Skip to main content

To recall Pastor Niermoller: Today it's Fr Stan. Tomorrow your neighbour. Day after...?

By Rev Valson Thampu* 

I don’t know if Fr Stan Swamy’s soul will rest in peace. Given his sincerity to the cause of Dalit and adivasi rights, it is unlikely that it would, so long as the present situation continues. One thing, however, is certain. The present dispensation can now rest in peace. An octogenarian, enfeebled by Parkinson’s disease, unable even to hold a spoon with steady hands, will not destabilize the mighty Indian State anymore. Mera Bharat Mahan!
Why don’t I mourn Fr Stan’s death, though it is ‘untimely’? His death is ‘untimely’ because senseless imprisonment expedited it. If so, the plain truth is that he is killed. But, if you ask me, ‘Who killed Fr. Stan?’ I will have to refer to Count Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy says that the State is able to perpetrate atrocities through a division of labour.
Now if a judge, for example, had to not only condemn but also to take Fr. Stan personally to a prison and shut him up there, he would not be able to do it. If the NIA lawyers were to do it, their conscience too would revolt against it. Even the policemen involved, if they were to, on their own responsibility, throw Fr Stan into the jail, they would have trembled at the abhorrence of it.
But break this atrocity into many pieces and make different agencies carry out the fragments by way of discharging their ‘duties’, it can then be done with sincerity and national fervour. I too am part of this callous system. So, how can I mourn the death of this saintly man, having kept quiet about it for nearly a year?
Secondly, I feel happy for him because Fr Stan is now in a better state than he was, while alive in circumstances such were inflicted on him for reasons he could not understand. There is a school of thought that it is easier for an innocent man to suffer. They think so because they have never suffered, innocently or otherwise.
The anguish in guilt-less suffering is that one’s suffering makes no sense. It is absurd. What is absurd is unendurable. If you are punished for your wrongdoings, then you can reconcile yourself to your plight. Think, if you dare, of the plight of an old and chronically ill man in a prison.
Prison-life conditions, including the psychological poison that goes with it, being what they are, even individuals much younger than Fr Stan and in better states of health disintegrate fast. Fr. Stan himself said that it is better to die than to be in prison the way he was. So, why shouldn’t we celebrate his release from misery through the mercy of death, for neither mercy nor justice was likely to reach him in any other way?
Oh, no! It is not Fr Stan that we need to mourn. It is ourselves. Given the miasma of fear that is enveloping the country –of which the plight of Fr Stan is a clear warning- the difference between being inside the jail and being outside of it is becoming merely notional. A story from Hitler’s Germany is relevant here. Pastor Martin Niemoller was visited in jail by some of his sympathisers who wondered why he had to be in jail. He quipped, ‘Why are you not in jail?’ That is to say, at what cost are you keeping yourself out of it?
What intrigues me most is not the efficiency and zealous patriotism of NIA that rids India of extreme threats like Fr. Stan, but the crass indifference of the Catholic Church. No one is in the dark about the communication lines between the church hierarchy and the Modi dispensation.
We are also aware of the extent to which the Church goes, covertly, if not overtly, to save worthies like Franko of the nun-rape fame. We have seen, over three decades, bow the accused in the Abhya nun murder case were sheltered from the arm of the law. The humongous financial investment made for their sake is also not unknown.
The one thing we do not know is if anything comparable has ever been attempted by the same Church arms or agencies for the sake of Fr Stan. He was abandoned, it seems, like an illicit baby by its unwed mother.
A couple of issues stare at us from the Fr Stan tragedy, which is the tragedy of humanity as a whole. First, Fr Stan has died condemned, without the due process of law. Under the UAPA, the accused is guilty until proven innocent. Fr Stan was not proved innocent. He was ‘the accused’ at the time of his death.
Valson Thampu
The accused is, under the UAPA, guilty. So, I suggest that his case be tried on an urgent basis and the truth or otherwise of the allegations against him established. This is a matter of larger significance. It is likely that many more will suffer Fr Stan’s plight, given the increasing number of people booked under the UAPA and the inordinate in trying them as well as the protracted nature of their trials.
There is, besides, a humanitarian issue involved here. The state tends to mistake the cry of the poor for justice as a war-cry against peace and stability. Since Fr Stan was booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, we cannot but ask: Is it ‘unlawful’ to empathise with those who struggle for their rights: both human and constitutional?
The Pathalgadi movement, with which Fr Stan was in solidarity, is a tribal movement to realize the tribal rights enshrined in the Constitution of India. From Fr. Stan’s point of view, it is a spiritual and humanitarian duty to stand with those who struggle and suffer for justice. In itself it is a humane and laudable thing.
But, under the law, it has become subversive and anti-national. It has become, that is to say, dangerous to do good, if the good you do seems to go against the interests of the ruling elite. But, the right and duty of human beings to express their conscience through humanitarian activities is not subject to the charity of a State; it is a God-given duty. It is reprehensible for the State to trespass into this domain of practical spirituality.
Let’s not forget that Fr Stan is the victim not only of callous state action but also of the even more reprehensible indifference of the people at large. Today what is done to fellow human beings doesn’t matter to us, so long as it has either the tang of ideology or the veneer of legality. So long as our own skin remains intact, we sail along without any pang of conscience. Let me, yet again, borrow the words of Pastor Niermoller: today it is Fr Stan. Tomorrow it will be your neighbour. The day after...?
---
*Former principal, St Stephen’s College. Distributed by AC Michael, former member, Delhi Minorities Commission, through People's Media Advocacy & Resource Centre

