The Society of Jesus throughout the world is calling on solidarity in the release of a Jesuit veteran unjustly detained for his activism in favor of human rights in Ranchi, India. Renowned Jesuit priest Stan Swamy was taken into custody by India's National Investigation Agency (NIA). Fr. Stan has worked tremendously to uplift marginalised, and vulnerable people, especially for the tribals in Jharkhand for several decades. The Society of Jesus worldwide condemns the arrest of Fr. Stan Swamy, demand his immediate release, and we are calling on the Indian Government to refrain from arbitrarily detaining innocent law-abiding citizens.
On the afternoon of October 8, 2020, the National Investigative Agency (NIA) arrested Fr. Stan Swamy SJ, an 83-year old priest in poor health from the Jesuit Province of Jamshedpur, at his residence in Ranchi, Jharkhand - India. Fr. Stan was questioned multiple times for over 15 hours by NIA at the Jesuit residence in Bagaicha, Ranchi, in July and August this year. He was also summoned to the agency’s Mumbai office in connection with the controversial Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad event that preceded the violence between Dalits and Marathas in Bhima Koregaon, near Pune, on December 31, 2017. NIA accuses him of having personal ties to extremist Maoist and Naxalite groups. Fr. Stan is the last of 16 detainees, including well-known rights defenders Arun Ferreira and Sudha Bharadwaj, lawyers, and writers Vernon Gonsalvez and Varavara Rao. NIA arrested Fr. Stan on October 8, despite consistently denying all allegations made against him and cooperating with the agency in their investigation.
The 83-year old Jesuit was taken to Mumbai in the midst of a global pandemic (COVID-19) and against the Jharkhand government’s directive that those above 60 years of age may not venture in public. This despite Fr. Stan having informed the officials that he was not in a position to undertake such a long journey considering his vulnerable state due to his poor health and his age, and was willing to subject himself to questioning over video conferencing.
Father Stan, a human rights defender, founded Bagaicha, a Jesuit-run Social Action Center in which he has worked for the past 15 years. His work has focused on the defense and protection of the rights of the Adivasi (indigenous) communities enshrined in the Constitution of India. Fr. Stan has consistently worked on various issues of the Adivasi communities on land rights, forest rights, labour rights, and representation of the community members in the state of Jharkhand. He has been vocal about the “indiscriminate” arrest of thousands of young Adivasis by the investigating agencies labelling them as “Naxals”. He had filed a public interest petition in the Jharkhand High Court against the state, asking for all such undertrial prisoners to be released on a personal bond, and also for conducting a speedy trial.
In a video statement made prior to his arrest Fr. Stan said, “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.”
Fr. Stan professes his commitment to the Constitution of India and peaceful protest methods while questioning injustices committed against the Adivasis (indigenous) people by the State and the police.
The Jesuit Conference of South Asia (JCSA) expressed its shock and dismay at the news of Fr. Stan's arrest by NIA. In a statement issued, JCSA stated that Fr. Stan had been interrogated for several hours spread over several months, and he had consistently cooperated with the agency concerned. He has been willing to be further interrogated at the place he is residing or online considering his age, his poor health, and the COVID-19 pandemic, therefore, it was not necessary to take him into custody for further interrogation to Mumbai. In this context, JCSA has demanded the immediate release of Fr. Stan Swamy from NIA's custody.
Fr. Stan was taken into custody on the morning of 9th October in a flight around 9.30 am from Ranchi and taken straight to court in Mumbai where the charge sheet was filed and then he was sent to Taloja jail that afternoon.
We, as Jesuits committed to educating, caring, and defending the rights of the poor, the vulnerable, and communities around the world, stand in solidarity with 83-year-old Fr. Stan and other human rights defenders in India and strongly condemn his arrest. We demand Fr. Stan Swamy's immediate release and call on the Indian government to refrain from arbitrarily detaining innocent citizens who respect the law.