BY MEGANNE LIEBSCH | December 10, 2020

Fr. Stan Swamy, S.J.

Fr. Stan Swamy, S.J.

Gathered around a statue honoring Mahatma Gandhi, a group of Jesuits and lay colleagues raised their voices in prayer and protest. Two months ago, 83-year-old Jesuit priest, Fr. Stan Swamy, was arrested by the Indian government on false charges of terrorism. Fr. Swamy has dedicated his life to accompanying the poor and marginalized in India, especially the Indigenous Adivasi community. His arrest is part of a broad crackdown on human rights defenders in India that has incarcerated 16 activists.

Multiple efforts to secure his release have been denied by the courts, despite Fr. Swamy’s age, poor health, and spiking COVID-19 cases. Globally, Jesuit communities are calling for the release of Fr. Swamy and his fellow political prisoners.

In Washington, D.C., Jesuits protested outside the Indian Embassy, at the foot of Gandhi’s statue. Fr. Tim Kesicki, S.J., president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States called on the Indian Ambassador to help free Fr. Swamy “in accordance with India’s strong tradition of democracy and human rights.”

Jesuits, Indian Embassy, Fr. Stan Swamy

Jesuits and lay colleagues protest outside the Indian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Holding a poster emblazoned with the slogan, “We Stand with Fr. Stan,” Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J., read excerpts of Fr. Stan’s letters from prison. Afterward, Fr. Reese explained the importance of this public witness. “When a defender of the poor and marginalized is imprisoned for his ministry, the world must stand up and defend him,” he said. “As a former chair of the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom, I am appalled by the use of so-called anti-terrorism laws to demonize religious leaders who work for justice.”

Jesuit Curia, Fr. Stan Swamy

Staff at the Jesuit Curia in Rome protest Fr. Swamy’s detention.

Jesuit leaders also contacted the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, urging them to take action on behalf of Fr. Swamy and his colleagues. Through the Jesuit Conference of South Asia’s #StandwithStan Campaign, people from across the globe—from London to Delhi and Italy to the Philippines—have honored Fr. Swamy’s work and demanded his release.

Over the last 50 years, Fr. Swamy has ministered to India’s poorest and marginalized communities. He lives and works at a Jesuit social action center in the west of India, among the Adivasi Indigenous peoples. Fr. Swamy has documented the systemic erosion of Adivasi land rights by the Indian government. He argues that the Indian government has abused its power by falsely imprisoning thousands of Adivasi activists. Many believe this outspoken dissent is the real reason for Fr. Swamy’s arrest.

According to a statement from the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat (SJES) for the Society of Jesus, Fr. Swamy is committed to peaceful dissent. “He always dared to speak truth to power and expose the large-scale abuse of power using anti-terror and sedition laws and land grabbing without due process of consultation as required,” says SJES secretary Fr. Xavier Jeyaraj, S.J.

“If these are criminal and anti-national actions, I am ready to pay the price,” Fr. Swamy said shortly before his arrest.

In a letter to fellow Jesuits, Fr. Swamy described bleak conditions. He shares a 13×8 cell with two other people who must help him eat his meals, wash his clothes, and massage his stiff joints as his Parkinson’s disease limits his mobility. He is allotted four minutes every 10 days to speak with people outside the prison. Until recently, Fr. Swamy was denied straws or a sipper cup to help him drink water on his own. Concerned about his health, lawyers filed a motion for bail at the end of November, which is still undecided.

Still, Fr. Swamy remains positive. “Despite all odds, humanity is bubbling in Taloja prison,” he wrote.

Join the Jesuits in solidarity with Fr. Stan on International Human Rights Day, December 10.

[Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published by the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, found here.]

14 replies
  1. Avatar
    Nelson Carvalho says:

    Salute to Stan Swamy. He is indeed a prophet standing up for the rights of those at the periphery and paying the price for it.
    The injustice meted out to him is unthinkable. He stands hand in hand with Gandhiji.

