“Special judge DE Kothalikar , said in his order, prima facie Swamy had hatched a “serious conspiracy” with members of a banned Maoist organisation to create unrest in the country and to overthrow the government. The judge said that based on the material on record it seemed Swamy was a member of the banned Maoist organisation CPI (M)”
(A brief on Stan Swamy Case by Vichar Vinimay Kendra)
Stan Swamy, an influential Jesuit priest and a Naxal activist was refused bail by the National Investigation Agency Court on 22 March 2021 in the 2018 Bhima Koregaon – Elgaar Parishad case. The special NIA court had said that the 83-year-old Jesuit priest conspired with Maoists who were trying to overthrow the elected government and seize power through an armed rebellion.
Special judge DE Kothalikar , said in his order, prima facie Swamy had hatched a “serious conspiracy” with members of a banned Maoist organisation to create unrest in the country and to overthrow the government. The judge said that based on the material on record it seemed Swamy was a member of the banned Maoist organisation CPI (M).
Serious Evidence against Stan Swamy
The material that the court referred to included around “140 e-mails between the applicant (Swamy) and his co-accused,” the fact that Swamy and others he communicated with, were referred to as “comrades”, and that Swamy had received Rs 8 lakh from one comrade, Mohan, allegedly for the furtherance of Maoist activities. The court observed that as per the submissions made by the special public prosecutor the word comrade was used while addressing the members of CPI (M).
“The material placed on record thus prima facie denotes that the applicant was not only the member of banned organisation CPI (Maoist) but he was carrying out activities further in the objective of the organisation which is nothing but to overthrow the democracy of the nation,” the Special Judge added.
“Prima facie it can be gathered that the applicant along with other members of the banned organization hatched a serious conspiracy to create unrest in the entire country and to overpower the Government, politically and by using muscle power”, the NIA judge states clearly in his order.
On refusal to grant bail on health grounds, the NIA court cited Supreme Court precedents and observed, “If seriousness of the allegations made against the applicant is considered in proper perspective, in that case, there will be no hesitation to conclude that the collective interest of the community would outweigh the right of personal liberty of the applicant and as such the old age and or alleged sickness of the applicant would not go in his favour, so that the discretion to release the applicant can be exercised in his favour.”
The court’s reasoning on denying bail to Swamy squarely rests upon Section 43D of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The said section provides for rejection of bail application if the court, after considering the police report and case diary, forms an opinion that the allegations against the accused are prima facie true. Therefore, the threshold of seeking bail is higher in UAPA, as compared to the criminal procedure code.
The court also looked through various investigation papers which said that Swamy and his organisation ‘Bagaicha’ were “deeply involved in facilitating the interest/furtherance of CPI (M) activities by its deep rooted association” with other organisations.
The court further said, “The material placed on record thus prima facie denote that the applicant (Swamy) was not only the member of banned organisation CPI (Maoist) but he was carrying out activities further in the objective of the organisation which is nothing but to overthrow the democracy of the nation.”
Stan Swamy was arrested in October 2020 from Ranchi and since then has been lodged at the Taloja Central Jail in Navi Mumbai. Stan Swamy’s lawyer, Mr. Sharif Shaikh attempted to secure bail for Stan, saying that Stan suffers from Parkinson’s disease and has lost hearing in both ear. However, the NIA Court refused this plea, and instead issued instruction for Stan Swamy to be shifted to a prison hospital.
The prosecution had also told the court that during a raid at Stan Swamy’s properties in 2018 and 2020, they had recovered 40 documents, including the literature of 50 years of Naxalbari, CPI (M) press releases, circulars issued by the Central Committee, the literature on how to struggle things, letters, guide of encrypted data communication on GSM Network, message on the celebration of 13th Anniversary of CPI (M), an essential underground handbook, mini manual of urban guerrilla, the constitution of CPI (M), documents related to the status of PLGA in excel sheet form, and a document on strategy and tactics of Indian Revolution.
The court noted that another letter issued by a person named Comrade Arun to Swamy starts with salutations, ‘Lal Johar’. The prosecution had told the court that the words ‘Comrade’ and ‘Lal Johar’ are generally used by the members of the CPI (M).
The NIA has claimed that Swamy was furthering the activities of the CPI (Maoist) through his “deep-rooted association” with other organisations like the Majdoor Sanghatan Samiti, Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee (PPSC), calling them “frontal organisations” to the banned group.
