May the New Year
Bring a new awakening
To all of us.

May the new awakening
Light a new flame
In our hearts.

May the new flame
Help us discern truth from untruth
And hold fast to truth.

May truth embolden us
To speak truth to power
And be ready to pay the price.

A poem from prison by
Stan Swamy SJ

 

Since last 5 July, Stan Swamy SJ has joined, in his own right, the list of Jesuit martyrs who, in the last 50 years, have given their lives for faith and justice, those who followed Jesus and his Gospel, on the frontiers, with the forgotten, the “discarded” of the world.

Stan Swamy was one of them.  He dedicated more than 40 of his 84 years to advocate for the rights of the indigenous communities or adivasis of India. He lived with them and advocated for their rights to land and resources. He embodied the presence of the Church with the suffering and exploited communities.  He denounced the abuses of power of the mining companies in the State of Jharkhand, which took over the lands of the adivasis, often without the consent and adequate compensation required by the laws and the Constitution of India.  He founded and directed the Bagaicha Social Center, from where he promoted the training and awareness of indigenous leaders. Together with other organizations, he documented in a study how thousands of young people were arrested, accused of links with Maoist extremist parties and imprisoned without trial (the so called “undertrials”). Most had been languishing in jail for years without anyone caring about them.  He filed a public interest litigation on behalf of 3,000 adivasis in the Jharkhand High Court, demanding speedy resolution of their cases. Since then, he was in the crosshairs of the Indian authorities.  They wanted to discredit him; they harassed him and falsely accused him of having links with Maoists, conspiring against the government, and being involved in the Bhima Koregoan incident-an incident that in January 2018 ended in an outbreak of violence with the death of one person and several injured. He was the latest of 16 human rights defenders falsely accused, arrested and imprisoned in connection with Bhima Koregoan, a further symptom of the authoritarian drift and erosion of democracy by the ultra-nationalist government of Narendra Modi.  As he pointed out in a video recorded two days before his arrest: “What is happening to me (…) is a wider process that is taking place across the country. We are all aware of how prominent intellectuals, lawyers, writers, poets, activists, students, leaders, who stand up for the rights of adivasis, dalits (untouchables) and express their disagreement with the ruling powers are being targeted and jailed. I am glad I am not a silent spectator. I am willing to pay the price, whatever it may be.”

If his life was exemplary, his nine-month stay in jail was no less so. Despite the false accusations, his advanced age, his fragile health – affected by Parkinson’s,  hernia interventions, wearing  hearing aids -, the inhuman and cruel treatment to which he was subjected, the denial of his release on bail, he still found the strength in his letters to be grateful for the expressions of solidarity, to worry about the other prisoners or, with fine irony, to point out that “a caged bird can still sing.”  Finally, his deteriorating health prompted his lawyer to ask the court to admit him to hospital, where he died in judicial custody one day before the umpteenth trial for his provisional release.

Stan Swamy spent his life, “burned his ships for the good of one´s neighbor”, as another Jesuit “martyr,” Lluis Espinal, beautifully put it, and met the same fate as the indigenous peoples he defended.  He clung to the Truth and paid the price of confronting the abuse of power with his own life.  His enemies wanted to silence him, but his figure, his case and his death have spread throughout India and the world. His spirit lives on and his legacy will bear much fruit.  His light shines brightly. “We are torches that only have meaning  when we are burning; only then will we be light.”  R.I.P. Stan Swamy SJ.

[Image from Wikimedia Commons]

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Lawyer with various postgraduate qualifications on migration and human rights, working with the development, direction and management of NGOs and the leadership of social entities. 25 years of experience working with the development of various organisations (the last 12 spent in the Entreculturas organisation, in charge of research and public outreach). For the last two years, she has been in charge of public outreach, global networks and communication in the Department of Social Justice and Ecology of the Society of Jesus in Rome. Interests: Education, participation and refugees/migrations, human rights. Author and contributor to several articles and publications.
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