05, Jul 2021 | Adeeti Singh
Father Stan Swamy, the 84-year-old Tribal activist who had been battling for his life since May and put on ventilator support at the Holy Family Hospital, Bombay, breathed his last around 1.14 P.M on July 5. Before starting to hear his plea for medical bail at around 2:30 P.M, Father Stan’s lawyer, Senior Advocate Mihir Desai, told the Bombay High Court Bench that the medical director of the hospital that was treating the priest wanted to inform the court about a development.
The Bench comprising Justices SS Shinde and NJ Jamadar was then apprised by Dr. Aaron D’Souza of Holy Family hospital that Fr Stan Swamy passed away after suffering a cardiac arrest early in the morning. What followed was complete silence and the subsequent expression of shock and grief by the Bench. After some discussions on the matter, the Bench then, directed Father Stan’s mortal remains to be to be handed over to Father Francis, the retired Principal of St Xavier’s College. Senior counsel Mihir Desai pointed out that while under the Jail Manual, the bodily remains of a person were to be given to relatives, Fr Stan’s relatives were not relatives in the conventional sense. The Mumbai Jesuits have therefore been given responsibility.
Further, Senior Counsel Mihir Desai requested the Bench to keep this matter pending as he intended to make further submissions. He said he wished to press for a judicial inquiry into Father Stan’s custodial death as he died in the custody of the National Investigation Agency (NIA). The Bench directed the State to produce all records pertaining to his medical treatment and posted the matter for hearing on next Tuesday, July 13.
Trumped up charges against Fr Stan
The Jesuit Priest, wrongfully accused of being a member of a banned organisation Communist Party of India (Maoist), and hatching a serious conspiracy to overthrow the Government of India, was arrested on October 8, 2020. He was booked under sections 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), 505(1)(b) (makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumour or report with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public) 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code and sections 13 (punishment for unlawful activities), 16 (punishment for terrorist act), 17 (punishment for raising funds for terrorist act), 18 (punishment for conspiracy) 18-A (punishment for organising terrorist camps), 18-B (punishment for recruiting people for terrorist act), 20 (punishment for being member of a terrorist gang), 38 (offences related to membership of a terrorist gang) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Small mercies despite institutional apathy
On account of his deteriorating health conditions and various debilitating ailments, he was shifted to the Holy Family Hospital from Taloja jail on May 28, on the Bombay High Court’s directions. The octogenarian who was forced to approach the court and wait for almost a month to get a sipper to drink liquids, suffered painfully before passing away. In one of the hearings before the Bombay High Court, he even predicted his death in jail. As the Bombay High Court urged him to get admitted to a hospital for treatment, Father Stan pleaded for interim bail and said, “I have been there twice. I am not for being hospitalised in JJ Hospital. I would rather die here very shortly if things go on as it is.”
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had also taken cognisance of Father Stan’s critical condition, and issued a notice to the Chief Secretary, Government of Maharashtra, “calling upon him to ensure that all possible efforts are made in providing him proper medical care and treatment as part of life saving measure and protection of his basic human rights.” The Commission has also called for a report in light of the allegations made in the complaint and the treatment record of Father Stan Swamy.
Here is the timeline of the prolonged vicious witch-hunt by law enforcement agencies against the priest who can no longer prove his innocence:
August 28, 2018
The Pune Police raided Bagaicha, a Jharkhand based centre run by Father Stan Swamy alleging that he has Maoist links and is thus connected to the Bhima Koregaon conspiracy. Father Stan was questioned for hours.
June 12, 2019
The police raided Bagaicha for the second time, and seized his electronic items and other devices.
July 27, 28, 29, 30 and August 6, 2020
The National Investigation Agency interrogated Father Stan on 5 days for nearly 15 hours.
October 8, 2020
He was arrested from his residence at Bagaicha in Namkum, Ranchi in the evening despite the raging Covid-19 pandemic.
October 9, 2020
He was whisked away to Mumbai and produced before a special NIA court which sent him into judicial custody till October 23.
October 13, 2020
Over 60 representatives of public organisations and tribal activists staged a hunger strike near tribal icon Birsa Munda’s memorial in Ranchi protesting his arrest.
October 14, 2020
CJP Secretary Teesta Setalvad spoke to Human right activist and Jesuit priest, Father Cedric Prakash and, former principal of St Xavier’s College, Father Frazer Mascarenhas to discuss the arrest the human rights defender Fr Stan Swamy. The conversation may be viewed here.
October 23, 2020
The Special NIA court rejected his medical bail. Judge DE Kothalikar said, “It is claimed that further there is prima facie evidence against accused No.7, Stan Swamy for the offences punishable under Section 120-B, 115, 121, 121-A, 124-A and 34 of the IP Code and Sections 13, 16, 18, 20, 38 and 39 of the UAP Act. In view of the aforesaid allegations and considering the material available on record, I find that there is prima facie material on record against the accused person for taking cognizance for the offence mentioned in the aforesaid paragraphs. Hence, cognizance is taken.” The order may be read here:
November 6, 2020
The Parkinson’s afflicted priest filed an application seeking permission to allow him a straw and sipper in Taloja Central Jail as he could not hold a glass because of excessive trembling.