Planning the assassination of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
As per the Pune Police, which was initially investigating the case before handing it over to the NIA, the inflammatory speeches delivered at the ‘Elgar Parishad’ conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, were partially responsible for the violence witnessed the next day in Bhima Koregaon.
The Pune Police had claimed that the conclave was backed by outlawed Maoist groups. Based on the recoveries made during raids at the premises owned by several accused high-profile activists, the investigating agency had told the court that the CPI (Maoist) was waging not a conventional war, but, a people’s war by mobilising people on a massive scale both militarily and politically.
In the courts, the Pune police have claimed that the arrested activists had active links to the CPI(Maoist) which was engaged in destabilising the country and working against national security. It had even claimed that the arrested people were associated with a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The scope of the investigation was eventually widened, with the Pune police claiming retrieval of incriminating documents in the form of electronic records. This included an email written by a certain 'R' to Comrade Prakash on April 18, 2017 talking of a "Rajiv Gandhi-type" operation.
What is Elgar Parishad Case
On 1st June 2018, Bhima Koregaon village, Pune, where a certain section of people from scheduled castes had gathered to mark the 200th anniversary of a battle, which has been projected by British and Left historians as a battle between Mahar soldiers fighting for the British and the Brahmin Peshwa rulers of the Maratha empire. The Naxals have tried to exploit this event by misinterpreting it to create a fault line amongst Hindus.
The police said the violence was provoked by activists and human rights lawyers some of whom had attended the Elgar Parishad, a programme organised by the Naxals under the garb of Dalit and human rights groups in Pune a day before the anniversary of Bhima-Koregaon. The clashes left one dead and several injured, including 10 policemen.
The Pune police had initially arrested five activists and lawyers from Pune, Nagpur and Delhi, saying that they had links with banned Naxal organization, CPI(Maoist) and had played a role in organizing the Elgaar Parishad. Later that year, in August, the Pune police carried out simultaneous searches at the houses of eight Naxal activists in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Goa and Ranchi. Its bid to arrest the activists was foiled by judicial intervention, but three months later, it managed to arrest four of them, including Chhattisgarh-based Sudha Bhardwaj, and Hyderabad-based Varavara Rao. They have been in jail ever since.
So far, 16 people have been arrested in the case as accused - Jyoti Raghoba Jagtap, Sagar Tatyaram Gorkha, Ramesh Murlidhar Gaichor, Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson, Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha, Hany Babu and Father Stan Swamy.
Pune city police had filed ‘draft charges’ against 19 out of the 23 accused persons booked in this case under sections of IPC and UAPA. The chargesheet stated that the accused had arranged the Elgar Parishad through “frontal” organisation Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) for “creating communal disharmony” and had “enacted provocative songs, short plays, dance, and distributed books and circulated printed Naxal literature to exploit the communal sentiments of Dalits and other classes across the state, and provoked them in the name of caste in order to create violence, instability and chaos in district Pune, at various places, including Bhima Koregaon, and in the state of Maharashtra.”
The Elgaar Parishad case became prominent because of the arrests of some high profile activists and lawyers, some of who are in jail for over a year now. The initial investigation had focused on the people and groups who had organized the Elgaar Parishad. Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mewani and former JNU student Umar Khalid were among those who had participated in Elgaar Parishad and made speeches. Pune police says what while carrying out the investigation, it had stumbled upon material that provided clues about the operations of a larger underground network of banned Naxal groups.
Who is Father Stan Swamy
Jesuit Father Stanislaus Lourdusamy, also known as Fr Stan Swamy is a Naxalite who is active in tribal areas . Stan born in Trichy, Tamilnadu moved to the Chaibasa area of undivided Bihar in 1970s. He campaigned during the 1996 campaign led by Jharkhani Organisation Against Radiation (JOAR) against the Uranium Corporation of India Limited to stop mining from Jadugoda mines. Father Stan’s is a member of the Jamshedpur province of the Society of Jesus. Swamy’s main works was to mobilise tribal people against development in the area. He along with 19 others was also accused of inciting tension on the 'Pathalgadi' issue on Facebook and was booked for sedition. The case was withdrawn by the Hemant Soren government after it came to power in December last year.
