WHAT DO YOU THINK? Who is guilty for the death in custody of Stanislaus Lourdusamy an 84 years old priest, who worked for the rights of forest dwellers and an under-trial prisoner or those who kept him behind bars?
Mind it, Father Stan Swamy was a Parkinson’s patient, but the National Investigation Agency claimed that he was a Maoist and a key conspirator in the Bhima-Koregaon case. Ironically, however, the NIA did not, even for a day, seek his custodial interrogation after it arrested him on October 8, 2020 on the basis of an FIR of 2018. He was denied interim bail under the provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act because the NIA court invoked chapters IV and VI of the Act which pertain to terrorist activities. And here was a priest who never ever picked up a weapon!
It was fairly obvious that his prison stay, especially during the pandemic, was detrimental to his well-being. A good two months elapsed between the High Court seeking the NIA’s response to his bail plea on medical grounds and his death.
The charges against him were that he had been dancing with the banned Maoist organization operating in the forests of Jharkhand. From all accounts, it was found that he would educate the tribal people about their rights. If the evidence against him was so infallible, why even his physical remand was not demanded for questioning for so many months by the NIA after his arrest.
However, the UAPA permits the State to keep a person in custody for years without even a trial. Data shows that just 2 per cent of the cases prosecuted under the UAPA have ended in convictions till date but the accused can be made to languish in jail for years without trial.
While the MEA, maintains that all actions were strictly in accordance with the law and Father Swamy was arrested and detained by the NIA after following due process, the UN Human Rights Council and other international human rights organisations have termed the circumstances surrounding Father Stan Swamy’s death as “disturbing”, “inexcusable” and “devastating”.
Back home, leaders of 10 Opposition parties have written to President Ram Nath Kovind, seeking action against those responsible for allegedly meting out “inhuman treatment” to the activist in jail.
The least that can be done to ensure that Father Swamy’s death on July 5 should not go in vain is to trigger a national debate on the denial of bail to under-trials and misuse of certain provisions in law. After all it was not an ordinary death, he was a priest and died in state custody. Indeed the state is subject to the law of land and the Constitution. At his funeral, he was clothed in the red vestment that symbolizes martyrdom for Catholics.
It is time the judiciary should take suo motu notice of the death that is mired in suspicion over the role of authorities. And the least the State can do is to confer Father Stan Swamy with a high civilian award posthumously than to blame his legacy!