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Fr Stan's arrest turns Bhima Koregaon into 'most sweeping baton' to silent critics

Counterview Desk

Commenting on the recent arrest of Jharkhand-based tribal rights leader Fr Stan Swamy and subsequent filing of charge-sheet against several human rights activists, a civil society network, Campaign Against State Repression (CASR), has said, the Bhima Koregaon-Elgaar Parishad case has turned into the “most sweeping baton used for silencing human rights activists and intellectuals who have stood alongside the struggles of the most marginalised castes, classes and community.”
Especially referring to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) statement, which claims it has uncovered “tentacles of conspiracy spread throughout the country but also extended beyond India”, the statement says, the arrests are intended to “silence” the voices of all those who have fought for justice – including the Adivasi communities’ displacement and land-grab in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, upholding the Forest Rights Act and opposing mining projects in Maharashtra, families of innumerable ‘disappeared’ in Kashmir, Nagaland or Manipur.

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On October 8, a day before the deadline for filing the charge-sheet in the Bhima Koregaon-Elgaar Parishad case elapsed, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested the 83-year-old Jesuit priest and veteran tribal rights activist Father Stan Swamy. He was forcibly taken from Ranchi to Mumbai and produced before the Sessions Court on October 9. Alongside this, the NIA presented a 10,000-page charge-sheet.
Fr Stan was dispatched straight to Taloja Jail making him the sixteenth and the oldest person arrested in the case. His arrest under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) comes after over two years of harassment at the hands of State forces including lengthy interrogations over several days, multiple raids at his residence in Bagaicha and seizure of electronic devices and other personal belongings.
After the NIA took over the case on January 24, 2020, Fr Stan Swamy joins Prof Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha, Prof Hany Babu, Jyoti Jagtap, Ramesh Gaichor and Sagar Gorkhe alongside several others arrested by the Pune Police in 2018 including Arun Ferreira, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson, Shoma Sen, Sudha Bharadwaj, Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Varavara Rao and Vernon Gonsalves.
Following the filing of the charge-sheet, the NIA issued a statement claiming to have uncovered “tentacles of conspiracy… spread throughout the country but also extended beyond India.” The Bhima Koregaon-Elgaar Parishad case appears to be the most sweeping baton used for silencing human rights activists and intellectuals who have stood alongside the struggles of the most marginalised castes, classes and community.
Be they Adivasi communities fighting against displacement and land-grab in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, or upholding the Forest Rights Act and opposing disastrous mining projects in Maharashtra or youth belonging to marginalised castes, classes and community demanding a life of dignity in the most unequal cities of the country including university campuses of Delhi and Nagpur or the families of innumerable ‘disappeared’ in Kashmir, Nagaland or Manipur living under jack-boots protected by AFSPA, these arrests are intended to silence these voices and all those who have fought these struggles with them by a desperate ruling dispensation driven by Brahmanical Hindutva fascism and determined to establish a Hindu Rashtra.
For over three decades, Fr Stan Swamy has worked on the issues of land rights, access to mineral resources, forest rights and the right for a dignified life and livelihood in Jharkhand. Over the last few years, he had been taking up cases of thousands of impoverished prisoners unable to secure bail particularly those belonging to the Adivasi communities falsely incarcerated as ‘Maoists’.
Fr Stan steadfastly stood by the Pathalgarhi struggle for land rights facing charges of sedition, withdrawn by the new state government
He has been a vocal critic of ‘land-banks’ intended to siphon off mineral rich land to big corporations in areas demarcated by the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution of India, and has at several instances exposed policies that reveal the nexus between the State and corporations. The mineral rich state of Jharkhand has areas demarcated to ensure the establishment of Tribal Advisory Councils for representation, protection and development of the Adivasi community.
Fr Stan has spoken of the need for their implementation, the absence of which violates the rights of Adivasi communities to self-governance. Demanding the implementation of Panchayat (Extension of Scheduled Areas) Act, he has struggled to strengthen Gram Sabhas in Scheduled Areas. He even steadfastly stood by the Pathalgarhi struggle for land rights facing charges of sedition as a consequence. These charges were withdrawn following a change in government after the recent assembly elections.
Fr Stan’s interventions on these questions and active involvement in the struggles for land, livelihood and dignity have brought him wide-spread support of the people of Jharkhand. Upholding self-assertion of Adivasis, he opposed the anti-people policies of the ruling government and its agents determined to line their pockets with kickbacks provided by corporations, those motivated by rapacious greed and profit while executing the project of Hindutva.
Despite his cooperation with the Pune Police and the NIA over two years, health concerns including Parkinson’s Disease and the on-going Covid-19 pandemic that leaves persons of advanced age and comorbidities vulnerable to the life-threatening virus, the NIA has treated Fr Stan in the most inhumane manner, dragged him to Mumbai under duress and incarcerated him in a prison where inmates and jail authorities are struggling to contain the spread of the virus.
The contraction of the virus and the callousness of the authorities while providing medical treatment was cruelly apparent in the case of the revolutionary poet Varavara Rao. It is under these conditions that Fr. Stan Swamy joins fifteen other activists, intellectuals, journalists, lawyers, poets and trade unionists, held in Taloja and Byculla Jails of Mumbai, all of whom have upheld the principles of democracy and dared to demand a life of dignity for the most marginalised castes, classes and communities in this country.
The Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) urges all progressive and democratic sections of society to condemn the arrest of Fr Stan Swamy, demand an end to the harassment of activists and intellectuals in the name of investigation, repeal the draconian UAPA and release all political prisoners. We also demand action against the real perpetrators of the violence in Bhima Koregaon. CASR urges democratic forces to come together and oppose the onslaught of Brahmanical Hindutva fascism in all its forms and strive for democracy!
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*Organising Team: AISA, AISF, APCR, BCM, Bhim Army, Bigul Mazdoor Dasta, BSCEM, CEM, CRPP, CTF, Disha, DISSC, DSU, DTF, IAPL, IMK, Karnataka Janashakti, KYS, Lokpaksh, LSI, Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan, Mazdoor Patrika, Mehnatkash Mahila Sangathan, Morcha Patrika, NAPM, NBS, NCHRO, Nowruz, NTUI, People’s Watch, Rihai Manch, Samajwadi Janparishad, Satyashodak Sangh, SFI, United Against Hate, WSS

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