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Peekay Enem says:

    Why doesn’t Pope Francis raise the issue directly with the PM, on behalf of a fellow Jesuit priest?

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Calbina says:

      In every case Pope cannot raise voice to the leader of India. India is a different country of mentality. So don’t expect from pope that he can solve every problem specially in India.

      Reply
  3. Avatar
    Roy Anrak says:

    Narrow perspective- this article.
    From a Jesuit point of view.
    He was busy converting poor tribals to Christianity, funding them, and inciting them to use violence and terrorist activities

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Noel Pinto says:

      How many tribals did he convert to Christianity? Do you have any figures and proof?
      This is the common excuse given for most atrocities committed against Christians in India.

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Leopoldo D'sa says:

        Absolutely Mr.Pinto. Mr. Roy Anrak needs to show proof. So then what are the charges he has been arrested for.. ?? For conversion ?? No it is for supporting the elgar parishad disturbances. I hope Mr.Roy Anrak understands the difference.. and refrains from making unsubstantiated charges..

    • Avatar
      Ren Ferns says:

      The Jesuits have been great self sacrificing pioneers in educating millions of Indians, several of whom have gone on to become some of our finest civil servants as well as high ranking national & international award winners in their respective fields & careers. Those of you (misguided individuals) who are alleging fake & absolutely unsubstantiated claims of convertions would do well to realise the factual truth that Jesuits (SJ’s) like Fr. Stan Swamp, have selflessly contributed, dedicated & sacrificed their entire lives towards educating, supporting & uplifting millions of Indians (mostly marginalized) for several centuries in India thru their fine educational institutions. Just consider the numerous & fantastic Jesuit educational institutions across this nation that stand testimony to the fact that the core vision and mission of this Society of Jesus is to selflessly enlighten, educate & empower all Indians who have approached them or who have been “touched” by them (Jesuits) in various walks of life and society. To miscontrue & falsely allege conversion & terrorism as their ulterior motive is a serious affront to humanity, secularism and most importantly severely compromising the constitution of this great nation. Such ill-considered false notions are a massive setback to our secular and democratic institutions. I can only end my sincere reply to people like Mr. Roy Anarak, by quoting the great Rabindranath Tagore’s poetic words “Father let my country Awake” God Bless our nation! Long Live India! Jai Hind!

      Reply
  4. Avatar
    Leopoldo D'sa says:

    Absolutely Mr.Pinto. Mr. Roy Anrak needs to show proof. So then what are the charges he has been arrested for.. ?? For conversion ?? No it is for supporting the elgar parishad disturbances. I hope Mr.Roy Anrak understands the difference.. and refrains from making unsubstantiated charges..

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    R I Pinto says:

    Animals and cows are given better care as compared to this elderly and sick priest. Where is humanity in a country rich with hospitality ?

    Reply
  6. Avatar
    Babsie says:

    It is indeed v v sad that the Govt finds a 83 yr old Priest a mastermind behind elgar parishad disturbances!!
    But we are Catholic Christians who prefer to show the other cheek as well. May Reverend Fr Stan’s suffering be for the salvation of souls.
    Praying n offering penance for his release.

    Reply
  7. Avatar
    Premdeep says:

    Strange that people asking for proof of how many he converted don’t realize that he himself is a convert. So quite normal to understand what his real purpose is. Further, it’s not right for foreigners to show solidarity with an accused criminal in India just because he happens to be from a particular sect or community. There are more than 20 million Christians in India (officially, without counting the millions converted in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh etc). There is absolutely no discrimination in India against anyone because of their denomination or faith (the oldest political party in India is right now headed by a practicing Christian). Yes, the system has failed many citizens in India, but that is as true for Hindus as it is for Muslims or Christians. India is a functioning democracy, and Mr. Stan has the full right to reach out to the judiciary which is fiercely independent. Remember this same judiciary opened it’s doors to a terror convict at 3AM to hear his plea. So pls try to understand this country and how it functions before blindly showing solidarity with an accused. How different are u then from Afghanistan showing solidarity with Osama bin laden?

    Reply

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