Father Stan’s arrest to have implications in NE: Assam social scientist

GUWAHATI: Amid growing demands by Church groups and organisations in Meghalaya for the release of Jharkhand-based tribal rights advocate, Father Stan Swamy, a long-time associate of his in neighbouring Assam has expressed apprehension, saying that the development would have widespread ramifications across the Northeast, home to various indigenous communities.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) had on October 8, 2020, arrested Fr Swamy in the Bhima Koregaon case, in which several rights activists like him have been linked to Maoists and put behind bars.

City-based social scientist Father Walter Fernandes, who has been associated with Fr Swamy for as many as four decades, said that the arrest of the 83-year-old Jesuit priest would invariably impact the Northeast as “activists in the region too have and were facing similar repression.”

“Rights activists who have raised voice against the violations of human rights and rights of tribals in the Northeast have been arrested and put behind bars while indigenous communities have been displaced in the name of development,” Fr Fernandes, 81, told The Shillong Times here on Friday.

Fr Fernandes, who is also the director of the North Eastern Social Research Centre he founded here in the year 2000, said the enforcement of the “anti-human” Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act across the region, or for that matter the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), have accounted for a region-wide agitation and led to arrests of many activists.

Arrests of human rights activists such as Akhil Gogoi and many others across the Northeast are some glaring examples of human rights violations.

Gogoi, who leads Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, an  influential peasant organisation in the state, has been behind bars after he was arrested by the NIA December 2019 over his alleged role in the violence during the anti-CAA protests.

“It is basically a question of human rights. I have known (Fr) Stan for four decades. He was arrested precisely for supporting the rights of tribals, which is a concern for indigenous communities in the Northeast as well,” he said.

According to studies at the North Eastern Social Research Centre, tribal communities account for 100 per cent of those displaced in Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh; 60 per cent in Manipur and over 40 per cent of those displaced in Assam.

Demanding immediate release Fr Swamy, with whom he has worked for two decades, Fr Fernandes called for a concerted effort to recognise tribal rights in the country and region. “There has to be recognition of tribal rights to be human,” he said.

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