In jail, humanity is bubbling: Stan Swamy
The ailing and 83-year-old Father Stan Swamy, arrested over alleged Maoist links, has in a letter described how his co-accused and cellmates have been helping him in jail and added: “Despite all odds, humanity is bubbling in Taloja prison.”
Excerpts from the letter by the Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist from Ranchi, whose full name is Stanislaus Lourduswamy, have been widely circulated on Facebook this Diwali.
The letter, written from Navi Mumbai’s Taloja Central Prison, was received by a fellow priest on November 4, a colleague of Father Swamy confirmed. The prison was in the news recently when Republic TV managing director Arnab Goswami, who picks on those he describes as “urban Naxals”, spent a few days there before being granted interim bail by the Supreme Court.
The excerpts from Swamy’s letter circulated on Facebook say:
“Peace! Though I do not have many details, from what I have heard, I am grateful to all of you for expressing your solidarity support. I am in a cell approximately 13 feet x 8 feet, along with two more inmates. It has a small bathroom and a toilet with Indian commode. Fortunately, I am given a western commode chair.
“Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira are in another cell. During the day, when cells and barracks are opened, we meet with each other. From 5.30pm to 06.00am and 12 noon to 03.00pm, I am locked up in my cell, with two inmates.
“Arun assists me to have my breakfast and lunch. Vernon helps me with bath. My two inmates help out during supper, in washing my clothes and give massage to my knee joints. They are from very poor families.
“Please remember my inmates and my colleagues in your prayers. Despite all odds, humanity is bubbling in Taloja prison.”
Rao is an 80-year-old Telugu litterateur, Gonsalves a 63-year-old former Mumbai University professor, and Ferreira a cartoonist and lawyer in his late 40s.
They and Father Swamy are among 16 authors, academics, lawyers and rights activists arrested for alleged links with the banned CPI Maoist and their purported role in the Elgar Parishad Ambedkarite event in Pune on December 31, 2017, that was followed by caste violence.
Sources said Swamy had dictated the letter to Ferreira. Jesuit priest Father David Solomon, director of the Ranchi NGO Bagaicha — a workspace for activists where Swamy lived and worked — confirmed the authenticity of the excerpt.
He said the rest of the letter’s contents were not being disclosed as they included personal information. Nor has the identity of the recipient been revealed for fear of harassment of priests and institutions run by them.
Another Jesuit priest close to Swamy told this newspaper: “This is a very Fr Stan thing to do. He always remembers people he loves during festivals. Even in the worst circumstances, it’s his nature to see the positive side of things.”
Jawaharlal Nehru University linguistics professor Ayesha Kidwai shared the excerpts on Facebook and said: “I can’t do any Diwali greetings after reading this heartbreaking note. Humanity is to be celebrated but it is no antidote to injustice.
“Just as in Rama’s story, there is happiness only when the people can celebrate a return home, it will only be Diwali for me when all the jailed human rights defenders come home.”
Swamy, who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, recently petitioned a court to be given his straw and sipper. These were in the possession of the National Investigation Agency, which had arrested him last month.
The priest cannot hold any open liquid container, like a cup or a mug, without spilling its contents. On November 6, the court gave the agency 20 days to reply to his plea.
Maharashtra junior home minister Satej D. Patil tweeted on November 7 that a straw had been given to Swamy.
The NIA reports to the BJP-led central government while the prison is run by the Shiv Sena-led Maharashtra government. The NIA has chargesheeted Swamy for allegedly channelling funds to Maoists through the Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee.