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India

Indian Catholics rally to support arrested Jesuit

Protestors say the priest worked for the welfare of the indigenous people and Dalits

UCA News Reporter, Bhopal

UCA News Reporter, Bhopal

Updated: October 20, 2020 03:14 PM GMT
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Indian Catholics rally to support arrested Jesuit

More than 1,000 people, including priests and nuns, and political activists protested in Jharkhand state capital Ranchi on Oct. 16, demanding justice for the jailed Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy. (Photo: supplied)

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Protests continue in different parts of India demanding justice for the octogenarian Jesuit priest who is in 14-day judicial custody for alleged charges of sedition and links with outlawed Maoist rebels.

Catholic churches in Tamil Nadu, the home state of 84-year-old Father Stan Swamy, celebrated specials masses for his good health following a call from Tamil Nadu Bishops Council on Oct. 18.

While in Jharkhand, his workplace, many political parties jointly held a “justice rally” on Oct. 17 demanding the immediate release of the activist priest and withdrawal of all charges against him saying, “he was falsely framed for working for the welfare of the oppressed.”

A day before on Oct. 16, more than 1,000 Christians including, priests and nuns formed a five-kilometer long human chain Ranchi, demanding justice for the jailed priest.

Similar protests and online actions in support of the elderly priest are going on all over the country since his arrest on the night of Oct. 8 at his residence at Bagaicha, a Jesuit social work center in the outskirts of Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand state in eastern India.

The officials of the National Investigation Authority (NIA), a federal agency to combat terrorist activities, arrested the priest accusing him of being party to a conspiracy that led to violence in Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra state on Jan. 1, 2018 in which one person was killed and many others injured.

The priest appeared before a special NIA court the next day and was remanded in 14-day judicial custody in Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra.

Archbishop Antony Poppusamy of Madurai, president, Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council in a message lauded Father Swamy for his relentless fight for the right of oppressed indigenous and Dalits, former untouchables.

“Upholding the empowerment of the oppressed humanity is the path of Christ Jesus is the true Christian faith. This is the epicenter of the ideal Christian life,” the prelate said in a message to people of his state.

“We value and cherish the noble mission (of) Father Stan for the welfare of the indigenous people and Dalits, as our pride. But blaming him with false cases cannot be tolerated in any possible ways,” the Archbishop asserted.

On Oct. 17 a group of political parties including Congress and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha jointly held a 'Nyaya march' (justice rally) in Ranchi. Protesters marched three kilometers to the Governor’s house demanding justice for the elderly priest.

Thousands of party members waving placards and party flags attended the rally that started at 11 am and finished at 3 pm after handing over a memorandum to the office of Governor who is the representative of the federal government.

They urged the governor to release the priest and withdraw all the false charges leveled against him.

They also shared their concerns for Father Swamy’s health as the priest is in a Mumbai Jail hospital.

 Many legislators such as Vinod Singh who addressed the crowd believe, “the priest was arrested as part of a political conspiracy.”

Prabhakar Tirkey, a senior Catholic Congress leader attending the rally told UCA News, “it is unfortunate that Father Stan is arrested for his dedicated work among the oppressed indigenous people and the dalits.”

The priest, he added, “was a powerful voice for the voiceless in the state.”

“Father Stan’s bold move to get justice for thousands of tribal youths jailed by the previous BJP government on false charges and his opposition to the government move to dilute the land laws allowing corporations to purchase tribal lands irked the then BJP government,” he added.

“Now the Federal government with the help of NIA has framed him falsely,” he said.

The BJP ruled the state until its defeat in the 2019 assembly elections. Even though the BJP lost power in the state it rules India and the NIA has the power to arrest anyone in the country without seeking permission of the state governments concerned.

Archbishop Felix Toppo of Ranchi accompanied by his auxiliary bishop Theodore Mascarenhas joined the human chain.

 Archbishop Toppo held a banner in his hand that read “we demand justice.”

Among the other slogans printed on posters were “Stop terrorizing activists,” “Stan is a worker for Dalit and Adivasi rights and not a terrorist,” “Everyone has human rights, stop branding them as terrorists” and “Release Stan Swamy—the voice of the oppressed.”

Bishop Mascarenhas, one of the organizers, said the way the elderly Jesuit was arrested by NIA at night on false charges deserves to be censured. “We demand his release,” he added.

Meanwhile, a team of lawyers in Mumbai are working on filing an appeal against his judicial custody thanks to the Jesuits.

The priest is among the 16 activists and intellectuals arrested and jailed in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence, as all of them opposed the policies of BJP’s Federal government and also the then state government.

The protesters also demanded the release of all of them.

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