Jailed Indian Jesuit Fr. Stan Swamy dies at age 84

Fr. Stan Swamy, S.J., pictured in 2010. Fr. Stan Swamy, S.J., pictured in 2010. | Khetfield59 via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

An Indian Jesuit priest died on Monday at the age of 84 after having spent the last eight months of his life jailed on terror charges for his activism on behalf of Indian society’s lowest castes.

Fr. Stanislaus Lourduswamy, popularly known as Fr. Stan Swamy, died days before his scheduled bail hearing in the High Court of Bombay, which had been postponed due to his deteriorating health.

The elderly priest, who also suffered from Parkinson’s disease, had been placed on a ventilator at Holy Family Hospital in Mumbai (formerly called Bombay) over the weekend, more than a month after he was admitted to the hospital under court order with COVID-19, according to UCA News.

In a statement announcing Swamy’s death, Fr. Jerry Cutinha. the provincial of the Jamshedpur Jesuit Province, honored the priest for his “work among the Adivasis, Dalits and other marginalized communities so that the poor may have life and life to the full with dignity and honor.”

“On behalf of the Jesuits of Jamshedpur Jesuit Province, I express my deepest condolences to the family members, friends, lawyers, well-wishers, and all those who stood by Fr. Stan Swamy and prayed for him during this moment of trial and suffering,” Cutinha said.

Swamy was arrested on Oct. 8, 2020, by the National Investigation Agency, India’s counter-terrorism task force.

The Jesuit priest was accused of being involved with a Maoist group, and inciting violence in the town of Bhima-Koregaon on Jan. 1, 2018. One person was killed and others injured during mob violence that day. Swamy denied all charges and said that he had never even been to Bhima-Koregaon.

Following his arrest, Catholic bishops, Jesuit provincials, and world leaders called for Swamy’s release.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, Burma, compared Swamy’s “cold-hearted incarceration” to the “treatment meted out to Mahatma Gandhi when he stood up for the rights of the Indian people.”

Swamy’s health deteriorated during his time in Mumbai’s Taloja jail. His application for interim bail on medical grounds was rejected in October, after which he applied to the court to request a straw and a sipper because he was unable to hold a glass due to Parkinson’s disease. The court eventually granted his request 50 days after his arrest.

He tested positive for COVID-19 on May 29 after having been admitted to the hospital under court order.

Swamy was born into a farming family in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

He joined the Jesuits after turning 20. After his ordination, he served as a priest for more than 50 years.

Swamy advocated for the rights of indigenous tribes in Jharkhand and served as the director of the Indian Social Institute, a training school for marginalized communities in Bangalore, for more than a decade.

He was the co-founder of the Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee, an organization assisting those held in prison without having been convicted of a crime because they are still undergoing a trial. It is estimated that 70% of India’s prison population falls under this category.

Swamy said in a video recorded before his arrest that it was common knowledge that figures from all walks of life -- from lawyers to student leaders -- were jailed for expressing dissent or questioning “the ruling powers of India.”

The priest said that he was “ready to pay the price, whatever be it.”

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