Martyr of the Marginalized

  • ¬ Sasikanth Senthil

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 part to pay the price.

From the darkness of his cell in the Taloja jail, Fr. Stan wrote this small poem as his new year wish. At the frail age of 84, with Parkinson’s affecting most of his mobility, his quest for truth and the fearlessness that comes along cannot be missed. What strikes the most about his words is that this Jesuit priest, despite struggling with loneliness and health issues, did not incite the blessings of God. Instead, he chose truth.

Reminding us of an another frail old man who believed that “There is no God higher than Truth,” Fr. Stan wished that everyone in this great country would become capable of discerning truth from untruth. He had no confusion that holding on to truth is the only way the people of India could march back out of the darkness we are in.

When he was arrested on Oct 9, 2020, the court had to accept his thumb impressions as he could not sign the court papers with his trembling hands. He could hardly hear anything and couldn’t speak loudly. He required help from his fellow mates to execute his daily chores. Any individual, albeit an institution, cannot but know that jailing him at that state of health during a pandemic is as good as sending him to the gallows.

The country has seen many arrests in the recent past under the UAPA or the sedition sections targeted at voices of dissent or to settle political scores. Every arrest has only exposed the philosophy of the current government. Be it the arrest of all 16 in the Bhima Koregaon case, the arrests of students in the NRC-CAA protests, or the desperate arrest and continued effort to scuttle the bail petitions of the Pinjra-Tod women warriors, we have seen it all. With Fr. Stan’s arrest, the Government made a record by charging the oldest person with sedition and terror. The arrest and the institutional killing of Fr. Stan also brought three critical issues to the commoner’s fragile consciousness.

Firstly, the plight of the Adivasis and Moolnivasis in the remote parts of the country was brought back to focus. These indigenous people have been suffering the atrocities of the state and the ill-effects of material capitalism for a long time. Unable to fight the decibel war, they rely on people like Fr. Stan to voice for them. The Adivasi, Moolnivasi population of the country also happens to live in some of the unexplored mineral-rich lands, which makes their land and resources a critical target of some businesses.

Secondly, the viciousness of the current dispensation in trying to achieve its hidden agenda of Hindu Rashtra cannot go unnoticed. It has been proved substantially that the Modi-led government is primarily focused on controlling the thought process of the citizens. It has taken upon itself to decimate anything which dissents. But the targeted attack on the activists representing the Adivasis is a particular case where vast interests of the crony corporates are involved and is a project of interest to many. Fr. Stan was a crucial obstacle to his project.

Thirdly, the pathetic nature of our criminal justice system and the status of prisons and prisoners has been brought back to the limelight. Fr. stan, even in these testing times, was more concerned about the status of his fellow prisoners and their plight.

In his latter letter, he wrote “Many of poor under trials don’t know what charges have been put on them, have not seen their charge sheet, and just remain in prison for years without any legal or other assistance.” Having fought all his life to release the Adivasi/Moolnivasi under trials, Fr. Stan would not let go of a chance to voice out the plight in the first person.

“Humanity is bubbling in the Taloja jail,” he wrote in another letter with a particular reference to his two inmates who help him bathe and have his meals as most of his capacities were impaired. It was at this juncture that he had to approach the court to request for a sipper as his hands were unable to hold anything. The Government sought 20 long days to reply to this simple request. The NIA court finally rejected Fr. stan’s bail petition in March 2021 after dragging it for five months. During the first four months of incarceration, Fr. stan was still mobile and was more worried about another octagenarian VV Rao who was bedridden and was suffering. According to the sources, Fr. stan made it a point to comfort VV Rao as much as possible with his optimism. Any Jesuit priest would bear testimony to their sworn dedication to God and Humanism. But Stan Swamy’s life and the lessons we learn from it are much beyond. He not only prayed and served for the voiceless but also chose to believe in truth and speak up for it. He didn’t restrict himself to sermons and philosophies but decided to act by putting himself between the mighty state and the weak. And that is what he wrote as the concluding part of his last poem.

May Truth embolden us To speak truth to power And be part to pay the price. He certainly did pay the price. He passed away with his ideals intact and with a strong hope that the fight would continue. The urn containing the ashes of Fr. Stan would be placed in Ranchi, where he is hailed as a martyr by the Adivasis. The only way to honour this martyr of the marginalized is to carry on the fight on his behalf. To speak truth to power and be ready to pay the price. The question is “Would we”?