Editorial

Stan Swamy’s death will ‘remain a stain’ on India’s human rights record

The civilized nations were devastated to hear about the demise of Jesuit priest Stan Swamy in custody, there is “no reason” for a human rights advocates to be denied his rights and that his death will forever “remain a stain” on India’s human rights record.

Swamy, 84, who was arrested last year under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in connection with the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case, died at a Mumbai hospital on July 5.

Father Swamy’s case should remind all States that human rights defenders and all those detained without sufficient legal basis, such people put behind bars to settle personal ego should be released.

The death in custody of Catholic priest Swamy, “a renowned human rights and social justice advocate for over four decades, will forever remain a stain on India’s human rights record.”

There is no excuse, ever, for a human rights defender to be smeared as a terrorist, and no reason they should ever die the way Father Swamy died, accused and detained, and denied his rights.

India has rejected international criticism over the handling of Swamy’s case. Within Indian domicile, the Supreme Court in its latest notice to the Centre reminded and asked the later as to why Section 124A Indian Panel Code, alleging that he waged a war against the State or classifying the crimes as Sedition, should not repealed from the penal code.

In its symbolic admission the Indian Ministry of External Affairs has said the concerned authorities act against violations of law and do not restrain the legitimate exercise of rights.

It casually said India remains committed to the promotion and protection of the human rights of all its citizens and that the country’s democratic polity is complemented by an independent judiciary and a range of national and state-level human rights commissions, while BJP Governments in India are living no stone unturned in all types of restrains using sedition law against hundreds of thousand innocents in India, like Father Swamy.

Swamy was arrested and detained by the National Investigation Agency without application of judicious mind and after balancing evidence and following due process under the law. Because of the specific nature of charges against him, his bail applications were rejected by the courts after the prosecution mislead the court that he is not suffering from any disease while he was suffering from Parkinson disease.

Authorities in India act against stage managed violations of law and not against legitimate exercise of rights. All such actions are not strictly in accordance with the law.

Government mislead to the effect that Swamy was receiving all possible medical attention at a private hospital where he was admitted since May 28. His health and medical treatment were being closely monitored by the courts. He passed away on July 5 following medical complications.

Swamy was jailed last October “on fabricated terrorism charges” and had been subjected to harassment and repeated interrogations.

Father Stan, a Jesuit priest who had dedicated much of his life to defending the rights of indigenous peoples and the Adivasi minority, died in custody on July 5, despite many requests for his release as his health deteriorated in prison.

In early November 2020, UN experts raised his case with the Indian authorities, reminding them of their international human rights obligations. Now also UN asked again why he wasn’t released, and why he had to die in custody? Is a debatable question.

Swamy had been working for decades to protect the rights of Adivasi minority indigenous peoples and the Dalit minority, in particular violations involving forced displacement and illegal land acquisitions.

The world knows that defenders working on environmental, land or indigenous people’s rights are among the most vulnerable to being targeted. Internal call has been endorsed by Special Rapporteur on minority issues Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health Tlaleng Mofokeng.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.