India World

Stan Swamy: Jailed tribal activist dies of cardiac arrest in Mumbai

Jailed tribal rights activist Stan Swamy, 84, died of a cardiac arrest in India’s Mumbai City.

The Jesuit priest, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, was moved to a private hospital in May after he tested positive for Covid-19.

Swamy, the oldest person to be accused of terrorism in India, was arrested in October 2020.

He was among 15 renowned activists, academics and lawyers, who were charged under a draconian anti-terror law.

Swamy had repeatedly denied the charges, saying he was being targeted for his work related to the caste and land struggles of tribespeople in the state of Jharkhand.

The accusations were in connection with violence that broke out in 2018 during an event commemorating a historic battle fought by Dalits and upper caste rule.

Swamy’s doctors told a court hearing his bail application that he had suffered a cardiac arrest early morning on Sunday and never regained consciousness.

At the time of his arrest, Swamy’s health had been waning. But his bail appeal on medical grounds was rejected. In the eight months he spent in Mumbai’s Tajola jail, his health declined to a point where he could not even eat or bathe by himself.

The United Nations and several rights groups said the detentions are part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government targeting critics.

“He was charged and detained, and we understand that he is still detained, despite being 83 years old, despite being a long-standing respected human rights activist, working particularly on the rights of marginalized groups,” Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, said in October 2020.

During a career spanning more than 20 years, he fought for the rights of indigenous tribes or adivasis in Jharkhand.

He moved the high court in the state seeking the release of 3,000 young men and women who were languishing in prison after being branded as Maoists.

He trekked to remote tribal villages to inform them of their rights. He told them how mines, dams and townships were being built without their consent, and of how they had been deprived of land, often with no compensation.