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Non-entity 6 yrs ago, Indian state turned Fr Stan into world class human rights defender

Jharkhand's Adivasi women 
By Rajiv Shah
A lot is being written on Father Stan Swamy, a Jesuit priest who is known more for his work for tribal rights in Jharkhand. His death at the age of 84, even when he was an under trial prisoner for his alleged involvement in the Bhima Koregaon violence three years go, has, not without reason, evoked sharp reaction, not just in India but across the world.
Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, said, “Human Rights Defender and Jesuit priest Fr Stan Swamy has died in custody, nine months after his arrest on false charges of terrorism. Jailing Human Rights Defenders is inexcusable.” In India, human rights groups have been sharper, calling his death an “institutional murder”, stating, Modi-Shah regime is solely responsible for this.
While there appears to be little to deny in what is being stated, I wondered how I had great difficulty in finding out who Fr Stan was six years ago. My friend, a senior civil society activist Ashok Shrimali, had just forwarded to me a story written by him on an “eye-opening study” based on Fr Stan’s interactions with family members and co-villagers of 102 tribal undertials in Jharkhand.
Published in Counterview on October 24, 2015, titled “Jharkhand's 98% undertrials arrested under false charge of Naxalism, says study”, soon after I received the story, first I asked Shrimali who was Fr Stan, as, I should admit, nobody in civil society had till then told me who he was.
Frank and forthcoming, Shrimali tried explaining to me what great work he has done for the Jharkhand tribal rights. As it always happens with a journalist, I was a little reluctant in accepting his version on what seemed to be claimed greatness of Fr Stan.
So, as I would always do, I tried looking up at who was Fr Stan. I recall, it was with great difficulty that
I could get very hazy details about him. I googled for a photograph of Fr Stan, which I wanted to include with Shrimali’s story. It was, again, with great difficulty that I could get one. In fact, all I got was one very poor and hazy photograph (reproduced here) of Fr Stan, which I reluctantly used in the article.
Thanks to the manner in which the Indian state has behaved, Fr Stan is now a well known international figure. He is victim of the manner in which the state’s repressive machinery seeks to penalize what apparently was a non-entity six years ago – when he was already in his late 70s. In fact, he has become a symbol of the Indian state’s effort to crush all those who differ from its top leaders.
Today, Fr Stan’s study, on which Shrimali, who is general secretary of the NGO Mines, Minerals and People (MM&P), wrote the story, is being widely quoted. Be that as it may, this is what Shrimali’s story said on October 24, 2015:
***
An eye-opening study -- based on interactions with family members and co-villagers of 102 undertrials in Jharkhand, as also each of them while they were on bail -- has found that in 98 per cent of cases the charge against them of being involved in Naxalite activities is not true. In fact, none, except two, were found to have some connection with a Naxal group.
The study was carried out by Stan Swamy, a Jesuit human rights activist associated with the NGO Bagaicha, says that this suggests how falsely vulnerable sections of society are "accused and arrested for daring to speak assertively against violation of their constitutional and human rights, such as the right to possess and protect their land and livelihood resources.”
Pointing out that adult life these undertrials has been “ruined”, with families “reduced to destitution”, the study says, 68% of the undertrials are “young and in the middle-age group”, and “78% are married.” Income to the family, whether through agriculture (63%) or casual labour (17%), came by their labour.
The study has been carried out after a researcher, hired by Swamy, formed three teams of interviewers, and each team went to 18 of the 24 districts of Jharkhand over a period of three months to carry out the field work.
Titled “The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison”, the study says, with the bread-earning member in the jail, the only way for the family to meet two ends meet “is to sell the little assets such as cattle and land, or borrow from the local moneylenders at a very high interest rate.
Pointing out that 69 per cent of the undertrials are Dalits or tribals, the study says, “With low literacy and high poverty rate, their life ran on a day-to-day basis. All government development plans, including the special plans, have not brought any betterment to them. Even the funds allotted specifically for these plans have been diverted to general infrastructural projects.”
The study finds that 97% undertrial-families have an income less than Rs 5,000 per month. thus falling within the below poverty line (BPL) category, adding, “Most of them are not yet the beneficiaries of The Right to Food Act . the implementation of which the state government has been dilly-dallying for over a year.”
Ashok Shimali
“Their old ration cards have been declared invalid but new cards have not yet been given to most. A visit to interior tribal villages in Jharkhand reveals the heart-rending situation of people living without their basic needs met and complete apathy of the local administration”, the study says.
“But when it comes to getting at so-called Naxals, the police and para-military forces are at their most efficient performance in surrounding villages, breaking into houses, destroying vessels, molesting women, throwing out food grains etc.”, the study notes.
Addressing reports which have for long claims that Naxal-suspects were "caught" after a hot pursuit by police, the study states, “The fact is a total of 87% were arrested in normal circumstances, 57% were arrested from their homes when they were resting or having their meal or spending time with their family, and 30% from nearby towns or on travel.”
Insisting that they were certainly “not running away from the police”, the study wants the government “come clear and admit that its real intention is not ending Naxalism but open up the mineral-rich adivasi land to mining companies”.

Comments

Had not realised the late Fr Stan Swamy was hardly known six years ago. Perhaps he was known in Jharkhand or among some NGO people but not
nationally. I guess this is also true of Sudha Bhardwaj and Suresh Gadling and others arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case (with the possible exception of Varvara Rao). The media keeps them shut out unless there is a tragedy or drama.
Unknown said…
I think such is the character of all govts, repressive n authoritarian but it has been perfected into an art by the present govt. Though foreign media reports based on reputed layer labs have already reported that false evidences have need planted in some Bhima Koregaon accused computers, there is no mur.er of dissent from the main media or even the judiciary.It is a shame they continue to rot in the jail inspite of the custodial death of Stam Swamy. The motive is clearsilence all voices which speak for these poor and impoverished trials so that their lands and forests can be gifted to the rich industrials for their mineral wealth
Anonymous said…
wants the government “come clear and admit ?!?!?!?!? Whoever said this is living in a dream world. Impossible and can never happen.
Y S Gill said…
Its not necessary for a person working among the most oppressed sections of our society to be 'internationally known'. It needs a life's dedication to stand hand-in-hand with the Adivasis, the original inhabitants of South Asia.

The Adivasis, who have been subjected to ruthless exploitation and oppressed by successive regimes, ancient, medieval and modern, eke out a pathetic existence today. They are condemned as Naxalites, Maoists and terrorists.

The mineral-rich lands, species-rich fauna and flora that flourished in the forests, and the small and big rivers which have nourished and nurtured the environment were preserved for centuries by the Adivasis who had a symbiotic relation their surroundings - unlike the townsfolks. The nature's bounties have been plundered, devastated and dammed by the so-called civilised communities who have actually colonised the best of India pushing the original inhabitants of these pristine stretches of Mother Earth to penury and starvation.

Let a thousand Stan Swamies blossom, unheard and unknown, and challenge the repressive state and assert their rights...

Long Live Father Stan Swamy!

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