Global outrage over death in custody of 84-year-old Indian tribal activist
New Delhi, July 6 (EFE).- The death of Father Stan Swamy, an 84-year-old tribal activist detained nine months ago under a controversial anti-terrorism law, has sparked outrage in India and abroad.
Swamy, who spent decades fighting for the rights of marginalized people in India and was an undertrial-accused in a terror-related case since October last year, died on Monday in a hospital in Mumbai after contracting the coronavirus in jail.
“This is not a natural death, but the institutional murder of a gentle soul, committed by an inhuman state,” relatives and friends of the octogenarian said in a statement.
His family members said Swamy suffered from Parkinson’s disease. His health seriously deteriorated in prison.
“It is unconscionable that someone of his age and ill-health was put in the prison in the first place. That too in the middle of an ongoing pandemic,” they said.
A court denied Swamy’s repeated bail applications after India’s premier counter-terror body, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), opposed his release.
The prison authorities even denied his request for a straw and sipper.
He had asked for a sipper cup citing the debilitating nervous disorder that causes involuntary tremors, making everyday actions, like drinking, swallowing, or chewing difficult.
He had to go to a court for it, the relatives said.
“The callous disregard to Father Stan’s health continued after his imprisonment, when he was not even allowed a straw and sipper cup in prison. Even for something as basic as this, he needed to move the court.”
The priest was detained in October by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) that probes all terror-related cases in India,
Police charged Swamy under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which gives Indian authorities unbridled powers for detention and investigation.
Critics of the law say it is draconian and is among the several so-called anti-terror laws abused by Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
The authorities alleged that Swamy was associated with the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist.
The government blames the Leftist rebel outfit for attacks in the mineral and resource-rich region of central India. Maoist militants seek to impose an agrarian revolution.
The Maoist rebellion continues to be active after half a century of operations in the country.
The Indian police arrested the octogenarian activist in a case related to a clash that broke out on Jan.1, 2018, in the western Indian state of Maharashtra.
The clash took place between Dalits, lower-caste Hindus formerly known as untouchables, and some Hindu nationalists from the upper caste groups.
Thousands had gathered to mark the victory of Dalit soldiers in the British Army over an upper-caste force 200 years ago.
But the celebration was interrupted by the group of Hindu nationalists brandishing saffron flags.