The death of Father Stan Swamy, SJ: “His fate should be a wake-up call for the international community”

Father Stan Lourduswamy, the elderly Indian Jesuit priest imprisoned for several months by the Indian authorities, died on Monday 5 July 2021 in a Catholic hospital in Mumbai at the age of 84, according to international media reports. Widely known as Stan Swamy, the priest had been suffering for some time from Parkinson’s and other age-related conditions. Following his admission to hospital, he was also diagnosed with Covid-19.

“In Father Swamy we have lost a fearless advocate for the poor and an inspirational Catholic pastor”, commented Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern, the executive president of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International). “It is unimaginable, the martyrdom he was forced to endure during the last months of his life”, he added.

Father Stan Lourduswamy.
Father Stan Lourduswamy.

Not even international protests were able to secure an easing of the conditions in which he was held. The international pontifical charity ACN International was among those appealing for his release. For months, according to eyewitnesses, Father Stan had scarcely been able to eat anything while in prison, on account of his Parkinson’s condition. Eventually, (in May this year) after his condition had deteriorated still further, the Bombay High Court agreed to allow him to be transferred to a hospital. A bail hearing had finally been agreed for July 6 – which Father Swamy did not live to see, however.

The fate of this Indian Jesuit priest provoked international concern. Father Swamy was arrested in October 2020. The Indian authorities accused him of having contacts with Maoist and militant groups, which the Jesuit always denied. Father Stan had been working for decades in Jharkhand state in Northeast India as an advocate for the underprivileged and for reconciliation among the tribal peoples.

Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern, the executive president of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International).
Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern, the executive president of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International).

Father Swamy’s fate is one subsequently shared by many priests, religious and catechists in India, according to Dr Heine-Geldern: “We know from our project partners that false accusations are often made against them in order to intimidate them and disrupt their work on behalf of the ethnic minorities and the castless dalits, (or ‚’untouchables’)”, he explained.

He added that ACN was very concerned at the growing trend of Hindu nationalism in India. This is a trend that was also identified in the international report on Religious Freedom Worldwide, recently published by the charity. “This Hindu nationalist movement is seeking to force other religions such as Christianity out of India and suppress Christian voices in the country”, the ACN executive president explained. “Instead, the suffering and death of Father Stan Swamy should now be a wake-up call for the international community. Freedom of religion and advocacy on behalf of the poorest of the poor in India must continue to be upheld”, he concluded.

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