By Vatican News
The Catholic Church of India is protesting the unjust arrest of a Jesuit priest noted for his advocacy of the rights of indigenous peoples, locally known as tribals and adivasis. Father Stan Swamy, 83, was arrested on October 8 in Ranchi, the capital of the eastern state of Jharkhand.
Accused of Maoist links
The priest has been accused by the government for links with Maoist insurgents who are accused of being behind a riot in Bhima Koregaon village in the western state of Maharashtra in December 2018. He has been remanded by a special court of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in Maharashtra capital, Mumbai, until his hearing scheduled for 23 October.
“The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) expresses its deep sorrow and anguish on the arrest of Father Stan Swamy from his residence by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), accusing him of being related to the Bhima Koregaon incident,” said Archbishop Felix Machado of Vasai Diocese, CBCI secretary-general.
“The CBCI makes a strong appeal to the concerned authorities to immediately release Father Stan Swamy and to permit him to go to his residence,” Archbishop Machado wrote in an appeal sent to AsiaNews.
Father Swamy, who belongs to Jamshedpur Jesuit Province, was arrested from Bagaicha, a Jesuit social action centre in the outskirts of Ranchi, which works for the rights of indigenous people in Jharkhand. Attached to the centre is also a school for tribal children and a technical training institute.
In a statement before his arrest, Father Swamy claimed he has never been to Bhima Koregaon.
Archbishop Machado pointed out that the elderly priest “has spent a major portion of his life-giving yeoman service to the tribals and the downtrodden in the state of Jharkhand, … especially their land rights,”. “This,” he said, “could have worked against the interests of certain people.”
“When questioned during the months of July- August 2020 by authorities,” the archbishop said, “Father Stan Swamy fully cooperated with NIA and provided detailed statements, claiming his innocence.”
Father Swamy’s health concerns
The archbishop expressed particular concern over the arrest of Father Swamy who could be particularly vulnerable given his advanced age and poor health amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Currently, India is the worst-case scenario in terms of infections and deaths.
Stressing that the Catholic community of India has always been loyal, law-abiding and committed to the common good and in nation-building, Archbishop Machado urged that the rights, duties and privileges of all citizens be duly safeguarded, and peace and harmony prevail among all.
The CBCI thanked all for supporting Father Swamy and calling for his immediate release and safe return to his residence.
South Asia Jesuits
Jesuit Father George Pattery, president of the South Asia Jesuits, said his religious order condemns the arrest “in the strongest terms”. “It is very unfortunate and a very illegal way of doing things and cannot be tolerated. I think it is an arrest without a warrant and cannot be accepted,” Father Pattery told Crux. “He has dedicated his entire life for the Tribals and their cause.”
The Catholic community of Ranchi Archdiocese has also appealed for the release of Father Swamy. "The Church in Ranchi appeals to the conscience and compassion of all concerned authorities and all those who have a say in this matter to release Father Swamy immediately and restore him to his own residence," said a statement signed by Auxiliary Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas of Ranchi and Sister Punam Soreng SJC, secretary of the local unit of the Conference of Religious India (CRI).