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India: Father Stan Swamy, Children and the Unholy State

Tuesday 4 September 2018, by siawi3


Father Stan Swamy, Children and the Unholy State

Stan Swamy has brought to light the deplorable conditions in which the undertrials are barely surviving and has sought answers for such repressive and illegal measures meted out by the State, while also fighting for the rights of Adivasis in Jharkhand.

Father Stan Swamy, Children and the Unholy State

File photo of Father Stan Swamy. Credit: Twitter/B.B. Choudhary

Rajendran Narayanan and Debmalya

3.09.18 22 hours ago

On the morning of August 28, 2018, several human rights activists from various parts of the country were arrested and the homes of few others were raided. ‘Urban Naxal’ is the new unceremonious epithet that has been conferred on these activists by sections of our cacophonous media. The raids, conducted by the Maharashtra Police, were carried out as part of a probe into the violence at Bhima Koregaon – triggered by an event called Elgar Parishad held in Pune on December 31, 2017. One such ‘Urban Maoist’ is the 81-year-old Jesuit priest, Father Stan Swamy.

Stan Swamy lives on the outskirts of Ranchi in a room inside a campus called Bagaicha. The Maharashtra police along with local police officials came unannounced to his room at 6 am, with a document written in Marathi. Swamy does not know Marathi. The police confiscated his laptop, mobile phone and CDs. On the same day, Stan issued a press statement in which he categorically stated that he had nothing to do with the violence in Pune and expressed deep anguish at the spate of arrests on human rights activists. In fact, renowned retired judges, Justice Sawant and Justice Patil, have publicly announced that they organised the event and that the arrested activists have nothing to do with it.

So, who is this 81-year-old priest? Summarising his decades of work is hard but here is a tiny snippet of his work from recent times.

Having seen the fate of several innocent Adivasis languishing in jails on false charges of being “left wing extremists”, Swamy championed the idea of doing a research study of Naxalite undertrials in Jharkhand. The reviews of the study can be found here and here.

Some key findings of the study reflect rather poorly on the government. Ninety seven per cent of the 102 undertrials accused of being Maoists or ‘helpers of Maoists’ when interviewed, reiterated that allegations against them were wrong. A large number of fake cases under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and stringent sections of the Indian Penal code were imposed upon Adivasis and Dalits without evidence. About 96% of the respondents earned less than Rs 5,000 a month – indicating low productivity of their land holdings. The study exposed the misuse of criminal justice procedures to repress the undertrial detainees in the prisons. A large proportion of acquittals further corroborate the routine harassment that many innocent Adivasis are put through in the name of quashing “Maoism”.

As part of the Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee, Stan Swamy has questioned the illegality with which some undertrials have been put in solitary confinement following the banning of Mazdoor Sangathan Samiti in December 2017. To this effect, along with the now arrested lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, Swamy wrote an article titled ‘Illegal Solitary Confinement‘ on April 7, 2018 in Economic and Political Weekly condemning the State’s unconstitutional and inhuman treatment of its own subjects. They write: “Solitary confinement is envisaged only for convicts—under Sections 73 and 74 of the Indian Penal Code—and that too on compliance of strict statutory conditions.” Swamy has brought to light the deplorable conditions in which the undertrials are barely surviving and has sought answers for such repressive and illegal measures meted out by the State – that too without any Court order.

The provisions of the Panchayats Extensions to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, 1996 granted special powers to the “fifth schedule areas” – Jharkhand being one of them. PESA exclusively empowers the gram sabha with (a) “right to mandatory consultation in land acquisition..” and (b) “mandatory recommendations by gram sabha or panchayat at appropriate level for prospective licenses/lease for mines…” Swamy has been vociferously questioning why this parliamentary Act has not been implemented anywhere. In the same context, Stan has highlighted the patchy implementation of Article 244(1) of the 5th Schedule of the Constitution that stipulates the formation of a ‘Tribes Advisory Council‘ (TAC). According to the 5th Schedule, the TAC must regularly meet the governors and submit annual reports to the President. Stan has been asking why this constitutional provision has been routinely ignored by the government.

In this context, it is critical to look at Pathalgadhi.
The ’Pathalgadi’ practice is commonplace in tribal areas of Khunti, Jharkhand. The perpetrators are reportedly Pathalgadi supporters. Photo: Credit: Niraj Sinha/The Wire

The ‘Pathalgadi’ practice is commonplace in tribal areas of Khunti, Jharkhand. The perpetrators are reportedly Pathalgadi supporters. Credit: Niraj Sinha/The Wire

There has been an old Adivasi tradition to demarcate areas and place stone slabs in memory of their ancestors. The burial ritual is known as sasan diri in the Munda region (sasan is crematorium and diri is stone). From the late ’90s, in order to spread awareness about PESA, led by former IAS officer B.D. Sharma and social worker Bandi Oraon, stone slabs with constitutional provisions under PESA and fifth schedule were inscribed. This came to be known as Pathalgadhi and is a way to assert constitutional forms of self-rule in scheduled areas. Pathalgadhi has recently become more visible in some parts in response to some policies by the BJP-led Government of Jharkhand (GoJ). The GoJ wanted to amend the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act, 1908 and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, 1896. Both the laws prohibit the sale of Adivasi lands to non-Adivasis. However, a strong resistance by non-violent people’s movement prevented the passage of the proposed amendments by the Governor of Jharkhand. Swamy stood congratulating this non-violent people’s victory.

