BY ISN STAFF | July 6, 2021
On July 5, 2021, the Jesuits’ Secretariat for Social Justice and Ecology (SJES) announced that Fr. Stan Swamy S.J., had died at age 84 at the Holy Family Hospital in Mumbai, India.
Fr. Stan was 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.Fr. Stan 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 in a string of arrests of human rights defenders in the area.
In the months since his arrest in October, multiple efforts to secure his release were denied by the courts, despite his age, poor health, and spiking COVID-19 cases. Globally, Jesuit communities called for the release of Fr. Swamy and his fellow political prisoners.
Fr. Stan was transferred to Holy Family Hospital after contracting COVID-19 in May after months of imprisonment. It was brought to light after reports from his attorneys and fellow Jesuits that he was receiving inadequate medical care and that, prior to his arrest, he had been suffering from advanced Parkinson’s Disease and other geriatric diseases. He had also lost most of his hearing while in prison. He ultimately experienced cardiac arrest on July 4 and never regained consciousness.
“Stan was truly a prophet who lived his life fully for others, especially the Adivasis, Dalits and other marginalized communities,” wrote Fr. Xavier Jeyaraj, S.J., SJES secretary. “While in prison he said, ‘A caged bird can still sing’ and sowed ‘hope’ in everyone’s heart. Today it is a freed bird that sings from the sky calling each of us to keep alive that hope for true liberation from injustice, oppression and denial of rights.”
In a video released shortly after his arrest in October, Fr. Stan shared 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:
“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.”
“Stan became a keeper of conscience and awakened hope in everyone,” said Fr. Jeyaraj. “We are sure that he ‘will not be a silent spectator even from heaven.’ He will continue to be with each of us to help us ‘speak the truth to power’ and dedicate our lives to the poor and marginalized.”