Jesuit priest and a veteran civil rights activist Father Stan Swamy was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in the Bhima Koregaon violence case. Swamy is the latest and the oldest––at 83––to be arrested in this case which began in 2018 and has so far imprisoned numerous civil rights activists, intellectuals, lawyers, writers, poet, etc. Before his arrest, Fr Swamy released a video statement in which he accuses the government of trying to gag him for his activism on human rights, indiscriminate arrests of tribal youth and the corporate aggression on the water, forests and land of the tribal masses.
Fr Swamy’s seven-minute-long video talks about how the evangelist, born in Kerala, has been fighting for the rights of the tribal people and how he became a thorn in the eyes of the state machinery for his legal steps against the government. Fr Swamy is a co-convener of the Persecuted Prisoners’ Solidarity Committee, in which Sudha Bharadwaj, the renowned lawyer arrested by the Pune Police in the Bhima Koregaon case, is also a co-convener. Swamy has been vociferously advocating the unity of human rights activists to strongly battle the government’s assaults.
The 83-year-old priest isn’t the lone victim of the case, which started when the Pune Police went on an arrest spree citing a purported letter written by some “Comrade M”, an alleged Maoist, to Rona Wilson, an activist who was fighting for political prisoners’ rights, detailing a conspiracy to kill Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Modi handed over the case to the NIA soon after it lost the Maharashtra Assembly election in October 2019.
Prominent activists, intellectuals, writers, poet, etc, like Bhardwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Varvara Rao, Hany Babu, Shoma Sen, Anil Teltumbde, Ramesh Gaichor, Jyoti Jagtap, Sagar Gorkhe, etc, have been implicated in this case and slapped with the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). With a UAPA charge, it’s unlikely that Fr Swamy or any of the accused will get bail from the NIA court anytime.
Even after being questioned for 15 hours in five days, the NIA pressurised Fr Swamy to travel to Mumbai for interrogation, which he refused citing the COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions on travelling for people of his age. Yet, the NIA wasn’t eager to retreat because the BJP wants Fr Swamy behind the bars to make its corporate donors happy. Rather than Fr Swamy conspiring against the state, the state is conspiring to kill a man like him for opposing the corporate aggression on the poor people’s land and livelihood.
Lately, he was arrested and now the NIA has filed a ridiculous charge sheet that has accused Fr Swamy, Teltumbde, Navlakha, etc, of working on behest of the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI. This indeed proves how sham the investigation is as it tries to link the ultra-right Pakistani state with a left-wing movement. While Fr Swamy has always fought for the rights of the oppressed and marginalised in Jharkhand and opposed land grabbing by mining giants, he was never an advocate of violence. The charges of being a Pakistani spy is a new credit from the Modi-fied state at a time when it’s using the “urban Naxal” tag to demonise any of its opponents, and even accuse them of any crime, including a ghastly pogrom like Delhi’s anti-Muslim pogrom.
Similarly, Teltumbde, a professed Ambedkarite, didn’t support the Maoists unlike his brother Milind Teltumbde, who is also named in the chargesheet. Moreover, Teltumbde got bashed by many Dalit activists for opposing the celebration of the Bhima Koregaon war. But he is implicated in the case too and accused of being a Maoist sympathiser.
In his video, Fr Swamy denied having any link with Bhima Koregaon event, where the principal accused of the caste violence, ‘Sambhaji’ Bhide and Milind Ekbote, associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)––the parent body of the BJP––remain scot-free. Fr Swamy said he never even visited the place in his life. He accused the BJP government of implicating him for his relentless struggles against the mining giants and for the upliftment of the tribal masses.
Though the RSS and the BJP have been trying to suppress all dissenting voice using the police state, it’s unable to clampdown dissent. The people’s resistance to the sclerotic Hindutva fascist regime of Modi is intensifying. The majority of the poor, who continue to suffer due to the ordeal unleashed upon them by the Modi regime’s unapologetic corporate appeasement, don’t consider Fr Swamy or others as “terrorists”, but, on the contrary, they have started realising the upper-caste Hindutva bogey as a terrorist force. For this reason, in his video message, Fr Swamy said he is proud to be among them who are arrested at this hour.