BY ISN STAFF | October 22, 2020
Fr. Stan Swamy, S.J.,an 83-year-old Jesuit from Jamshedpur province in India, has spent more than 40 years advocating for the rights of the marginalized, particularly of Adivasi (tribal/indigenous) communities. He was arrested on October 8, 2020 and sent to jail under false charges and is one of the latest in a recent string of arrests of human rights defenders in the area.
Prior to his arrest, Fr. Swamy uploaded a video to be released in case of his imprisonment. In the video he describes how the National Investigation Agency (NIA), India’s anti-terrorism task force, interrogated him for over 15 hours and accused him of being connected with extremist groups that sparked violence during an event in 2017. Fr. Swamy vehemently denies the accusations and believes that he is being targeted due to his advocacy around indigenous rights in his work with the Adivasis community.He has been outspoken about the violation of constitutional rights experienced by the Adivasis community, including speaking out against violations of the Land Acquisition Act, which requires people to be consulted and fairly compensated for use of their land. Corporations have taken land from communities in the area, sometimes for extractive purposes, without consultation or with minimal compensation. Members of the community who organized and spoke out about these land rights violations, including about 3,000 young Adivasis, were arrested. Fr. Swamy convened a group to advocate for the release of those people who had been arrested and filed a case against the state on their behalf. He believes that this work in particular is what motivated the state to implicate him in other unrelated terrorism cases.
Fr. Swamy has always been extremely courageous and never fears speaking out against injustice. Towards the end of his video, he shares a message that echoes the work of many Jesuits before him, including the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador, who have been persecuted for their witness in speaking truth to power and living out the call of the gospel to care for the most marginalized and vulnerable members of society:
— Jesuit conference of South Asia (@JCSADelhi) October 13, 2020
“What is happening to me is not something unique happening to me alone. It is a broader process that is taking place all over the country. We are all aware how prominent intellectuals, lawyers, writers, poets, activists, students, leaders, they are all put into jail because they have expressed their dissent or raised questions about the ruling powers of India. We are part of the process. In a way I am happy to be part of this process. I am not a silent spectator, but part of the game, and ready to pay the price whatever be it.”
The Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat (SJES) of Society of Jesus released a statement in solidarity with Fr. Swamy and has demanded his immediate release. Jesuits in India have also united to advocate for Fr. Stan’s rights and release. They have created a petition and ask that all members of the global Ignatian network to sign it in hopes of securing Fr. Swamy’s release. In the U.S., Fr. Timothy Kesicki, S.J., president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States urged U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to “ask the Indian Government to ensure his immediate release, and ask it to refrain from arbitrary arrests of innocent citizens.”