By Dr. Gyan Pathak
Stan Swami died in judicial custody. He was 84 years of age and ailing with several diseases including Parkinson’s. National Investigation Agency (NIA) had arrested him nine months ago in October 2020 on terror charges, yet unfounded, under (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). In February, a forensic evidence emerged that found the letters forming the very basis of the case were in fact put in the laptop of a detenue Rona Wilson before he was arrested. Prosecution case became doubtful after the evidence, but barring 81 year old poet Varavara Rao, none of the 16 detenues have reportedly been granted bail. Trial is yet to start because NIA failed to submit all evidences and chargesheet.
From state’s perspective it is the beauty of the draconian laws like UAPA under which state can detain a person without even giving the detenue the status of an accused, ie right to bail when prosecution case is doubtful, no sufficient incriminating evidence, or even no chargesheet within a required timeframe as in the case of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) of the country. When a person is arrested he is given the status of an accused under CrPC, and if chargesheet is not submitted within 60 days in non-cognizable offenses, and 90 days under cognizable offenses, the accused gets bail. However, detenues under UAPA and other crime control acts are kept in custody without giving rights of an accused.
However, from the people’s perspective, one must get justice, and state should not be allowed to arrest any person and detain for unlimited time even without evidence or chargesheet, and denying the detenue to have a status of an ‘accused’ as is given under CrPC. No doubt, when Jesuit priest, Father Stain Swamy died in judicial custody, several prominent persons all over the world felt the injustice done to him at a very advanced age of 84 years and when seriously ailing. How can a person be a terror threat in such a situation? And how the purpose of justice is served in denying bail to such a person? Just a few weeks ago on May 21, ailing Stain Swamy appeared before a bench of Bombay High Court via video link form Taloja jail, where he was lodged.
During the hearing of the interim bail petition, Swamy said, “Taloja jail has brought me to a situation where I can neither write nor go for a walk by myself … Someone has to feed me.” It may not be out of place to mention here that Swamy had been suffering from an acute condition of Parkinson’s disease, he needed a special cup to drink water, and his body had undergone a “slow regression” since he was arrested from his home in Ranchi. Judges did offer him to be treated in a state-run hospital, but it was not acceptable to Swamy for he wanted better treatment facilities. “No, I would not want to,” he said. “I would rather suffer, possibly die here very shortly if this were to go on.” On July 5, his bail petition had come to be heard by the judges, Swamy’s lawyer appeared, informed the court that the doctor treating his client wants to speak to the court, who said with a very heavy heart that Father Stan Swamy had passed on the same day at 1:30 PM.
No wonder, his death has triggered a flood of criticism to the government and judiciary with a sense of injustice done to Stain Swamy – right from the place he lived to the United Nations. “The news from India today is devastating. Human Rights Defender (HRD) and Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy has died in custody, nine months after his arrest on false charges of terrorism. Jailing HRDs is inexcusable,” said Ms Mary Lawlor, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for human rights defenders. The European Union’s Special Representative for Human Rights Mr Eamon Gilmore said, “I am very saddened to here Fr Stan Swamy has passed away. A defender of indigenous people’s rights. … The EU had been raising his case repeatedly.” Chief Minister of Jharkhand, the state of his residence and activities, posted his tribute and condolence and remembered him dedicated his life working for tribal rights. “The Union Government should be answerable for absolute apathy and non-provision of timely medical services, leading to his death,” he said. Chief Minister of Kerala also condoled his death. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi posted, “Heartfelt condolences on passing of Father Stan Swamy. He deserved justice and humaneness.” These are but only a few of the numerous messages appeared in the social media and elsewhere sympathizing with Stan Swamy.
The person for whose death millions of hearts bleeds with a sense of injustice done to him, was arrested in connection with an event of Elgar Parishad at Bhima Koregaon near Pune on December 31, 2017, which was followed by violence and arson that left one person dead. Prosecution says that activists assembled there made inflammatory speeches and provocative statements. As many as 16 people were arrested on charges of conspiracy who were human rights lawyers, tribal rights activists, university professors, poets, and cultural activists. In addition to allegedly plotting caste violence, they stand accused of planning to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The detenues are – Hany Babu, Sudha Bharadwaj, Sudhir Dawale, Arun Ferreira, Surendra Gadling, Ramesh Gaichor, Vernon Gonsalves, Sagar Gorkhe, Jyoti Jagtap, Gautam Navlakha, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Anand Telmunde and Rona Wilson. Varavara Rao is on bail for six months on medical ground, and Stain Swamy has just died.
In August 2018, now a disgraced Maharashtra Police officer Pram Bir Singh, had claimed that he had unearthed letters that provided evidence of a conspiracy to “overthrow the lawfully established Indian government using weapons procured from Russia and China”. In February 2021, these very letters on basis of which the prosecution case has been made were found by a US forensic laboratory to be implanted by an attacker on the laptop of one of the detenue Rona Wilson before his arrest.
Thus the whole case goes against the prosecution story. There cannot be more brazen misuse of NIA and UAPA by Modi government. Stan Swamy’s death in judicial custody exposes highhandedness of the government and prosecution, and also the rotten prison system in which life is not safe. Though no one has right to keep someone in jail on unfounded charges, without evidence, with no chargesheet, and no hope of commencement of trial in near future, that too at a time when evidence is against the alleged charges, the criminal justice system of our country failed in protecting the victim from government’s injustice. Such a situation must change for good. (IPA Service)