Resolution seeking independent probe into death of Jesuit priest introduced in U.S. Congress


On Father Stan’s Death Anniversary U.S. Representatives Condemn India Human Rights Record.

A resolution to honor the life of Indian human rights activist, Stan Swamy, was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday. The resolution, introduced on the first anniversary of Father Stan’s death in police custody, also seeks an independent probe into his death and expresses concern at the misuse of anti-terror laws to target human rights activists and political opponents.

U.S. Representative Juan Vargas announced the introduction of the resolution which was co-sponsored by Representatives Andre Carson and James McGovern.  The announcement for the introduction of the resolution came infront of lawmakers from around the globe, at an international webinar.

The webinar, titled “Persecution of Religious Minorities and their Defenders in India: Commemorating Father Stan’s Death in Custody,” featured Rep. Vargas as well as MP Neale Hanvey (UK), MEP Alviina Alametsä (EU), Senator David Shoebridge (Australia), and UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor. Adivasi rights defenders also spoke on ongoing violations against India’s Indigenous peoples.  Poet, author, and activist Dr. Meena Kandasamy moderated the event.

“I am appalled by the abuse Father Stan faced while in custody. No one who fights for human rights should face such violence and neglect,” said Rep. Vargas at the webinar that was co-organized by Front Line Defenders, Hindus for Human Rights, the Humanism Project, India Civil Watch International, and Survival International, and co-sponsored by Adivasi Lives Matter, Dalit Solidarity Forum, the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America (FIACONA), and the Indian American Muslim Council.

Lawlor said, “If Father Stan’s life represents the best tradition of human rights defense and social justice work, his unlawful arrest and death in custody represent the rapidly accelerating assault on rights, justice, rule of law, and democracy by India’s current political regime.”

Echoing concern over these assaults, Shoebridge said, “The continued erosion of human rights and the rule of law makes India a less reliable partner, economically and politically, for democratic countries like Australia. This is ultimately a tragedy for both countries.”

“We have to emphasize that we cannot have business deals, investments, and cooperation, if the issues in India are not fixed,” Member of the European Parliament Alametsä said.

Father Stan’s extensive service fighting for the rights of Adivasi peoples was hailed by all the panelists. Adivasi leader Soni Sori alleged that instances of rape, incarceration, torture, and killings of Adivasis in the region of Bastar in Chhattisgarh continued unabated. Rights defender Gladson Dungdung who had travelled alongside Father Stan on fact finding missions said, “Today, if you raise your voice, demand for the enforcement of constitutional rights, demand for people-centered laws, or if you speak for your rights, all this comes under the purview of crimes in India. I am speaking today, but I don’t know what will happen tomorrow.”

UK MP Neale Hanvey took great efforts to raise the case of Stan Swamy in the UK Parliament and with the Foreign Secretary, including introducing an Early Day motion condemning the persecution of Father Stan in June 2021, and another expressing condolence for his death in July 2021.

This international condemnation comes in the wake of a new round of arrests. UN Special Rapporteur Lawlor said, “The most recent arrests of Teesta Setalvad, RB Sreekumar, and Mohammad Zubair show just how urgent it is to intervene to prevent the further deterioration of the rule of law in India.”

Father Stan dedicated his life to defend the rights of Indian tribal communities and during his over three decades of work he had authored more than 70 books and booklets, and established Bagaicha, a research, documentation, and Adivasi training center near the city of Ranchi. He was awarded the 2022 Martin Ennals prize, referred to as the “Nobel prize for Human Rights Defenders.” Father Stan was arrested in 2020 on charges of terrorism by the National Investigation Agency for allegedly inciting violence at Bhima Koregaon near Pune. He was then 83 years old, and suffered from Parkinson’s disease. Denied bail in spite of his advanced age and frail medical condition, Father Stan died in custody on July 5, 2021.