He is 83, ill, and has spent more than 15 weeks in jail. But Father Stan Swamy’s latest letter from Mumbai’s Taloja Central Jail speaks not of his sufferings but of the plight of other undertrials and how he has been deriving inspiration from their spirit of solidarity.
“But we will still sing in chorus. A caged bird can still sing,” the Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist, who completed 100 days in custody on January 16, wrote.
Father Stan, a Parkinsonism patient who cannot hold a glass of water steadily enough to drink from it, has taken the pains to write the letter in his own hand, the Bangalore-based Jesuit priest who has received it told The Telegraph.
The priest, who wished to remain anonymous, said he had released the letter among fellow Jesuits, Father Stan’s supporters and the non-government National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations (NCHRO) on January 22.
Father Stan had earlier too sent out two letters from jail but they had been dictated to a co-accused. These letters had revealed his travails but only to emphasise the help he was receiving from fellow prisoners.
“Many of such poor undertrials don’t know what charges have been put on them, have not seen their chargesheet and just remain in prison for years without any legal or other assistance,” the letter says.
“Overall, almost all undertrials are compelled to live to a bare minimum, whether rich or poor. This brings in a sense of brotherhood and communitarianism where reaching out to each other is possible even in this adversity.”
Father Stan, arrested by the National Investigation Agency from his Ranchi home on October 8, stands accused with 15 other rights activists, lawyers and writers in the Bhima Koregaon case, which relates to caste violence and an alleged Maoist conspiracy.
“The 16 co-accused have not been able to meet each other, as we are lodged in different jails or different ‘circles’ within the same jail,” his letter says, before adding
the line about caged birds singing.
The arrest memo issued by NIA inspector Ajay Kumar Kadam against Father Stan on October 8 mentions charges under Indian Penal Code sections 153A, 505(1)(B), 117, 120B, 121, 121A, 124A and 34 as well as several sections of the anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
The IPC sections deal with offences ranging from sedition and waging war against the state to promoting enmity between groups, incitement and criminal conspiracy.
The NIA chargesheet accuses Father Stan of being part of a plot by the banned CPI Maoist to take on the Narendra Modi government with the help of an armed militia of Dalits and Muslims.
Father Stan’s supporters say he has been arrested and maligned because of his campaign for the implementation of laws Parliament has passed to safeguard tribal people’s rights.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had at a meeting with three cardinals in Delhi on January 19 refused to intervene with the NIA on behalf of the octogenarian priest.
The NCHRO has selected Father Stan for an award conferred in honour of the late Mukundan C. Menon, journalist and founder of the human rights organisation People’s Union for Civil Liberties. The award ceremony will be held virtually on Sunday. Father Stan told the NCHRO in a letter on January 10 that the prize money of Rs 25,000 should be donated to a fund set up to meet the court expenses of all the 16 Bhima Koregaon accused.