Application to Mumbai High Court seeks a judicial probe into the Jesuit priest’s arrest and custodial death
Jesuits in India have sought a judicial probe into the controversial arrest and custodial death of Father Stan Swamy while also seeking removal of the “odium of guilt” inflicted on the elderly priest.
The 84-year-old Father Swamy died as an undertrial while undergoing treatment at a Catholic-run private hospital in Mumbai on July 5 after being denied bail on health grounds.
“Father Frazer Mascarenhas, who has been designated as Father Swamy’s ‘next of kin’ by the Mumbai High Court, moved an application before it on Dec. 16 seeking a direction for a judicial probe into the custodial death of Father Swamy,” said Father A. Santhanam, a Jesuit lawyer who has been closely monitoring the case.
In his application, Father Mascarenhas, former principal of St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, said the trial court’s observations against Father Swamy while refusing him bail should be quashed as they have tarnished his reputation and work as a human rights activist.
Father Mascarenhas further said in his plea that the “preliminary finding of guilt” against the Jesuit priest “must be cured in the present proceedings,” citing a Supreme Court ruling that an “accused person not sent up for trial is entitled to the presumption that he is not guilty.”
“The case is aimed at clearing Father Swamy’s name from being attached to anti-national activities,” he told UCA News on Dec. 20.
It is a fact that Father Swamy lived and died for the welfare and uplift of the poor, especially the indigenous peoples. He was implicated in a false case and did not get time to clear his name
Father Swamy was widely respected as an activist priest for his work among the tribal people in Jharkhand and other states for more than five decades until his arrest in the Bhima-Koregaon case registered in the western state of Maharashtra in 2018.
The case related to mob violence during the bicentenary celebrations of the Bhima-Koregaon battle by Dalits on Jan 1, 2018, leading to the death of one person and injuries to several others.
Police investigation led to the arrest of several rights activists, lawyers and academics alleged to have links to Maoist rebels.
After it took over the case, India’s premier anti-terror investigative agency, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), arrested Father Swamy in October 2020.
All the 16 arrested were charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for waging war against the state.
Father Swamy’s supporters and admirers believe he was deliberately implicated for opposing the anti-tribal people policies of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Jharkhand.
The elderly priest had also challenged in court the “indiscriminate” arrests of thousands of young tribal people by investigating agencies labeling them as “Maoists.”
“It is a fact that Father Swamy lived and died for the welfare and uplift of the poor, especially the indigenous peoples. He was implicated in a false case and did not get time to clear his name,” Father Santhanam said.
He later moved an appeal before the high court in Mumbai but died during its hearing
Father Swamy, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, hearing impairment and other age-related ailments, had applied for bail twice but the court rejected his pleas.
He later moved an appeal before the high court in Mumbai but died during its hearing.
When a Catholic institution, the 140-year-old St. Aloysius College in Mangaluru in the southern state of Karnataka, announced it would be naming a park inside its campus after Father Swamy, pro-Hindu groups opposed it on grounds that the priest was accused of participating in terror activities.
Such false impressions may continue to further damage the image of Father Swamy as well as the Jesuits in India, his fellow Catholic priests have argued.