By Robin Gomes
“There is darkness today with the death of Fr. Stan but he is truly a light for thousands of people of India and elsewhere.” This is how Indian Jesuit priest Father Cedric Prakash reacted soon after hearing about the death of jailed fellow Jesuit Father Stan Swamy on Monday.
Fr. Stan, who championed the cause of indigenous and marginalized people in eastern India’s Jharkhand state, died in Mumbai’s Holy Family Hospital. He was being treated there for Covid-19, which he contracted behind bars in Taloja jail, near Mumbai.
The ailing 84-year-old priest, affected by Parkinson’s disease and hearing impairment, was arrested on October 8 from Bagaicha, a Jesuit social action centre on the outskirts of Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, on charges for alleged links with Maoist insurgents who were said to have been behind the violence in Bhima Koregaon village in Maharashtra state in January 2018. He was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) that is tasked with fighting terrorism and sedition under the controversial Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The following day, he was lodged in Taloja Central Jail.
Father Swamy has denied all charges against him saying Bhima Koregaon is “a place that I have never been to in all my life.”
Like Jesus, with the marginalized
Fr. Cedric of Gujarat Jesuit Province, also a human rights, reconciliation and peace activist like Fr. Swamy, felt for his fellow Jesuit and the long suffering he underwent. “From the day he was arrested, Oct. 8, till today, Fr. Stan had been in jail, incarcerated under the dreaded Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, for a crime, we know, that he did not commit,” Fr. Cedric lamented.
He said Fr. Stan, who belonged to the Jamshedpur Jesuit Province, Jharkhand, loved the poor, the down-trodden, the marginalized and the excluded of society, especially the tribals or indigenous people, known as Adivasis in India. “He lived his life for them, he accompanied them on this journey for a more humane, just, equitable and dignified life. Fr. Cedric, the founder of "Prashant”, a Jesuit centre for human rights, justice and peace in Ahmedabad, noted that Fr. Stan walked the road with the indigenous and marginalized people, “just as Jesus would have done, if He were living physically in our world today.”
A light for thousands
For Fr. Cedric, “Fr. Stan is a beacon of hope”. “Fr. Stan has been a great mentor and motivator to hundreds and thousands of people, both the poor and the marginalized, the human rights defenders and many people across the board.” He said he is convinced that “Fr. Stan still lives on”. “Fr. Stan will never die. He will continue to live in the hearts and the lives of hundreds and thousands of people everywhere from all walks of life.”
Fr. Cedric recalled that when Mahatma Gandhi died, the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had said, “The light has gone out of our life and there is darkness everywhere.” Similarly, the Jesuit priest said, “There is darkness today with the death of Fr. Stan but he is truly a light for thousands of people of India and elsewhere.” “Long live Fr. Stan, you will never die,” Fr. Cedric emphasized.