Ranchi archbishop leads human chain to demand Jesuit’s release
Ranchi: Archbishop Felix Toppo of Ranchi October 16 joined priests, nuns and lay people to form a 5-kilometer human chain to denounce the arrest of an octogenarian Jesuit priest for alleged Maoist links.
Many of the more than 1,000 protestors, who lined up in the Jharkhand state capital of Ranchi lit candles, terming it a symbol of hope against the attempts to silence intellectuals and rights activists such as Father Stan Swamy.
The 83-year-old priest was arrested October 8 from his residence near Ranchi by the National Investigation Agency, the federal body to counter terrorism. The priest was taken to Mumbai the following morning.
He was presented before a court in the western Indian metropolitan city that remanded him to judicial custody until May 23.
The priest, who suffers from various illnesses such as Parkinson, is currently admitted in a hospital inside the jai. The police allege that he had links with those involved with violence on January 1 2018, at Bhima Koregaon near Pune, western India.
The human in Ranchi began at 4:30 pm from Albert Ekka Chowk in the city center and wound through Kantatoli Chowk, Sarjana Chowk and Dangratoli.
The human chain was part of ongoing protests by various groups around the country. Archbishop Toppo and Auxiliary Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas of Ranchi stood outside the Archbishop’s Residence on Purulia Road, holding banners and wearing masks in accordance with Covid-19 protocol.
Archbishop Toppo’s banner read: “We demand justice.” Among the other slogans printed on posters were “Stop terrorizing activists,” “Stan is a worker for Dalit and Adivasi rights and not a terrorist,” “Everyone has human rights, stop branding them as terrorists” and “Release Stan Swamy—the voice of the oppressed.”
Bishop Mascarenhas, one of the organizers, said the way the elderly Jesuit was arrested by NIA at night last week on false charges is beyond condemnation. “We demand his release,” he added.
Tribal rights activist Dayamani Barla said, “Stan’s body of work for the cause of tribals is well documented. The recent action against him is a strategic attempt to silence all such voices who stand for the cause of the marginalized.”
Nadeem Akthar of Lalu Bolega, another social outfit, stressed the “need for another uprising against the Union government for using central agencies for its anti-people and anti-poor agenda.”
Later, special prayers were also held for Swamy at St Mary’s Cathedral at 5:40 pm.
But the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party accused the Church and its affiliates of questioning the Constitution and the judicial process. “The way missionaries and the Church are criticizing a democratically elected government testifies that they don’t have faith in the judicial process. They are trying to interfere in an independent probe conducted by NIA,” said party spokesperson Pratul Shahdeo in a statement.
The Jesuit’s arrest has triggered a nationwide uproar, with citizens, activists, and even some politicians accusing the federal government of attempting to silence dissent. Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren also spoke out against Stan Swamy’s arrest.
Earlier on October 15, Bishop Mascarenhas told a press conference that they had formally appealed to the Jharkhand government to intervene and seek the release of Swamy.
“We believe he is innocent and his decades-old work for the rights of tribals and the marginalized stands unparalleled. The way such an elderly person is being harassed should evoke strong reactions from everywhere,” the bishop said.