Fr. Stan Swamy CNS photo

Jesuits take stand for imprisoned Indian priest

  • November 22, 2020

Canada’s Jesuit provincial superior Fr. Erik Oland has asked the Canadian government to intervene in the case of Fr. Stan Swamy, an 83-year-old Jesuit priest with Parkinson’s imprisoned in an Indian prison where he faces bizarre and vague charges under a new national security law.

“Our country has publicly declared its commitment to championing the values of inclusivity and accountable governance; peaceful pluralism and respect for diversity; and human rights including the rights of those most marginalized in society. All these values have either been ignored or violated in the case of Fr. Stan,” Oland wrote in an October letter to Foreign Minister Francoise-Philippe Champagne. “We cannot espouse these principles and values as a nation and do nothing in this case.”

Swamy is accused of ties to Maoist guerillas and was rounded up along with 15 others in connection with violence at an annual celebration of the Battle of Koregaon-Bhima in 2018. The priest denies ever having visited Koregaon-Bhima in the state of Pune and any connection with Maoist forces.

Swamy has spent the last 50 years working with Indigenous people, known as Adivasis, in India.

“We are concerned by reports of his (Swamy’s) ill health,” Global Affairs spokesperson Angela Savard told The Catholic Register in an e-mail. “Canada applauds Fr. Stan Swamy’s dedicated work to advance the rights of Indigenous and marginalized communities in India.”

With diplomatic reserve about individual cases, Savard declared “that Canada regularly engages in dialogue with the Government of India on human rights issues, including the democratic values of inclusive and accountable governance, respect for diversity, the right to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression.”

Democracy in India is under threat from the populist and nationalist rule of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Hindu nationalism of the governing BJP party has corroded Indian democracy, Jesuit Fr. Xavier Jeyaraj told The Register in an e-mail. Jeyaraj will speak about “Resisting a Democracy Recession” in a Zoom event arranged by Canadian Jesuits International on Nov. 24.

Swamy’s imprisonment under the “Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act” of 2019 is only one example of how democracy and rule of law have been corrupted, said Jeyaraj.

“What is happening today to the democracy of India is deeply disturbing,” said Jeyaraj.

Military occupation of Jammu Kashmir, the only Muslim majority state in India, shows just how far India’s current government is from democratic ideals, he said.

“How can one speak of democracy when the state decides the citizenship of a person based on his or her religion? What kind of democracy is that, when individuals are arrested and put in prison without a judicial trial for months or even years, just because they are critiquing the government policies and laws?” Jeyaraj asked.

Even though India’s 20 million Catholics are a tiny minority, less than two per cent of India’s 1.3 billion people, they have a substantial voice that could nudge India in a more democratic direction, according to Jeyaraj.

“Saving democracy would be a wonderful mission for the Church in India,” he said. “But we cannot do it alone or in the name of the Church. We need to do it with millions of others who are already on it.”

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