NIA Chargesheet In Bhima Koregaon Case Names Father Stan Swamy
Fr Stan Swamy

NIA Chargesheet In Bhima Koregaon Case Names Father Stan Swamy

The 83-year-old Jesuit priest has been lodged in jail where he is reportedly on hunger strike

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has filed a chargesheet against eight people in connection with incitement of violence in Bhima Koregaon near Pune on 01 January 2018. Those mentioned in the chargesheet include Father Stan Swamy, an 83-year-old Jesuit priest who had been involved with social activism in Ranchi, Jharkhand. Earlier he had been the Director of the Indian Social Institute based in Bengaluru.

Others named in the chargesheet are Gautam Navlakha, Delhi University Associate professor Hany Babu, Goa Institute of Management professor Anand Teltumbde, Jyoti Jagtap, Sagar Gorkhe and Ramesh Gaichor, activists of the Bhima Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerna Abhiyaan group. All of the accused except Milind Teltumbde, reported as absconding, are under custody.

The arrest of 83-year-old Fr Stan Swamy, originally hailing from Trichy in Tamil Nadu, makes him by all accounts the oldest person arrested by NIA.

In a video shared on 08 October 2020 before his arrest, Fr Stan Swamy talked about how he had ended up in the mix and that he had already been interrogated for 15 hours by officers of the NIA.

In the video, he had said, “Now they want me to go to Mumbai, which I have said that I won’t.”

He cited age-related ailments and the existing pandemic as the reason for his stand. The 83-year-old cited the Jharkhand government’s directions that it was not safe for elderly citizens to travel. He made it known that he would be willing to appear via video-conference for any interrogation.

Swamy was later arrested from his home in Ranchi and brought to Mumbai where he was produced before court and remanded to judicial custody till October 23.

The case arose out of Vishram Baug Police Station CR number 04/2018 regarding “inciting” people and “giving provocative speeches” during Elgar Parishad organiSed at Shaniwarwada, Pune, by the activists of Kabir Kala Manch on 31 December 2017.

“I have never been to Bhima Koregaon for which I am being implicated,” Fr Stan said in the video.

The Pune police had earlier filed two chargesheets on 15 November 2018 and 21 February 2019. The case was taken over by the NIA on January 24 this year.

The 10,000 page chargesheet of the NIA accuses the 83-year-old as being a Maoist cadre and of being involved in its activities. He is also accused of receiving funds from Maoist cadres for furthering their activities. The chargesheet also mentions that he is the convenor of Persecuted Prisoners' Solidarity Committee (PPSC) which it calls a “Maoist front organisation”, apart from claims of having recovered “incriminating documents” from Fr Stan.

In the video, Fr Stan Swamy had said that he had been presented with a few documents and extracts during the interrogation which the officers claimed to have recovered from his laptop showing Maoists in communication with each other - he denied ownership of the documents.

“I just denied and disowned every single extract that was put before me except for one in which Sudha Bhardwaj and myself, we were the co-convenors of the PPSC. We had issued a call to all human rights organisations across the country explaining what PPSC is about and requesting them, and pleading them to join hands so that it is a common effort,” he had said.

According to a press release available online dated 04 March 2017 signed by Stan Swamy, Sudha Bhardwaj, Partho Sarothi Ray and Megha Bahl on behalf of Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee (PPSC), the committee was initiated with the objective of focusing on the plight of Adivasi and marginalised prisoners suffering under the criminal justice system in the armed conflict zones of central and eastern India.

In an interrogation statement since made public, Fr Stan also said he had documented the prisoners kept in prisons without trial since many Adivasis were being picked up in 2104-15 and kept without trial.

While the chargesheet by NIA mentions him as the seventh accused, the name of Sudha Bhardwaj who was arrested in August 2018 and kept in custody ever since, without trial, is missing.

“What is happening to me is not something unique happening to me alone,” Fr Stan Swamy said, just before his arrest in the video.

“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 going to jail because they are dissenting or asking questions about the ruling powers of India. So we are part of the process. In a way I am happy to be part of this process because I am not a silent spectator, but I am part of it. Part of the game. I am ready to pay the price, whatever that may be.”

An officer working with a central agency called Fr Stan the “hero” of the Pathalgarhi movement, something which Fr Stan refers to in his video as the reason why he was being targeted. “But he is a frail old man who can barely climb a dozen steps fast enough,” the officer said, on condition of anonymity.

Explaining his imminent arrest, Stan Swamy had said this about Pathalgarhi movement and how it led to his present situation - “Laws were passed by the Parliament…, Panchayats Extension to the Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act and The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013… These, kind of opened the way for us and people started to claim their rights. But as they claimed, they were just being thrown into jail. So in 2017, I gave a call to whoever I knew, not only in Jharkhand but also in all the central tribal states of Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Bengal. So we came together and we have formed a body called Persecuted Prisoners’ Solidarity Committee (PPSC) and through that we planned to first do a study of the nature of under-trial prisoners in all these states and then to have to recourse to legal action so that justice can be done.

In this process, I have filed a case against the Jharkhand state in Jharkhand High Court on behalf of about 3000 Adivasis who are languishing in jails.

It is this which has become a bone of contention with the state and they wanted to put me out of the way and one such way was to implicate me in some mischievous case. This case so happened of Bhima Koregaon, a place that I have never been to in all my life,” he said in the video claiming innocence.

The Lede spoke to activists who knew Fr Stan well but all of them declined to comment for fear of reprisal. The NIA officials concerned were not available for comment.

The newly formed government of Jharkhand had announced in 2019 that it will put to stop all cases filed in connection with Pathalgarhi movement.

While it has been slow to come to fruition, a day after Stan’s arrest, a group of around 2000 concerned citizens and activists signed a letter reminding Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren of his stance and asking him to oppose Fr Stan’s arrest and to demand from the central government the immediate release of Stan Swamy and a closure of the case.

The letter also called NIA’s actions “inhuman, insincere and vindictive” as Stan had been fully cooperating with the authorities.

After his arrest, a small protest march was taken out in Ranchi by his supporters. While in custody, his supporters have claimed that he has been refusing to eat.

At the age of 83, Stan Swamy poses a challenge to the system. And the agency now has the burden of proving their accusations beyond reasonable doubt. If not, any allegations that may come its way would not be unwarranted.

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