New Delhi, Oct 9 (efe-epa).- The arrest of 83-year-old activist and Jesuit priest Stan Swamy in India over charges of inciting violence at a 2017 mobilization by Dalits – or “lower caste” people – led to widespread criticism from the civil society and human rights defenders on Friday.
Swamy was arrested on Thursday by the National Investigation Agency, a special anti-terror body, which has now pressed charges against Swamy and seven other people under the controversial Unlawful Activities (prevention) Act, which is often used to silent dissent according to rights groups.
The agency has also accused Swamy of being a member of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), an armed group fighting to carry out a Maoist agrarian revolt in India for many decades.
However, Swamy has denied the allegations and renowned Indian activists have come out in his support, challenging the official narrative.
“Stan Swamy has spent a lifetime fighting for the rights of Adivasis (tribals). That is why the (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi regime seeks to suppress and silence them; because for this regime, the profits of mining companies take precedence over the lives and livelihoods of Adivasis,” tweeted well-known historian Ramachandra Guha
Prominent lawyer Prashant Bhushan also took to Twitter to stress that Swamy had “devoted his life to serving the poor Adivasis,” of the eastern state of Jharkhand.
“It would be difficult to imagine a gentler & kinder person,” he said in another tweet.
The octogenarian activist is being investigated in a case linked to the clashes between Dalits and right-wing Hindu groups which left one person dead and injured many others between Dec. 31 – Jan. 1 2018 at Bhima Koregaon in the western state of Maharashtra.
Dalits had gathered there in large numbers to mark the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima Koregaon, in which the formerly “untouchable” members of the Hindu society had fought and won a battle as part of a British regiment against rulers of the Maratha caste, which enjoyed a higher social status.
Swamy said in a video released two days before his arrest that Bhima Koregaon was “a place I have never been in all my life.”
TIn July, the priest had been interrogated for 15 hours over a span of 5 days by the NIA, and the agency had recently summoned him to appear before it in the distant western city of Mumbai, which the activist refused to do citing health reasons.
Swamy has alleged that his arrest is politically motivated and seeks to suppress his activism in the mineral-rich region where he has advocated rights of the indigenous tribal groups.
“I have filed a case against the Jharkhand state (..), on behalf of about 3.000 young Adivasis who are languishing in jails. It is this which became a bone of contention with the state and they want to put me out of the way, and one easy way was to implicate me on some serious cases,” he said in his video statement.
The activist added that his case was not unique and formed part of a “broader process that is taking place all over the country” in which “prominent intellectuals, lawyers, poets, activists, student leaders are put into jail just because they have expressed their dissent.”
Academician Anand Teltumbde and activist Gautam Navlakha were arrested in April as part of the Bhima Koregaon investigation, in which 15 people have been arrested across the country over the last two years.
During the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Indian government has also continued to arrest students and activists linked to the massive protests against a controversial citizenship law which had rocked the country in the beginning of this year. EFE-EPA