Skip to main content

Birthday greetings to Fr Stan Swamy, in jail: 'You taught us true meaning of solidarity'

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*

Dear Stan,
It is rather unusual and certainly not normal to wish someone who is in prison “A Happy Birthday!” One's birthday cannot be ‘happy’ in prison; however, in wishing you we celebrate your life: your mission and your message and above all, those whom you have so closely identified with, all these years so “Birthday Greetings to you dear Fr. Stan!
Our prayer today is one of thanksgiving to Almighty God for the Gift of You: to so many people everywhere: particularly the poor and the excluded, the Adivasis and Dalits; to the Country, the Church and the Society of Jesus.
We continue to marvel at your unflinching commitment to the cause of justice. Over the years you have shown us all what it means to be a person for others, rooted in the non-negotiable faith-justice mandate. Your life as a Jesuit and Priest has been greatly shaped by Vatican II and the Jesuit 32nd General Congregation which states, the mission of the Society of Jesus today is the service of faith, of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement; for reconciliation with God demands the reconciliation of people with one another. You have internalised this spirituality and you radiate it!
Today, we cannot help but think of your incredibly simple life-style. Your frugality is known to all. You have lived your vow of poverty to the fullest; your material needs are few; your actual possessions are even less . The media had a field day, when some time ago the authorities came to seize your possessions -- they could find and take away almost nothing!
You have taught us the true meaning of solidarity what it means to sincerely walk the talk; that to meaningfully empower the exploited and the excluded, one has to be in solidarity with them in their struggles; to accompany them visibly and vocally, with prophetic courage, through difficulties and hostilities, for a more just and humane society.
We celebrate today your amazing work! You are a known Adivasi rights activist working on various issues of the Adivasis: land, forest and labour rights; questioning the non-implementation of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, which stipulates setting up of a Tribes Advisory Council with members solely of the Adivasi community, for their protection, well-being and development; your work has also involved opposition to the setting up of land banks, which you believed would free up land belonging to the community in favour of the corporate sector.
Besides, you helped form a group called the Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee that sought to do a study of the nature of undertrial prisoners (3,000 Adivasis illegally put in jail) and to have recourse to legal action, so that justice can be done. Your work has involved expressing dissent with several official policies and laws, which you were convinced were violative of the Constitution. The Adivasis and other excluded, who have been denied their legitimate rights, see in you a person who has left no stone unturned, to champion their cause.
You are an extraordinary person; in a selfless manner, you have given and have not counted the cost! As a young priest, you lived in an interior Adivasi village sharing a small room with one of the local families. During that time, you mastered the Ho language, studied their culture and customs, ate their food and even sang and danced with them.
You helped form a group that sought to do a study of the nature of undertrial prisoners -- 3,000 Adivasis illegally put in jail
Insertion into the tribal way of life has always been paramount to you and in a way also your forte’! You believe in youth: you have trusted them, given them a sense of identity and helped them to critically analyse what is happening to their tribal society. With the generosity and help of the locals you also built your own residence which became an open house to one and all!
Today we once again listen to those profound words which came from your heart, a short while before your arrest on October 8, 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."
Yes you have not been and will never be a silent spectator!
On January 15, 2021 , on the hundredth day of your incarceration, in a message, the Jesuit Superior General Fr Arturo Sosa reminded us all that:
"Father Stan dedicated his whole life to the poorest in the world, the indigenous Adivasi and the Dalits. He is the voice of the voiceless. He has stood before the powerful and told them the truth, he is committed to defending the human rights of minorities.".
A precise summation of your mission!
In a very profound way you have epitomised the joy of the Gospels. In his Apostolic Exhortation on holiness Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis says:
"We are inspired to act by the example of all those priests, religious, and laity who devote themselves to proclamation and to serving others with great fidelity, often at the risk of their lives and certainly at the cost of their comfort. Their testimony reminds us that, more than bureaucrats and functionaries, the Church needs passionate missionaries, enthusiastic about sharing true life. The saints surprise us; they confound us, because by their lives they urge us to abandon a dull and dreary mediocrity."
These words are without doubt all about you!
You have been in prison for two hundred days now; but even in prison , you reach out to the less fortunate prisoners in every possible way! You care for them. You have not allowed the brutal and inhuman system to break you! Instead, you tell us with such positivity and hope, that even a caged bird sings. You are not a silent spectator and you will never be one! That is why on 26 April , your 84th birthday, we celebrate you and sincerely thank you for all that you mean to us! With lots of love we say: “Happy Birthday dear Stan!!”
Your brother,
Cedric
---
*Human rights, reconciliation and peace activist/writer

