A frail, ailing 83-year-old Jesuit priest, Father Stan Swamy, has become the oldest person to be accused of terrorism in India. He is incarcerated in a Mumbai jail after his arrest last week.
He is one of the gentlest, kindest, softest-spoken men I have ever met. You practically have to strain to catch his words. Fr Swamy has been accused of being a Maoist terrorist. This word conjures up a violent person who exhorts people to revolt, bombs symbols of authority, destroys, murders and does anything else it takes to overthrow the state. But he is the antithesis of this.
His sin? Helping the poor and vulnerable. He has been in the forefront of trying to protect India’s indigenous Adivasi people whose lands are under attack in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, where mining interests loom large. The battle of the Adivasis against mining corporates is a David and Goliath scenario. Millions of people will be displaced. The government did so before, on the Narmada river, when the dam gates were opened and flood waters submerged hundreds of thousands of Adivasi homes. The Narmada protest began in 1985 and the dam, built despite mammoth struggles, protests and international coverage, was declared complete in 2006.