New Delhi: Family members of the accused in 2018 Bhima Koregaon violence case have called the death of Father Stan Swamy, who was arrested last year in connection with the same case for his alleged Maoist links, an “institutional murder”.
“This is not a natural death, but the institutional murder of a gentle soul, committed by an inhuman state,” family members of 15 other accused in the Bhima Koregaon case said in a statement Tuesday.
Swamy, 84, died Monday at Mumbai’s Holy Family Hospital where the veteran tribal rights activist was admitted on 29 May following a Bombay High Court order on a petition filed by him seeking medical attention. He had Parkinson’s disease and was at the time also suffering from Covid-19.
Swamy was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in October 2020 and had been lodged in Maharashtra’s Taloja prison.
“Having spent his life amongst the Adivasis in Jharkhand, fighting for their right to resources and lands, Father Stan did not deserve to die in this manner, far from his beloved Jharkhand, falsely imprisoned by a vindictive state,” the statement added.
Several activists and academicians were arrested for allegedly making inflammatory speeches at the Elgar Parishad event held at Pune’s Shaniwarwada Fort on 31 December 2017 to mark 200 years of the Bhima Koregaon battle against the British.
As many as 16 persons, including Swamy, have been arrested in the case so far. They are Jyoti Raghoba Jagtap, Sagar Tatyaram Gorkhe, Ramesh Murlidhar Gaichor, Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson, Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha and Hany Babu.
While Rao was released on medical bail earlier this year, others continue to remain in jail. Most of the accused in the case were neither named in the FIR nor present at Bhima Koregaon when the violence took place on 31 December 2017.
The statement was signed by the family members of Rao and the 14 accused in jail, besides Swamy’s friend Father Joe Xavier.
‘Negligent jails, indifferent courts’
In their statement, the family members said they unequivocally hold authorities responsible for his death. “While we grieve at the passing away of Father Stan Swamy, we unequivocally hold the negligent jails, the indifferent courts and the malicious investigating agencies firmly responsible for his unfortunate death.”
They also said it was “unconscionable that someone of his age and ill-health was put in the prison in the first place” in the middle of an ongoing pandemic.
The statement also accused the courts of disregarding his ailing health time and again. “The callous disregard to Father Stan’s health continued after his imprisonment, when he was not even allowed a straw and sipper cup in prison. Even for something as basic as this, he needed to move the court, which moved at a frustratingly leisurely pace.”
It added: “Later, as his health continued to deteriorate in prison, his medical bail plea was mechanically turned down by the same blind, unfeeling and insensitive NIA court. Even his Covid disease was not diagnosed in jail, and could only be detected after he was moved to the hospital on orders of the High Court.”
It also pointed to Swamy’s last appearance in jail when he requested he be allowed to die among his people in Ranchi. “It is appalling that such a simple request could not be met by our judicial system,” the statement said.
The family members of the accused also said they feared for the health of the other accused in jail. “We fear for the health and lives of our family members and colleagues, who are facing the similar injustices in the same jails, under the same unaccountable system.”