The GoJ has enacted an amendment to the Land Acquisition Act, 2013 that dilutes the need for social impact assessment before any acquisition of land. This potentially destroys any legal safeguard of Adivasi lands and works in favour of the industrialists who have been promised ten lakh acres of land by the GoJ for setting up businesses. This is even more relevant in the current scenario, where uncultivated land (gaer mazurwa) has been registered under a “land bank” and the ownership of the community on such lands (Jamabandi title) have been cancelled.

Twenty one lakh acres of land had been announced under the “land bank” by the GoJ which has village commons going into the land bank. And, this is without any consent of the gram sabha or the TAC, i.e., in violation of PESA and fifth schedule. Swamy has been a fierce critic of the enactment of such GoJ policies. He asks why the government is constantly undermining the primacy of the gram sabha. He rightfully asks, “why would the Adivasis not protest when they are constantly being pushed more to the margins, their lands are being taken away by the government and handed to large mining corporations”. In response to all this, the GoJ recently filed an FIR against him with sedition charges for a social media post on Pathalgadi. The allegations are unclear.

Jharkhand has also been witness to an array of mob lynchings in the past couple of years. Muslims have predominantly been the victims of such violent ghastly crimes committed by cow vigilante groups that get tacit support from some BJP leaders. As testimony to his tireless endeavours to retain the secular fabric of the country, Stan has also been closely engaged in fostering communal harmony through secular platforms like Sajha Kadam.

It is a mockery of our constitution that asking questions non-violently of government accountability and wanting the government to act constitutionally can earn trophies of “sedition”. Isn’t Swamy’s question a mere paraphrasing of what the Supreme Court recently said, i.e., “Dissent is the safety valve of democracy… if it is not allowed, the pressure cooker will burst” ? Isn’t it a matter of shame for all of us when an ethical, octogenarian, after decades of working with the most marginalised has to publicly plead – “Does raising questions on the rights of Adivasis make me a ‘Deshdrohi’?”

While people like him are treated by the State with contempt, the mob lynching accused are being garlanded by a BJP leader. The choice is ours – do we want politics of ethics and truth of the kind of Father Swamy or one of perversion and falsehood as perpetrated by the BJP?

We stand in solidarity with Father Stan Swamy.


Rajendran Narayanan teaches at Azim Premji University, Bangalore.

Debmalya is a social worker.



India: “Case against me is nothing but an absolute fabrication” - Full Statement by Stan Swamy


Public statement by Stan Swamy

Maharashtra police held a press conference in Mumbai on August 31, 2018. Additional Director-General (law and order) of Maharashtra police Mr. Parambir Singh told the media that in relation to the incident of Bhima-Koregaon, initially a FIR was lodged on January 8, 2018. According to him the name of Stan Swamy was added in the aforesaid FIR on August 23 along with the names of Arun Fereira, Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalvez, Sudha Bhardwaj, Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde.

In the same press conference, ADG Parambir Singh talked about a letter allegedly written by Adv. Sudha Bhardwaj.

This letter, according to Maharashtra police, mentions that for the work of PPSC Stan Swamy had been appointed by comrade Prashant. It is also mentioned in the aforesaid letter that Sudha Bharadwaj had asked Stan Swamy to provide some funds for the activities of CPI (Maoist), but Stan Swamy did not make any definite commitment in this regard.

I would like to make it clear on my part with regard to the content of the said letter that Sudha Bhardwaj never asked me for any fund for the activities as mentioned in the letter. It is nothing but complete concoction and absolute falsehood that is being propagated by the Maharashtra police. Sudha Bhardwaj has also repeatedly denied the veracity of the said letter and has said that it is a fabricated letter.

Further, I believe that the possible reason behind this concoction of the case against me along with Sudha Bhardwaj is that I have been the convener of Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee (PPSC) formed in December, 2015. I wish to make it clear that PPSC was formed purely to help under trial prisoners and it has no link whatsoever with any banned organizations. I have also filed a PIL in the Jharkhand High Court at Ranchi for the speedy trial of the under trial prisoners, languishing in the jails of Jharkhand. Taking serious note of my PIL, Hon’ble Jharkhand High Court on January 8, 2018 ordered the state of Jharkhand to provide all relevant and necessary information from all the jails of Jharkhand which must reveal the reasons for undue delay in the trial of these under trial prisoners. Still the proceedings in said PIL are going on in Jharkhand High Court.

In addition to this PIL, I have been raising awareness among Adivasi and Dalit people for their rights guaranteed under the Indian Constitution especially the rights of the adibasi community provided in the Fifth Schedule and their right of self governance through Gram Sabhas as provided in PESA Act; I have also tried to make them aware of the judgment of the Supreme Court that ‘the owner of the land is also the owner of the subsoil minerals.’ I have also raised voice against the formation of Land Bank that intends to take over the “commons” such as roads, rivers, ponds, burial grounds, community forest lands etc which are traditionally used by the community.

I fear that these activities of mine have angered the powerful interests within the government that they not only have foisted a case of sedition against me in Jharkhand but now have included me in a false case that links me with banned organizations at national level in order to discredit me together with other intellectuals, legal professionals and social activists raising our voices for the rights of poorest of poor people in the state of Jharkhand and all over India.

Stan Swamy