On the eve of Republic Day, 82-year-old Jesuit priest Fr Stan Swamy released a letter appealing to the conscience of the nation because about 20 human rights activists, including him, were working for the fundamental rights of the poor and marginalised and upholding constitutional values were being labelled ‘Urban Naxals’ and harassed to no end. In it, he asks why the judiciary believed everything that the police presented in front of it and never questioned the violation of rules by Pune police.
The home or rather room of the 82-year-old, who lives on the outskirts of Ranchi on Bagaicha campus, was raided by Maharashtra police on August 28, 2018, under suspicion of him being involved in the violence at Bhima Koregaon on December 31, 2017. His laptop, mobile phone and several CDs were confiscated.
Father Swamy believes that he is being targeted because he has been questioning the Jharkhand government, as a part of Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee, the large number of cases being slapped on Adivasi youngsters. They have been charged under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and accused of being ‘Naxals’ and ‘Maoists’. However, a large number of them have been acquitted as well, pointing to the harassment by the state.
In mineral-rich Jharkhand, governments have mostly looked at Adivasis as trouble even as the state has wanted to acquire their forest lands for mining. Rather than engaging them in a dialogue, brute force has been mostly used to displace them without any hope of repatriation. The BJP-led Jharkhand government has been irked with Fr Swamy for exposing its claim on anti-Naxal activities and for empowering tribals. When his efforts resulted in the Pathalgadi movement in 2017, the state responded by slapping sedition charges on him and 20 others.
Edited excerpts of an interview
1. Why do you think you were included in the list of persons whose homes were raided? What is the status of the case?
I was included in the list because among other interventions I have filed a PIL in Jharkhand HC against the government on the about 3,000 young adivasi under-trial prisoners languishing in the jails of Jharkhand. Most of them have been unjustly labeled ‘naxals’. The court has been quite supportive and ordered the state to provide all the info about all the undertrials. It is 11 months now but the govt is unwilling to provide the details because it has much to hide. Hence this case has been foisted on me to get me out of the way. As far as the case goes… I am, as of now, only a ‘suspect’ and the Pune police is trying to find something incriminating so as to make me an ‘accused’ and put me behind bars.
2. What are the problems the tribal people face in the state and why hasn’t any government done anything to resolve them?
Jharkhand is a mineral-rich state, so the government and the industrial class is set to exploit the minerals by throwing Adivasi people from their hearths & homes after throwing some meager compensation at them. Now Adivasi people are becoming more aware of their rights and refuse to give their land. I and several other activists have been part of these ‘resistance movements’. The government does not want to solve the problem because it is in the grip of corporate houses.
3. The relationship between development and people’s rights and livelihood have been at loggerheads. How does one tackle the issue?
People’s participation in all the development projects and a meaningful share in the wealth generated by mining is an absolute necessity. This is what the powers that be do not want to give.
4. What is the state of human rights in Jharkhand? Do you see a solution to the State vs people problem?
Human rights is abysmal. Anyone who questions the govt can be dubbed an ‘extremist’ and cases foisted and thrown into jails. Some NGOs have taken up specific issues and taken side with struggling people. Long road to freedom!
5. As a Catholic priest, how did you get involved in the human rights issues and what have been your experiences so far?
When I decided to join the Jesuits, I sought to know where I will be needed more. I came to know about the Indigenous Adivasi people in central India and I lived in an interior Adivasi village for two years and came to appreciate their values…sense of equality, cooperation, sharing without counting, community-bond, consensus decision making, closeness to nature etc. At the same time, I saw how these beautiful people were being exploited and oppressed by unscrupulous outsiders. I wanted to make something of my life that would make even a small difference in their search for dignity and self-respect. That’s what I am still trying to do during the last four decades.
6. Have you been inspired by the Liberation Theology?
Any one will be inspired by Liberation Theology. The challenge is to put it in practice the Indian context.