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25 July 2021
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A modern day martyr

Editorial

In October 2020 an Indian Jesuit Priest Fr. Stan Swamy SJ was arrested and imprisoned in India on terrorist charges. In late May of this year he was moved from the prison to Holy Family Hospital in Mumbai where he died on July 5th.

Dr. Ian D'Souza, medical director of Holy Family Hospital, said Swamy had a heart attack early July 4. He was put on a ventilator and never regained consciousness. Father Swamy had Parkinson's disease, and D'Souza said, "he had pulmonary infection, post COVID-19 complications in the lungs and pneumonia."

For decades Fr. Swamy had been an outspoken critic of the Indian authorities because of their treatment of the indigenous people of Jharkhand state. The trumped-up charges against him accused him of being in cahoots with Maoist rebels in a plot to destabilize the federal government. Shortly after his arrest the elderly Jesuit was airlifted to Mumbai and imprisoned there with 15 others accused under the same pretext. This group comprised academics and lawyers. The All India Catholic Union reaffirmed demands for a judicial inquiry into the priest's jailing and death. "In jail, with his health failing with advanced states of Parkinson's disease, he was denied basic human dignity and facilities, including a simple water sipper, as he could no longer hold a cup in his trembling hands," the union said in a statement.

It noted that one of Swamy's last messages from jail was: "What is happening to me is not something unique, happening to me alone. It is a broader process that is taking place all over the country. We are all aware how prominent intellectuals, lawyers, writers, poets, activists, student leaders - they are all put in jail just because they have expressed their dissent .... I am ready to pay the price, whatever it may be."

Fr. Stanislaus D'Souza, Jesuit provincial of South Asia, told Catholic News Service from New Delhi: "Father Stan stood up for the poor tribals, lived among them and led a simple life like them. We pray his life and his death in [this] extraordinary situation will be inspiration for all those who work for justice."

Xavier Jeyaraj SJ of the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat in Rome wrote an appreciation of Fr Swamy on the secretariat website:
Fr. Swamy was truly a prophet who lived his life fully for others particularly the adivasis, dalits and other marginalised communities. While in prison he said, 'A caged bird can still sing' and sowed 'hope' in the hearts of everyone. Today he is a liberated bird who sings from Heaven calling each of us to keep alive that hope for true liberation from injustice, oppression and denial of rights.

Swamy became a conscience keeper and awakened the hope in everyone he encountered. Let us all remember others in similar cases who are denied their human dignity and rights.

Philip Curran,
St. Mary's Lucan