84-yr-old activist Stan Swamy dies in hospital waiting for bail

MUMBAI, 5 Jul: Priest-activist Stan Swamy, arrested under an anti-terror law in the Elgar Parishad case, died at a Mumbai hospital on Monday in the middle of his fight for bail on health grounds.

The 84-year-old Jesuit priest – possibly the oldest person to be accused of terrorism in India, as per his lawyer – had been on a ventilator since Sunday after his health worsened rapidly.

Dr Ian D’souza, director of Bandra-based private Holy Family Hospital, where Swamy was undergoing treatment, and the tribal rights activist’s lawyer Mihir Desai informed a bench of the Bombay High Court of his death following cardiac arrest.

The bench, comprising Justices SS Shinde and NJ Jamadar, expressed shock over the news and said it was at a loss for words and expressed hope that Swamy’s soul would rest in peace.

Swamy was the oldest among the 16 accused persons arrested in the Elgar Parishad case, and possibly the oldest in India to be charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), the lawyer said.

Those arrested include some of India’s most-respected scholars, lawyers, academicians, cultural activists, and an ageing radical poet, who then contracted coronavirus in prison.

Condolences poured in for the tribal rights activist, with many bemoaning his demise.

The Jesuit Provincial of India expressed grief over Swamy’s death. In a statement, it said the priest had worked all his life for the “Adivasis, Dalits, and marginalized communities, so that the poor may have life with dignity and honour.”

“Heartfelt condolences on the passing of Father Stan Swamy. He deserved justice and humaneness,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted.

“It’s over. Modi $@$# Shah have accomplished the custodial killing of the gentle Jesuit social worker Fr Stan Swamy, who spent his life serving the oppressed. I hope the judges who denied him bail never get to sleep at night: they have blood on their hands,” tweeted CPIML politburo member Kavita Krishnan.

Senior counsel Desai told the HC that he had no grievances against the court and the private hospital where Swamy was treated, but he could not say the same for the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is conducting a probe into the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case, and the state prison authorities.

Desai claimed the NIA had been negligent in providing timely and adequate medical aid to Swamy, and asked the HC to initiate a judicial inquiry into the circumstances that led to the undertrial activist’s death.

He said Swamy was taken to the state-run JJ Hospital 10 days before his admission to Holy Family Hospital on 29 May but was not tested for Covid-19 at JJ Hospital.

Swamy’s report came out positive for coronavirus when he was tested at the private hospital, the lawyer said. “The NIA did not seek Swamy’s custody even for a single day, but kept on opposing his bail pleas,” he added.

Desai pointed out that, since Swamy died while being in custody, the state authorities are mandated to conduct a postmortem in accordance with guidelines of the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

While the HC did not pass any orders initiating a judicial inquiry, it recorded in its order that the amended section 176 (1A) of the CrPC mandated judicial inquiry into every case of death in custody.

If the same provision was applicable in the present case, the state and prosecuting agencies would have to comply with the same, the HC said.

The court directed the state authorities to complete all formalities and hand over Swamy’s body to his associate, Father Frazer Mascarenhas. (PTI)