By Robin Gomes
The Bombay High Court on Friday directed Maharashtra state prison authorities to move ailing Indian Jesuit priest and human activist Father Stan Swamy from Mumbai’s Taloja Central Jail to the church-run Holy Family Hospital for treatment for 15 days. Later that day, the priest was shifted to the Catholic hospital in Bandra.
A vacation bench of Justice SS Shinde and Justice NR Borkar gave the order on May 28 after his lawyer, Mihir Desai, filed a special plea the previous day, citing a further deterioration in the health of the 84-year old priest, who urgently needed special treatment outside the jail’s facility.
In hospital with personal attendant
Father Swamy, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and other age-related illnesses, has been detained in a prison in Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra state, since Oct. 9. The court also directed the hospital to assign an assistant to take care of the priest. Desai convinced the court his client needed an attendant at the hospital at all times and that Father Frazer Mascarenhas, former principal of St Xavier’s College in Mumbai and currently a parish priest of St Peter’s Church in Bandra, who is Father Swamy’s friend, should be permitted to stay with him. The court agreed to the request, setting aside objections from his prosecutors and jail authorities.
“We are glad that the court has ordered Father Swamy to be moved to the hospital,” Father A. Santhanam, a Jesuit lawyer who is monitoring his case, told UCA News on Friday. “Father Swamy has become so weak in these days that he is not able to walk or even eat properly and his blood pressure was dropping.”
Bail plea turned down
At an online video conference on May 21, Father Swamy told the Bombay High Court that his health has worsened in the 7 months at Taloja. On being offered to be admitted to the state-run JJ Hospital, Fr. Swamy refused saying he would prefer Taloja Prison. “No, I would not want to. I have been there thrice. I know the set-up. I don’t want to be hospitalized there. I would rather suffer, possibly die very shortly if this were to go on,” he said.
He said his only prayer was for interim bail and he preferred to stay in jail until it was granted. "Whatever happens to me, I would like to be with my own" people in Ranchi, Father Swamy said. The court adjourned the bail-plea hearing to June 14. His lawyer Desai convinced him to undergo treatment at Holy Family Hospital.
Officials of the National Investigation Authority (NIA), a federal agency to combat terrorist activities, arrested Fr. Swamy on October 8, 2020, from a centre he runs in Ranchi, the capital of eastern India’s Jharkhand state. They charged him for his alleged links with Maoist insurgents who were said to have been behind the violence in Bhima Koregaon village in Maharashtra state in January 2018, in which one person was killed and many others injured. Fifteen other human rights activists implicated in the same case, under the rigid non-bailable provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The accused have denied the charges.
The priest approached the Bombay High Court on April 26 after the NIA turned down his bail application twice.