Stan Swamy was arrested on 9th October 2020 at Ranchi for his involvement in inciting a mob to violence in Bhima Koregaon near Pune on January 1, 2018. He was taken to Mumbai where he was produced before the court.
According to Police investigation, activists at the Elgar Parishad meeting had delivered inflammatory and provocative speeches that led to violence the next day. The investigation also exposed a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The police had filed 58 cases against 162 people during a state-wide shutdown in January following clashes in Bhima-Koregaon. Left leaders and church institutions staged Protest demo against the arrest of Stan Swamy across the globe.
Churches raise their voice in the support of Stan Swamy
Kerala Catholic Bishops' Conference (KCBC) like to remind the government that the Catholic community has always been working for the development of the poor and the downtrodden. It is through hardworking, sincere and committed persons like Fr Stan Swamy that the Catholic Church has worked for the welfare of the poor in this country," said KCBC.
Father E P Mathew, SJ of The Kerala Jesuit Provincial condemned the arrest of Fr Stan Swamy "strongly". "The inhuman and autocratic act of the NIA in the arrest of Stan Swamy violates all Constitutional provisions. Stan has consistently denied any link with extremist leftist forces or Maoists. He also clearly told the NIA that some of the so-called extracts allegedly taken from his computer shown to him by the NIA were fake and fabricated and so he disowned them,"
The auxiliary Bishop of Ranchi, Theodore Mascarenhas, said in a statement that the community was distressed and troubled by the manner in which Stan Swamy was arrested. “It brings no glory to the name of the premier National Investigating Agency that they could not find time in the daylight to come to take Father Stan Swamy and could reach his residence only after darkness had fallen,” “We would have expected that the top investing officers would have understood the danger to Fr. Stan’s health before taking him out of the house, especially since he was pleading with them, telling them that it was night and he was a sick man. We reaffirm our faith and trust in the Indian Constitution and our judicial institutions. We pray to the almighty that justice may prevail, and that democratic right of citizens may be guaranteed,” it said.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) Archbishop Felix Machado, Secretary-General of CBCI, “Fr. Stan has for decades been working to protect the rights of the Adivasis, especially their land rights. This could have worked against the interests of certain people. We earnestly urge that the rights, duties and privileges of all citizens are duly safeguarded, and peace and harmony prevail among all," he said in a statement.
Jesuit Father George Pattery, president of the South Asia Jesuits, said his religious order condemns the arrest “in the strongest terms”. “It is very unfortunate and a very illegal way of doing things and cannot be tolerated. I think it is an arrest without a warrant and cannot be accepted,” Father Pattery told Crux. “He has dedicated his entire life for the Tribals and their cause.”
The Council for Social Justice and Peace (CSJP), a wing of the Goa Church, has issued a statement demanding that rights and privileges of citizens of all faiths be safeguarded. CSJP director Fr Savio Fernandes alleged attempts are being made "to brand Christians as anti-nationals and manufacture grounds to deny them their political space and curtail democratic rights and privileges".
The North East Catholic Research Forum said in a statement: “By selective targeting of a law-abiding prominent Christian, it appears to be an attempt to distract and divert people’s attention from multiple crises the country is currently witnessing -- political, diplomatic, economic and social insecurity… The NECARF, therefore, appeals to the Government of India to forthwith intervene and ensure his early release, as we pray for people of this country in these times of extreme crisis exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Globally, Jesuit communities are also calling for the release of Fr. Swamy and his fellow Naxal leaders.
In Washington, D.C., Jesuits protested outside the Indian Embassy, at the foot of Gandhi’s statue. Fr. Tim Kesicki, S.J., president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States called on the Indian Ambassador to help free Fr. Swamy “in accordance with India’s strong tradition of democracy and human rights.”
Fr Damian Howard SJ, Provincial of the Jesuits in Britain, explains the injustice of Fr Stan Swamy SJ’s incarceration and how we can help on the @The_Tablet's latest podcast.
According to a statement from the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat (SJES) for the Society of Jesus, Fr. Swamy is committed to peaceful dissent. “He always dared to speak truth to power and expose the large-scale abuse of power using anti-terror and sedition laws and land grabbing without due process of consultation as required,” says SJES secretary Fr. Xavier Jeyaraj, S.J.“If these are criminal and anti-national actions, I am ready to pay the price,” Fr. Swamy said shortly before his arrest.
