84-yr-old activist Fr Stan dies in hospital


MUMBAI, July 5: Priest-activist Stan Swamy, arrested under an anti-terror law in the Elgar Parishad case, died at a Mumbai hospital on Monday in the middle of his fight for bail on health grounds.
The 84-year-old Jesuit priest — possibly the oldest person to be accused of terrorism in India, as per his lawyer — had been on a ventilator since Sunday after his health worsened rapidly.
Dr Ian D’souza, director of the Bandra-based Holy Family Hospital, where Swamy was undergoing treatment, and the tribal rights activist’s lawyer Mihir Desai informed a bench of the Bombay High Court of his death following cardiac arrest.
The bench, comprising Justices SS Shinde and NJ Jamadar, expressed shock over the news and said it was at a loss of words and hoped Swamy’s soul would rest in peace.
Swamy is the oldest among the 16 accused persons arrested in the Elgar Parishad case and, possibly the oldest in India be charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), the lawyer said. Those arrested include some of India’s most-respected scholars, lawyers, academicians, cultural activists, and an ageing radical poet, who then contracted coronavirus in prison.
Condolences poured in for the tribal rights activist, with many bemoaning his demise.The Jesuit Provincial of India expressed grief over Swamy’s death.
In a statement, it said the priest had worked all his life for the “Adivasis, Dalits, and marginalised communities so that the poor may have life with dignity and honour”.
“Heartfelt condolences on the passing of Father Stan Swamy. He deserved justice and humaneness,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted.
Senior counsel Desai told the HC that Swamy was taken to the state-run JJ Hospital 10 days before his admission to the Holy Family Hospital on May 29 but was not tested for COVID-19 at the JJ Hospital. Swamy’s report came out positive for coronavirus when he was tested at the private hospital, the lawyer said.
“The NIA did not seek Swamy’s custody even for a single day, but kept on opposing his bail pleas,” he added.
Desai pointed out that since Swamy died while being in custody, the state authorities were mandated to conduct a post mortem in accordance with guidelines of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. While the HC did not pass any orders initiating a judicial inquiry, it recorded in its order that the amended section 176 (1A) of the CrPC mandated judicial inquiry into every case of death in custody. If the same provision was applicable in the present case, the state and prosecuting agencies would have to comply with the same, the HC said.
The court directed the state authorities to complete all formalities and hand over Swamy’s body to his associate, Father Frazer Mascarenhas. The directive came after Desai told the court that while normally a dead body was handed over to one’s family, Swamy was a priest and had no family. “The Jesuits were his only family,” he said.
The HC said Swamy’s funeral will be held in Mumbai in accordance with the COVID-19 protocols applicable in the city. (PTI)