler Sambhaji. As a consequence, several persons got injured.

Aftermath

The persons who instigated the violence were arrested, however, the Supreme Court criticized the then Maharashtra Government, led by Shri. Devendra Fadnavis, for the slow progress made in the case. The incident resulted in the arrest and detention of several activists including Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj among others. There were allegations against them that they had direct and indirect links with the Maoists, who were involved in instigating the violence.

FATHER STAN SWAMY AND THE BHIMA-KOREGAON CASE

In January 2020, the National Investigation Agency took over the probe of the case. However, even before 2020, Father Stan’s name was heard then and now during the investigation. In 2018 and 2019, there were raids in his residence and office to gather evidence against the Activist, however, in vain. The NIA summoned Father Stan to come to their office for inquiry which the latter declined citing health issues. However, his reason might not have satisfied the NIA which went ahead and arrested the octogenarian on 8th October 2020. He was kept in custody in Taloja Central Jail for charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and Sedition. There is no proof yet against him, and he remained an under trial until his death. The NIA Special Court denied the interim bail applications of Swamy filed on medical grounds. His health kept deteriorating while in custody in Taloja Central Jail. Following the Bombay High Court’s order dated 28th May 2021, Swamy was shifted to a private Holy Family Hospital where he was tested positive for COVID-19. Father Stan Swamy was put on ventilator on 4th July 2021 following a cardiac arrest. However, the Activist, who fought for almost three decades, breathed his last on 5th June 2021.

CONCLUSION

Whether the arrest of Father Stan was justifiable or not cannot be determined at this point. However, the National Investigation Agency Court’s refusal to grant him bail on medical grounds is surely an act that needs condemnation. The death of Father Stan incited people against the Judiciary. Despite the Supreme Court’s endorsement of “bail over jail”, the lower courts are failing to adhere to that principle. In several cases, including the present one, courts are denying the grant of bail in appropriate cases. At least, it is important to consider medical issues, if not others. In the instant case, it was clear that the activist had serious health ailments, and he was 84 years old. It is expedient for courts to grant bail at such situation. It is a sad truth that the tireless activist died as an under trial accused while fighting for his bail right which is a basic legal right in our country.


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