Asian Church leader appeals for Stan Swamy’s release
Yangon: Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, president of the Federation of Asian Bishop’s Conference (FABC), has called for the immediate release of Jesuit human rights activist Father Stan Swamy.
Hailing the 83-year-old Indian Jesuit priest as the “Friend of the Indigenous People,’ the Myanmar cardinal made the appeal through a letter dated October 26.
The FABC represents 29 countries in Asia.
A special court on October 23 rejected the interim bail plea of Father Swamy, who was arrested 15 days earlier from Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand state in eastern India, and jailed in Mumbai, some 1,710 km west. He had filed the interim bail application on medical grounds, given his age, pre-existing conditions and the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It is with great shock and agony, the FABC heard of the arrest of the 83-year-old Fr Stan Swamy and his incarceration. We are surprised at the charges brought against him. We stand in solidarity with Fr. Stan Swamy and all who support the rights of the indigenous people,” says Cardinal Bo, a friend of India.
The cardinal noted that the media in India and abroad have expressed shock over the arrest of Fr Swamy, who for more than three decades lived among the most deprived indigenous people of eastern India.
“The arrest and cold-hearted incarceration of Fr Stan Swamy reminds us of the treatment meted out to Mahatma Gandhi when he stood up for the rights of the Indian people,” writes 72-year-old cardinal who visited northeastern India in last November.
The cardinal recalls, “The colonial British government was too eager to incarcerate him [Gandhiji] for the ‘crime’ of asking for the dignity of his people. It was his dream that the least of India should be the central concern of a free India. Fr Stan Swamy was following Gandhi’s nonviolent path to realize his dream.”
In his appeal letter the cardinal laments, “The arrest is symptomatic of the treatment meted out to indigenous people in various parts of Asia. From the shores of South China Sea to the central parts of India, is a vast land once the homeland of indigenous people. Colonization destroyed them; nation-states disenfranchised them. Thousands have perished in the ecocide – killing of biosphere.”
Decrying the colonial mentality of the government the cardinal does not fail to point out, “Asian market economy and its enablers have treated the indigenous communities with a colonial mentality – making them environmental refugees. The world is indebted to the indigenous communities for protecting Nature and giving it to the world. The forests and biosphere where the indigenous people lived proved to be the “lungs of the world”.
When Asian governments choose to evict the indigenous people and offer their lands for corporate gain, they are opting to infect the lungs of the world. This is ecological Covid. Pope Francis has called for protecting the precious ‘lungs’ like Amazon, Congo and Asian forests.
In his appeal the cardinal asserts, “Humanists like Fr Stan Swamy tried to save the world from the ecocide. We urge the concerned authorities to acknowledge the role the indigenous people play for the welfare of the world and release their people and those who support them.”
In conclusion the cardinal appealed to the wisdom and humanity of leaders stating, “India is a great nation, the land of the Mahatma and the spiritual mother of the whole of the East. We do hope its leaders will show sagacity and magnanimity in appreciating the services of Fr Stan Swamy and other indigenous people’s leaders, releasing them as free citizens of India.”
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has filed an over 10,000 page chargesheet against Fr. Swamy, and six others arrested – journalist and activist Gautam Navalakha, academic and civil liberties activist Anand Teltumbde, Delhi University associate officer Hany Babu and three cultural activists of Kabir Kala Manch, Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor and Jyoti Jagtap.
Swamy’s arrest has been criticized by non-BJP political leaders and civil society members. Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren and Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan have both expressed their solidarity with the tribal rights activist, and criticized the central agency’s decision to take him into custody.
“The way Stan Swamy has been arrested today [8th October], it could happen to any of us tomorrow – or it could even escalate further to people being killed,” Chief Minister Soren said at a recent press conference.