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Indian human rights activist Fr. Swamy laid to rest

Le prêtre jésuite Stan Swamy

NOAH SEELAM / AFP

John Burger - published on 07/08/21 - updated on 07/08/21

His witness will inspire many others to work for the poor, fellow priest says.

Fr. Stanislaus Lourduswamy, popularly known as Fr. Stan or Fr. Swamy, the Indian Jesuit who died of COVID-19 while under arrest, conducted a “relentless mission” to lift up the country’s tribal peoples and lower castes, said one of countless Indian leaders who honored him. 

Priyeranjan Dwyer, secretary of the Young Men’s Christian Association in Gaya, Bihar, said Fr. Swamy’s “relentless mission for the upliftment of the Dalits [“Untouchables”] and Adivasis [tribe] cannot be forgotten.”

“Father Swamy has been a voice of the voiceless, human rights defender, a true prophet of our time,” said Fr. Antonysamy Stephenraj, regional director of the Jesuit Refugee Services. Fr. Swamy’s witness “will continue to inspire many to stand with the poor,” he added. 

Fr. Swamy died July 5 at the age of 84, never regaining consciousness from the day before, when he suffered from cardiac arrest. In May, he had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and was placed on a ventilator.

Altogether, he was in detention for eight months — on terror charges stemming from his activism on behalf of Indian society’s lowest castes. Authorities alleged that the priest supported the cause of banned communist groups through his civil rights organizations. The Economist summarized the case:

He was one of 16 co-defendants, all but one of whom remain in jail, in a case that police describe as a Marxist terror plot. They have tied the group, which includes distinguished academics, human-rights activists and a well-known poet, to a rally held in 2018 by low-caste Dalits (so-called “untouchables”) at a village called Bhima Koregaon, some 170km east of Mumbai. This was marred by a stone-throwing incident involving higher-caste Marathas, during which one person died. Police have also claimed the group funnelled money to Naxalite guerrillas seeking to overthrow the state, and were plotting to assassinate Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister.

So far, the only evidence produced has been electronic, consisting of files retrieved from the personal computers of the accused, all of whom say they had never seen any of this supposedly incriminating material. According to independent investigations by Arsenal Consulting, a Boston-based digital forensics firm, they appear to be right. Close analysis by Arsenal of two of the defendants’ computers shows they were victims of malware attacks dating back to 2016, which allowed dozens of documents, including those later leaked by police as proof of a conspiracy, to be inserted surreptitiously into their filing systems. Separately, both Amnesty International, an advocacy group, and Citizens Lab, a Canadian research group, have found that Dalit activists were targeted by hacking software, typically sold only to governments, that permits remote control of devices.

According to AsiaNews, at Fr. Swamy’s funeral in Mumbai, Fr. Frazer Mascarenhas acknowledged that Fr. Swamy had used the word “comrades.” But, he said, to think that Fr. Swamy used it in a Maoist sense “is an absolutely ridiculous accusation. Stan was gentle; someone who loved peace,” and who rejected all forms of violence.

Said Fr. Mascarenhas, “He considered all those working for humanity [. . .] as his comrades.”

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