Catholic priests and nuns join a candlelight procession in India's Assam state on Dec. 10 to mark International Human Rights Day, demanding the release of a Jesuit priest arrested two months ago. (Photo supplied)
A demand to release an elderly Jesuit priest and 15 other activists was prominent among calls made at programs marking international Human Rights Day in many parts of India.
Several rights groups joined with citizens to organize demonstrations, webinars and marches across the country on Dec. 10, expressing their concern over what they said was a governmental attempt to throttle dissenting voices against its policies and programs.
They also called for an amicable solution to the ongoing protest of thousands of farmers in New Delhi, seeking to withdraw three laws the government passed as part of farm reforms.
They urged the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party that runs the federal government to immediately release 84-year-old Father Swamy and 15 other activists who were detained on charges activities in connection with a violent incident in the Bhima Koregaon area of western India's Maharashtra state.
A campaign named "Friends of Fr. Stan Swamy" was also launched to send as many as 100,000 postcards to India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his federal home minister Amit Shah for the release of the arrested activists.
"We want all the rights activists such as Father Swamy to be freed immediately," said Allen Brooks, the spokesperson of Assam Christian Forum.
The forum and other groups in Assam jointly held a candlelight procession in the state's business capital Guwahati to mark the rights day, which was joined by Archbishop John Moolachra of Guwahati, priests and nuns.
"We are with the protesting farmers. The government should find an amicable salutation to their demands," Brooks told UCA News on Dec. 11.
"It does not augur well for the country when the farmers are staying in the open under biting cold, and an emergency solution should be found to their concerns."
The protesting farmers want three laws enacted by Modi-government to be rolled back. They say the laws serve corporate interests rather than the welfare of the farmers and national interests.
Eminent human rights activist Sujato Bhadra signed the first postcard launching the campaign for Father Swamy.
Jesuit human rights activist Father Irudaya Jothi, a coordinator of the campaign, said: "All those who value human rights will join the campaign transcending religion, caste, creed, gender, and ethnicity."
Father Swamy was arrested on Oct. 8 from his residence in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand state in eastern India, on charges of sedition and links with outlawed Maoist rebels.
However, the priest denied the allegations and even accused the National Investigation Agency, the federal anti-terror combat agency, of framing him in a false case and of interpolating his computer and other digital materials.
In Mumbai, Maharashtra state's capital, a special court was scheduled to hear Father Swamy's bail application on Dec. 10. However, it was rescheduled to Dec. 14 as the judge was not available.