USCIRF Commissioner @nadinemaenza: “I am concerned by the arrest of Stan Swamy, an elderly Jesuit priest & humanrights defender. He should be released immediately. His arrest is one example of increasing harassment of India’s religious minorities.”
Opposition Parties support for Naxal leader Swamy
Again opposition parties failed to understand the sentiment of nation. They ignored the how serious charges on Stan Swamy. Parties like Congress, CPM, JMM are openly supporting the swamy..
Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan "It's unfortunate that tribal rights activist and Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy was arrested and jailed. He has been working among the Tribals for decades. It's against the principles of Indian Constitution to arrest those who raise their voice against the butchering of democratic rights of the Tribals," Vijayan said in a Facebook post. "There are allegations that the arrest was a move to muzzle the voices of dissent," Vijayan said, Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren questioned the motive behind the arrest. "What message does the BJP want to give out by arresting 83-year-old Stan Swamy? He raises his voice for the suppressed, poor people and tribals. What kind of obstinacy is this?" tweeted Soren.
Congress MLA Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco said "Fr Swamy has himself clarified that he has never been to Bhima-Koregaon and has been cooperating all through with the investigating agencies, I would like to inform your good self that Fr Swamy suffers from old age-related ailments,"
“Arresting an 83-year-old social worker (Fr Swamy) who has brought help to the helpless for decades is a national disgrace. It’s also eroding our country’s standing as a liberal democracy in the eyes of the world,” Congress leader Shshi Tharoor tweeted.
Another congress leader Jairam Ramesh Had tweeted“This is truly, truly outrageous. I have known Father Swamy and am well aware of his work with the adivasis. This is Modi Sarkar’s tactics of browbeating and intimidation against social activists. ATROCIOUS!”.
Activists who supported Swamy
Ramchand Guha tweeted "That is why the Modi regime seeks to suppress and silence them; because for this regime, the profits of mining companies take precedence over the lives and livelihoods of adivasis, The Jharkhand civil society has issued a statement condeming the serial raids on human rights activists across the nation. The statement has termed the arrests an attempt “by the government to strike terror among those who are fighting for justice for the marginalised and give voice to the voiceless. ” Describing the raid on the residence of Jharkhand activist Stan Swamy as ‘highly objectionable’, the signatories have said that the raids and arrests are being carried out to “stifle dissent and intimidate those who are fighting for justice”. They have emphasised that the BJP has launched the process of intimidation “in order to polarise the 2019 elections in its favour.”
People’s Union for Civil Liberties has slammed the arrest and the charges, and demanded immediate release of Stan Swamy. In a statement the NGO said, "The arrest of Fr. Stan by the NIA is malicious and spiteful as Fr. Stan has consistently denied any link with extremist leftist forces or Maoists. He had also clearly told the NIA that some so called extracts allegedly taken from his computer shown to him by the NIA were fake and fabricated and that he disowned them. What also exposes the NIA action as motivated is revealed by the fact that in October, 2018, the police told the Bombay HC that Fr. Stan was only a suspect and not an accused."
Harsh Mander too expressed his support for Swamy. "Father Stan Swamy in his 80s has served India's tribal people selflessly, struggled with them peacefully against injustice. One by one, the state is hounding India's finest sons & daughters. Why is it so frightened of those who speak for the most oppressed? #IStandWithStanSwamy,"
Filmmaker PritishNandy said it was "very tragic to see an 83-year-old priest fighting for Adivasi rights being arrested in the midst of a raging pandemic."
Activist VasviKiro cleared the air on the “objectionable” post. “The FIR was filed against the priest on June 26 last year when he posted on Facebook that Sarna brothers should get their own religious code, a longstanding demand of theirs. In the same FIR, around 20 more are named as co-accused for rallying behind tribal rights,” Kiro said. “Father Swamy is a Christian but fights for tribals irrespective of religion,” she said, adding that the “present situation in the country was not conducive to such people”.
Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha Jean Dreze said “We strongly condemn the arrest of Stan Swamy in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case. He is a valued and public-spirited citizen and has been working for tribal rights since decades in Jharkhand. All Opposition parties should exert pressure on the Centre to release him”.
(Vichar Vinimay Kendra is a Delhi based think tank.)
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