Stan Swamy: Jailed activist dies at 84

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Tribal rights activist Stan Swamy.Image source, Ravi Prakash
Image caption,
Mr Swamy was an accused in a 2018 incident of caste-based violence.

Jailed Indian tribal rights activist Stan Swamy has died of a cardiac arrest in Mumbai city. He was 84.

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

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

He was among 16 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 Jharkhand state.

The accusations were in connection with violence that broke out in 2018 during an event commemorating a historic battle fought by Dalits (formerly untouchables) against an 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 National Investigative Agency (NIA) continued to oppose his release, sparking anger. Several activists and rights bodies have described the investigation as a "witch hunt" to target critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.

Who was Stan Swamy?

The son of a farmer father and homemaker mother from the southern state of Tamil Nadu, Swamy led a school for training leaders of marginalised communities in Bangalore for more than a decade.

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.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
There have been protests for the release of Stan Swamy.

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.

He openly sympathised with a 2018 rebellion of tribespeople, asserting their rights over their resources and common land. He regularly wrote articles on how big corporations were taking over tribal land for factories and mines.

For more, read his profile by Soutik Biswas, Stan Swamy: The oldest person to be accused of terrorism in India.

What is the Bhima Koregaon case?

The case against Swamy and other activists relates to violence that broke out in January 2018 in Bhima Koregaon village in Maharashtra state. Hundreds of thousands of Dalits had gathered that day for the 200th anniversary of a battle in which they defeated an upper-caste ruler alongside British forces.

Authorities alleged the violence, which left one dead, was incited by the activists through their speeches at a conclave held a day earlier - a charge the activists deny.

Many of the activists were not present at the commemoration but were accused of conspiring against the state.

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