After the death of Stan Swamy yesterday, we are republishing this piece that on June 17, 2019.
Lalit Manjhi, 44, was arrested for a murder he did not commit in 2001. The police claimed he was a Maoist and he spent 10 months in Tenughat jail in Jharkhand before he was released. He was arrested twice again on separate charges but was exonerated of the murder charge when a family member of the murder victim testified in court that he was innocent. Yet the police refused to leave him alone; they presumed he was a Maoist and haunted his footsteps.
Jiten Marandi, 38, was first arrested in Jharkhand’s Hazaribagh in 1999 because he shared a name with a Maoist. He was tortured during his two days in police custody and was then jailed for seven and a half months. He was arrested again in 2003, 2005 and 2008. His last arrest was in connection with murders in Chilkhari; however the actual person involved was a Maoist with the same name. It took the police five months to figure this out, during which time six more cases were slapped against Jiten. He was even sentenced to death but was finally released after protests. But there was no happy ending for Jiten; he was arrested yet again and, as of 2019, was in jail.
Bhuvneshwar Singh, 79, was falsely arrested in connection with a murder. He protested that he had nothing to do with it but was sent to jail. Later, the murder victim’s family told the police he was innocent and he was released.
In all three cases, one person fought for the rights of Lalit, Jiten and Bhuvneshwar. That man was Stanislaus Lourduswamy, better known as Father Stan Swamy. A voice for Adivasis in Jharkhand, Swamy’s name became famous when his home was raided by the police in 2018 in the Bhima Koregaon case. His house was raided yet again on June 12, 2019.
Several activists have been arrested and imprisoned under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The charges against them are flimsy and rooted in controversy. Since the publishing of this story two years ago, Swamy died in police custody, waiting for a court to grant him bail.
‘I write and fight for these issues’
At 7.15 am on June 12, 2019, the Pune police arrived at Swamy’s home in the Bagaicha compound of Ranchi’s Namkum. They rummaged through his house for over three hours and confiscated his hard drive, internet modem, and stacks of documents. They took control of his Facebook and email accounts and changed the passwords. The police already had Swamy’s laptop; it was seized during the first raid in August 2018.
“The raid by the Pune police on my house is completely illegal,” Swamy told Newslaundry in 2019. “I also informed their investigating officer Shivaji Panwar about their illegal conduct. Last year when they raided my house, they brought two witnesses from Pune with them. This time too, one of the witnesses was from Pune. This is against the law, which says both witnesses must be locals.”
Investigating officer Panwar, however, said an officer equal to his rank is permitted to change this procedure.
Swamy said the police conducted the raids “on purpose” because they knew their “accusations would be disproven in court and everyone would be cleared”.
“The police do not want people who were arrested to be released,” he said, “so they are adopting these tactics to slow down the legal process.”
Swamy said his life is “dedicated to the Adivasi people” of central India.
“Jharkhand is a mineral-rich state and all of it is being taken away from here,” he said. “Adivasis, who are the owners of this land, are not getting any share of the natural resources. Corporates and industrialists are getting rich by mining the minerals from here when the Adivasis are dying of hunger. Despite being the owners of a mineral-rich land, 20 people have died from hunger in Jharkhand in the past two years. Young Adivasis are kept in jail on false accusations of being Naxalites. I write and fight for these issues which is the reason behind the attempt to implicate me in the Bhima Koregaon case.”
‘He has nothing to do with the violence’
Swamy was originally from Tamil Nadu but lived and worked in Jharkhand for a long time. He sharpened the people’s voice against government oppression, said Aloka Kujur, a social worker from Jharkhand.
“Father Stan researches and writes about people’s movements,” Kujur told Newslaundry in 2019. “He raises the matter of government oppression of people. He constantly works on matters concerning Adivasis, Dalits and women. He writes about the government’s role in matters of water, jungle and land, and supports the movements related to these matters.”
Kujur added that Swamy heard about the Bhima Koregaon violence for the first time through the media.
“He doesn’t go out of Ranchi and doesn’t take part in any activity,” she said. “He reads and writes, and researchers and writers are the types of people who come to his centre in Bagaicha...But still, this is the second time the police have raided his house. Last year, the court instructed the police not to arrest him. Now, after a year, the police came and raided his house again. This is beyond comprehension.”
She emphasised Swamy’s work for those imprisoned on false charges.
“About 500 innocent Adivasi youth from Jharkhand were put in jail by the police who claimed they were Naxals,” Kujur said. “Stan filed a petition in the high court for such young people and has been fighting for them for a long time. He always raised his voice against oppression. The raid on his house by the Pune police is part of a political conspiracy.”
Ranchi-based social worker BB Choudhary echoed Kujur’s words.
“He has been working in Jharkhand for over three decades,” he said. “He used to be in Chaibasa earlier, then he came to Ranchi...His work is centred around the rights of Adivasis. His name is deliberately being linked to the Bhima Koregaon violence. He has nothing to do with it; he doesn’t even know the organisers. He only works for the rights of Adivasis in Jharkhand.”
When Newslaundry asked Pune police’s investigating officer Shivaji Panwar why Swamy’s house had been raided, he said, “We have raided but I cannot tell you the reason.”
This piece was translated from Hindi to English by Shardool Katyayan.