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Judicial enquiry sought to clear Father Swamy name

A Jesuit priest in Mumbai has petitioned the Bombay High Court for a judicial probe into Father Stan Swamy’s death in custody and remove the “odium of guilt” attached to the tribal activist.
Father Stan Swamy (Photo:Matters India)

A Jesuit priest in Mumbai has petitioned the Bombay High Court for a judicial probe into Father Stan Swamy’s death in custody and remove the “odium of guilt” attached to the tribal activist.

Father Swamy died July 5 as undertrial prisoner in a Mumbai hospital where he was being treated for Covid-19 and its complications. The 84-year-old was the oldest of 16 people arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), India’s anti-terror outfit, in what is known as the Bhima-Koregaon case, or Elgar Parishad case.

The petition in the High Court was moved by Father Frazer Mascarenhas, designated as Father Swamy’s “next of kin.”

Father Frazer was the only person allowed to meet Father Swamy when he was in the hospital,

His petition says the probe would also help dispel the shadow it casts on the Jesuits in India.

Father Swamy arrested October 8, 2020, from Bagaicha, his residence and the base of an organization he founded for the advancement of the tribal communities in Jharkhand. Although he was arrested under the anti-terror law, he was not kept in the NIA custody even for a day. The member of the Jamshedpur Jesuit provice spent the entire judicial custody at Taloja central jail near Mumbai.

Father Mascarenhas, 68, is a former principal of Mumbai’s St Xavier’s College. The Jamshedpur province July 12 appointed him Father Swamy’s next of kin.

Father Mascarenhas’ petition said, “even prior to his demise and also just after his demise (the HC) recognized the Petitioner (Mascarenhas) as his de facto guardian…’’

On November 24, the High Court accepting that Father Swamy’s kin are entitled to approach the court, asked his lawyers to file a fresh petition to raise grievances which he made before his demise against observations in a lower court order. Father Swamy had moved the High Court against a special NIA court’s order rejecting his bail pleas. Father Swamy’s appeal has abated, the court noted.

The division bench of Justices Nitin Jamdar and Sarang Kotwal said instead of an interim application through Father Mascarenhas in the pending appeal, a fresh petition may now be filed.

Father Mascarenhas thus filed the petition and raised questions including whether the High Court should now direct a judicial magistrate’s enquiry to ensure that guidelines of National Human Rights Commission are followed. He said the allegations have followed Father Swamy to “his grave.” He raised the issue of Father Swamy’s “right to reputation under Article 21 of the Constitution.”

The petition says that attaching any semblance of guilt on Father Swamy without a trial would be a violation of his fundamental right. It said a Jesuit institute on the outskirts of Mangaluru had sought to name a park after Stan Swamy but it was opposed by various organizations on the ground that he was arrested under the anti-terror law—the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

The petition, filed on December 16, says the “odium of guilt not only besmirches the reputation of Stan Swamy and his body of work in the field of tribal rights and human rights but also casts a shadow on the Jesuits of India numbering about 4,000 who run premier educational institutes like St. Xavier’s College Mumbai and Xavier Labour Relations Institute, Jamshedpur and thus harm caused to the reputation of Stan Swamy, S. J. by extension harms the reputation of Jesuits of India.”


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