Comments

TRENDING

Vaccine nationalism? Covaxin isn't safe either, perhaps it's worse: Experts

By Rajiv Shah  I was a little awestruck: The news had already spread that Astrazeneca – whose Indian variant Covishield was delivered to nearly 80% of Indian vaccine recipients during the Covid-19 era – has been withdrawn by the manufacturers following the admission by its UK pharma giant that its Covid-19 vector-based vaccine in “rare” instances cause TTS, or “thrombocytopenia thrombosis syndrome”, which lead to the blood to clump and form clots. The vaccine reportedly led to at least 81 deaths in the UK.

'Scientifically flawed': 22 examples of the failure of vaccine passports

By Vratesh Srivastava*   Vaccine passports were introduced in late 2021 in a number of places across the world, with the primary objective of curtailing community spread and inducing "vaccine hesitant" people to get vaccinated, ostensibly to ensure herd immunity. The case for vaccine passports was scientifically flawed and ethically questionable.

'Misleading' ads: Are our celebrities and public figures acting responsibly?

By Deepika* It is imperative for celebrities and public figures to act responsibly while endorsing a consumer product, the Supreme Court said as it recently clamped down on misleading advertisements.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

US 'frustrated' with India’s discomfort: Maritime exercise in South China Sea

By Vijay Prashad*  In early April 2024, the navies of four countries -- Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and the United States -- held a maritime exercise in the South China Sea. Australia’s Warramunga, Japan’s Akebono, the Philippines’ Antonio Luna, and the United States’ Mobile worked together in these waters to strengthen their joint abilities and -- as they said in a joint statement  -- to “uphold the right to freedom of navigation and overflight and respect for maritime rights under international law.” 

Magnetic, stunning, Protima Bedi 'exposed' malice of sexual repression in society

By Harsh Thakor*  Protima Bedi was born to a baniya businessman and a Bengali mother as Protima Gupta in Delhi in 1949. Her father was a small-time trader, who was thrown out of his family for marrying a dark Bengali women. The theme of her early life was to rebel against traditional bondage. It was extraordinary how Protima underwent a metamorphosis from a conventional convent-educated girl into a freak. On October 12th was her 75th birthday; earlier this year, on August 18th it was her 25th death anniversary.

Palm oil industry 'deceptively using' geenwashing to market products

By Athena*  Corporate hypocrisy is a masterclass in manipulation that mostly remains undetected by consumers and citizens. Companies often boast about their environmental and social responsibilities. Yet their actions betray these promises, creating a chasm between their public image and the grim on-the-ground reality. This duplicity and severely erodes public trust and undermines the strong foundations of our society.

India 'not keen' on legally binding global treaty to reduce plastic production

By Rajiv Shah  Even as offering lip-service to the United Nations Environment Agency (UNEA) for the need to curb plastic production, the Government of India appears reluctant in reducing the production of plastic. A senior participant at the UNEP’s fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4), which took place in Ottawa in April last week, told a plastics pollution seminar that India, along with China and Russia, did not want any legally binding agreement for curbing plastic pollution.

No compensation to family, reluctance to file FIR: Manual scavengers' death

By Arun Khote, Sanjeev Kumar*  Recently, there have been four instances of horrifying deaths of sewer/septic tank workers in Uttar Pradesh. On 2 May, 2024, Shobran Yadav, 56, and his son Sushil Yadav, 28, died from suffocation while cleaning a sewer line in Lucknow’s Wazirganj area. In another incident on 3 May 2024, two workers Nooni Mandal, 36 and Kokan Mandal aka Tapan Mandal, 40 were killed while cleaning the septic tank in a house in Noida, Sector 26. The two workers were residents of Malda district of West Bengal and lived in the slum area of Noida Sector 9. 

'Fake encounter': 12 Adivasis killed being dubbed Maoists, says FACAM

Counterview Desk   The civil rights network* Forum Against Corporatization and Militarization (FACAM), even as condemn what it has called "fake encounter" of 12 Adivasi villagers in Gangaloor, has taken strong exception to they being presented by the authorities as Maoists.