Comments

TRENDING

IMA vs Ramdev: Why what's good or bad for goose should be good or bad for gander

By Dr Amitav Banerjee, MD* Baba Ramdev and his associate Balkrishna faced the wrath of the Supreme Court for their propaganda about their Ayurvedic products and belittling mainstream medicine. Baba Ramdev had to apologize in court. His apology was not accepted and he may face the contempt of court with harsher punishment. The Supreme Court acted on a public interest litigation (PIL) moved by the Indian Medical Association (IMA).

Women innovators on simple, revolutionary alternate solutions for water problems

By Proshakha Maitra, Mansee Bal Bhargava* The detrimental effects of uncontrolled population rise and accelerated change in the global climate have posed tremendous pressure on the water and sanitation. This calls all stakeholders, from both developed and developing nations, to improve their resilience and to instigate sustainability. It is more crucial than ever to optimise the use of the resources we have on hand since the world population is projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050.

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.

Alleged killing of another Bangladesh youth inside Indian territory: NHRC inquiry sought

By Kirity Roy* There was yet another incident of the killing of a Bangladeshi youth by the Border Security Force personnel attached with ‘Barthar’ BOP of ‘G’ Company of 75 BSF Battalion. In last five years several incidents of killings happened under this police station’s jurisdiction and the cases will get the award as “Not Guilty” as usual.

Modi model, Hindutva icon 'justified' alliance with Muslim League before Independence

By Shamsul Islam*  Our PM describes himself as ‘Hindu’ nationalist and member of RSS. He proudly shares the fact that he was groomed to be a political leader by one of the two fathers of the Hindutva politics, MS Golwalkar (the other being VD Savarkar) and given the task of establishing Hindutva polity in India after eradicating secularism.

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. 

Crusader for people’s causes, this Hollywood actor entered 'unexplored zones' in US

By Harsh Thakor*  Marlon Brando on April 3rd completes his birth centenary. He perished in 2004, on July 1, aged 80 years. Arguably in Hollywood Brando penetrated sensitivity and versatility at an unparalleled scale and discovered new horizons or explored path breaking zones in acting.

Nuclear power expansion: Is AEC's new, 'unrealistic' target fully backed by PMO?

By Shankar Sharma*  Another unrealistic and tall claim by Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) has been announced: India is eyeing 100 GW nuclear power by 2047, the AEC chairman  AK Mohanty   has said. A few years ago, the dream target for the Indian nuclear establishment was 275,000 MWe of nuclear power by 2050 (as per DAE document of 2008 "A Strategy for the Growth of Electricity in India”). Now this target of 100 GW nuclear power by 2047. And as at the end of February 2024, the actual nuclear power capacity was only 7,480 MWe, which formed only 1.7% of the total power capacity in the country. 

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

How huge crowd at Mukhtar Ansari funeral is comparable to BJP's 'people's court' talk

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*  The massive crowd at the funeral of Mukhtar Ansari in Mohammadabad reflects the power and influence that his family wields in the area. One can't deny that he had enormous power in Ghazipur and Mau districts. But the crowd that came and chanted slogans in his favour does not exonerate him of his conviction by the court.  It is important that we understand this.