How the death of Stan Swamy in custody lowered India’s democratic image

The hanging of Kasab had strengthened India’s democratic image internationally, but the death of Stan Swamy shamed it

On November 21, 2012, Ajmal Kasab, a terrorist was hanged in India. His hanging was done after 1456 days of his arrest. Kasab was arrested while killing people in Mumbai, which was captured on videos and there were also several eye witnesses of his terrorist act. Despite such evidence, India’s judiciary followed its due course and only then did it pronounce the verdict to hang him.

Many in the country did not like the delay in the hanging of a terrorist, but internationally it strengthened the image of India as the world’s largest democracy with a robust judiciary.

India has shown the world how rule of law has been followed and that the country has an impartial judicial system. Before the hanging, Ajmal Kasab was given the opportunity of a fair hearing at the High Court as well as the Supreme Court.

But after nine years, on July 5, 2021, when 84-year-old human rights activist Father Stan Swamy died while held imprisoned, despite so many factors in his favour and with clear and abundant reasons to believe that he was being treated unfairly and harshly. It has brought shame for India, globally.

A Parkinson’s disease patient Father Stan Swamy was arrested by India’s National Investigative Agency (NIA) in connection with Bhima Koregaon’s violence under the charges of the UAPA- Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act on October 8, 2020, from Ranchi.

He was the oldest person to be slapped with terrorism charges.

stan swamy india democracy united nations human rights
A protest in Kolkata after the death of Stan Swamy | Courtesy: Free Stan Swamy/Twitter

The octogenarian had repeatedly requested NIA officials not to take him to Mumbai as the pandemic was raging and urged them to keep him at any jail in Ranchi. Father Stan was taken to Maharashtra and placed inside the crowded Taloja jail.

Suffering from acute Parkinson Father Stan needed a straw to drink liquids but it took five months for the jail authorities and NIA to provide him one.

He was denied Covid vaccine for lack of Aadhaar card, despite the Supreme Court ruling that says Aadhaar card is not a mandatory proof of identity.

Later he got infected with the virus and when his health deteriorated he was shifted to a hospital.

When his advocate Mihir Desai was asked how many times the bail plea of Father Stan Swamy was rejected, he replied, “His bail application in NIA court was rejected twice, once for medical bail and other for regular bail. Appeals against both the orders were pending in the High Court.”

This means, not only did the NIA court ignore the frail health of the octogenarian but the High Court too did not care much about a person, who all his life cared for the underprivileged.

A Jesuit father Stan Swamy had been instrumental in bringing about positive changes in the lives of the tribal people and Naxals and helped them integrate with mainstream society.

Judiciary is not only among the four pillars of Indian democracy but it often gets placed higher than the other three given that it stands as a protector of our rights and has the power to stop such acts of the Parliament that are not in consonant with the Constitution.

After nine months, when Father Stan died in custody without trial, reactions of grave injustice were felt within the country as well as internationally. The death outraged civil society which termed it institutional murder while a shocked Jesuit community performed the funeral of Father as a martyr.

stan swamy india democracy united nations human rights

Later, United Nations Human Rights also reacted that they were saddened and disturbed by it. The UN Human Rights tweeted, “We are saddened & disturbed by the death of 84-year-old human rights defender Father #StanSwamy, after prolonged pre-trial detention. With COVID-19, it is even more urgent that States release every person detained without sufficient legal basis.”

While Mary Lawlor, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders reacted, “The news from India today is devastating. Human Rights Defender and Jesuit priest Fr. Stan Swamy has died in custody, nine months after his arrest on false charges of terrorism. Jailing Human Rights Defenders is inexcusable.”

The unjust action taken by different agencies during the Narendra Modi government has not ended with the death of Father Stan. For the same case 15 other accused are inside the jail including Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbe.

Several other social activists slapped with UAPA are inside jail including Umar Khaild and Saif Khalid and there seems to be no opportunities for justice being provided to any.

Shahnawaz Akhtar

is Founder of eNewsroom. He loves doing human interest, political and environment related stories.

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