Jesuit priest Stan Swamy died on Monday at the age of 84 at Holy Family Hospital in suburban Mumbai after suffering cardiac arrest, his Bombay High Court doctor said later today. The court heard an urgent request for medical bail, which Swamy had already refused in March.
Swamy was living with Parkinson’s disease and had recently contracted Covid-19 in prison. At a hearing for his bail application in May, the court noted that Swamy had a “serious hearing problem” and was “physically very weak”.
For decades he has fought for the human rights of marginalized and indigenous groups in India, speaking and writing in depth about caste-based injustices.
The Indian caste system was officially abolished in 1950, but the 2,000-year-old social hierarchy imposed on people by birth still exists in many aspects of life. The caste system categorizes Hindus at birth, defining their place in society, the jobs they can do, and whom they can marry.
In the incident, known as the Bhima Koregaon affair, bloody clashes erupted between lower castes and other regional groups in the state of Maharashtra.
Hundreds of thousands of Dalits – who are ranked lowest in India’s caste-based system – had gathered in the village of Bhima Koregaon to mark the 200th anniversary of a battle in which they, as member of the British colonial army at the time, defeated an upper caste ruler, when violence erupted.
Authorities accused Swamy of having ties to the organization responsible for the violence, and allege he had ties to the Maoist rebels, who are considered one of the country’s greatest security threats. In a video recorded days before his arrest, Swamy denied any involvement and said he had never visited the location where the violence took place.
His arrest sparked outrage around the world, prompting several opposition politicians, national and international rights groups to demand his release.
“I prefer to die in prison”
Despite Swamy’s worsening health, which was exacerbated when he contracted coronavirus in prison last month, authorities have repeatedly denied bail requests from his lawyers to allow him to get away with it. restore home.
The National Investigative Agency in charge of the case had contested Swamy’s request for bail on medical grounds, citing the seriousness of the charges against him, and saying he was receiving proper care within from prison.
The activist told court he “would rather die in prison than be admitted to a hospital,” according to court documents reviewed by CNN.
By court order, Swamy was transferred to Holy Family Hospital at the end of May.
Scores of opposition politicians, rights groups and academics have expressed sorrow over his death – as well as anger at the laws under which he was arrested and denied him bail . Critics have long accused the Indian government of increasingly using anti-terrorism laws as a means to suppress all forms of dissent.
In a statement released on Monday, the Archbishop of Bombay, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, called Swamy’s arrest “very painful”.
“We are innocent until proven guilty,” the statement said. “Father Stan’s case was not even heard. ”
Gracias added that Swamy had given marginalized groups in India a “sense of dignity and elevation”, adding that he was working “with determination for the poor”.
Harsh Mander, a prominent Indian rights activist, called Swamy’s death “a tragedy for the nation”.
Meenakshi Ganguly, Human Rights Watch director for South Asia, said Swamy’s arrest highlights “a level of cruelty and callousness that is shameful.”
“The anti-terrorism law is draconian. We see it being used rampantly to jail peaceful critics without bail, ”Ganguly said. “It was up to the courts to decide whether Swamy was guilty, but by repeatedly stifling the sureties, the authorities chose not to protect,” she added.