November 26, 2020
Judge DE Kothalikar took cognisance of Father Stan’s application that had “prayed to direct the investigating agency to return the straw and sipper which were taken by it in custody at the time of arresting the applicant.” He, however recorded in his order, “upon perusal of the reply Exh.05 it would reveal that the investigation officer had categorically denied that the straw and sipper were seized. In view of this contention the application being devoid of substance deserves to be rejected. Consequently, I proceed to pass following order; ORDER Application (Exh.02) stands rejected.”
November 27, 2020
He filed a bail application before the National Investigation Agency, Special Court in Mumbai to be released from Taloja Jail. He contended that his name was not even a part of the original FIR and that his name was claimed to have been added in a remand application in 2018 by the police as a suspected accused. The bail plea also mentioned that the NIA had allegedly not claimed that he was present close to the site of Bhima Koregaon when the incident took place.
December 4, 2020
Taloja jail authorities handed over a sipper to Jharkhand Adivasi activist Father Stan Swamy according to a letter-excerpt circulating among his overjoyed. “Dear friends, thank you for your deep concern…The jail authorities have been very considerate. Recently, I was given a sipper which I am using for drinking water and tea,” said Fr. Swamy in his letter from prison sent on December 6.
March 22, 2021
NIA Court denied Fr Stan Swamy bail and held that the collective interest of the community outweighs his personal liberty and also the “alleged sickness” he suffers. His bail plea was also rejected on grounds that “he was not only the member of banned organisation CPI (Maoist) but was also carrying out activities to further the objective of the organisation which is nothing but to overthrow the democracy of the nation.”
April 28, 2021
He then moved the Bombay High Court filing an appeal against two orders of the NIA court, the first rejecting his emergency bail application on health grounds in October, last year, and the second order dated March 22, 2021, denying him bail on merits.
May 17, 2021
His lawyer filed a medical note stating how Fr. Stan has been unwell with a cough, fever, an upset stomach and a feeling of weakness. Afflicted with the advanced stages of Parkinson’s Disease and debilitating tremors in both arms almost impaired him from accomplishing basic and essential daily tasks such as eating food, drink water and putting on clothes and taking bath, without the assistance of fellow inmates. The note also complained of the abysmal conditions in Taloja with just three Ayurvedic doctors to tend to 3,251 inmates against the original capacity of 2,124. It alleged that there are also no staff nurses, no pharmacists/compounder, no nursing assistants, no laboratory technicians and no medical specialist (general medicine, dentistry or gynaecologist).
May 18, 2021
He got his first dose of the vaccine against Covid-19 after being allegedly denied one as he did not have his Aadhaar Card! On the same day, the NIA filled an affidavit in court alleging that Father Stan’ did not even suffer from Parkinson’s. “In reply to the contents of paragraph nos. 6 of the Appeal, it is stated and submitted although the Appellant / accused has filed alleged medical documents; the same are not conclusive proof of alleged Parkinson disease”, it read. NIA also contended that all facilities were available in jail and that he did not suffer from any ailments mentioned in his bail plea.
May 19, 2021
The Bombay High Court directed that a video call be set up with Fr. Stan Swamy on May 21. The Bench of Justices SJ Kathawalla and Surendra Tavade also directed the Dean of JJ Hospital to constitute a committee of doctors including a neuro-physician, ENT, orthopedic physician, general physician and any other doctor required to examine the Jesuit Priest and submit its report by 11 A.M on May 21.
May 21, 2021
Bombay HC interacted with Fr. Stan via video call and while the court was willing to shift him to a hospital of his choice for treatment, he urged only for interim bail. Father Stan refused hospitalisation and said that he would either want to go to Ranchi or stay in jail. Then, on the request of Senior Counsel Mihir Desai, who sought some time to speak to Father Stan and gain further details on his health, the court posted the matter for June 7.
May 25, 2021
Father Stan submitted an affidavit, in which he informed the court that on May 24 he suffered major tremors due to Parkinson’s and was taken to JJ Hospital for a check-up. He stated that due to this episode, he is convinced that it is best for him to be admitted to Holy Family hospital for treatment.
May 28, 2021
The Bombay High Court allowed him to be shifted to Holy Family Hospital for two weeks in order to treat him for his various debilitating ailments.
May 31, 2021
He tested positive for Covid-19 and was admitted in the Intensive Care Unit, on oxygen support, as per media reports.
June 10, 2021
The Bombay High Court extended his stay at Holy Family Hospital till June 18 after it was informed, he had tested positive for Covid-19. The court also directed the hospital to submit a report on the octogenarian’s health by June 17 before adjourning his petition for hearing on June 18.
June 17, 2021
The Bombay High Court again extended his stay till July 5 after perusing his medical report which stated that he continues to be critical and requires intensive care. The matter was posted for July 3.
July 3, 2021
Father Stan moved the Bombay High Court, challenging Section 43-D (5) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which imposes strict conditions for grant of bail, on grounds of being violative of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.
July 5, 2021
Father Stan passed away at Holy Family Hospital awaiting medical bail.