Imprisoned Indian tribal rights activist Stan Swamy died of cardiac arrest in the city of Mumbai. He was 84 years old.
A Jesuit priest with Parkinson’s disease was transferred to a private hospital in May after a positive test for Covid.
Swami, the oldest accused of terrorism in India, was arrested in October 2020.
He was one of 15 prominent activists, scholars and lawyers charged under strict counter-terrorism laws.
Swami repeatedly denied the accusation, saying he had been the target of his work related to the caste and land struggle of Jharkhand tribesmen.
The accusation was related to the violence that occurred during an event commemorating the historic battle of Dalits (formerly untouchables) in 2018 against the rule of upper castes.
Swami’s doctor heard the bail application he had and told the court I had a cardiac arrest early in the morning I didn’t regain consciousness on Sunday.
Swami’s health was declining when he was arrested. However, his bail appeal was dismissed for medical reasons. During the eight months he spent in Tahora Prison, Mumbai, his health had deteriorated to the point where he could not even eat or bathe alone.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) continued to oppose his release, causing anger. Some activists and rights groups have described the investigation as a “witch hunt” targeting government critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Who was Stan Swami?
Swami, the son of a farmer’s father and a housewife’s mother in southern Tamil Nadu, led a school for more than a decade to train leaders in the marginal community of Bangalore.
In his more than 20 years of career, he fought for indigenous rights or the Adivasi in Jharkhand.
After being branded as a Maoist, he moved the state high court to release 3,000 young men and women who were suffering in prison.
He trekked to a remote tribal village to inform them of their rights. He often told them without compensation about how mines, dams and towns were built without their consent, and how they were deprived of land.
He openly sympathized with the 2018 tribal rebellion and asserted their right to their resources and commons. He regularly wrote articles on how large corporations hijacked tribal land for factories and mines.
Read his profile by Soutik Biswas for more information. Stan Swamy: The oldest person accused of terrorism in India..
What is the Bhima Koregaon case?
The proceedings against Swami and other activists are related to the violence that occurred in January 2018 in the village of Bima Koregaon in Maharashtra. That day, hundreds of thousands of Dalits gathered to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle, defeating the rulers of the upper caste alongside the British.
Authorities alleged that the violence that killed one person was instigated by activists through a speech at the Conclave the day before. This is a charge denied by the activists.
Many activists did not attend the commemorative ceremony, but were accused of plotting against the state.