More than 60 people take part in a national vigil in New Delhi on Nov. 26 demanding justice for Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/UCA News)
The National Vigil for the Constitution and Human Rights Defenders was celebrated by civil society groups across India on National Constitution Day.
Programs included the recitation of the Preamble of the Constitution, candlelight vigils and seminars on Nov. 26.
On Nov. 26, 1949, the Constituent Assembly adopted the constitution and it came into effect on Jan. 26, 1950.
In national capital New Delhi, the vigil was held at the Jesuit-run Indian Social Institute (ISI) at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
The vigil was held against the background of the arrest of Father Stan Swamy, 84, who has been held at Taloja Central Jail in Mumbai since Oct. 9 following his arrest on charges of sedition and links with outlawed Maoist rebels.
The National Investigating Agency, the federal agency empowered to combat terror, arrested the priest on Oct. 8 at his residence in Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand state, and charged him under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
Father Swamy sought interim bail on account of his failing health and old age, but the court dismissed his request on grounds that he was arrested under the UAPA.
He is the oldest person in the country to face terror-related charges and joins 15 others including human rights activists, journalists and scholars who were arrested in connection with the controversial Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad case.
Father Swamy suffers from various age-related illnesses including Parkinson's disease. He is also hard of hearing and fractured his hand when he fell in January. He needs warm clothes and blankets as he cannot bear the cold at night.
The ISI vigil, attended by more than 60 people, was marked by devotional songs, recitation of the Preamble of the Constitution and a seminar.
“As responsible citizens of this country, we are committed to safeguarding the constitution. We should take inspiration from people like Father Stan and other rights activists who are behind bars and are working to uplift the poor, Dalits, tribals and downtrodden,” Sanjay Hegde, a senior lawyer of the Supreme Court, said in his keynote address.
“Defending the constitution is always challenging and entails suffering. On this day when we are commemorating the constitution, we should not forget the suffering of human rights and defenders of constitution whose sacrifice will not be in vain.
“The path is not easy under such circumstances but we are the soldiers of the constitution and we are bound by the constitution. It gives us liberty, a power that gives us strength to speak freely against injustice.”
Tehmina Arora, director of the Alliance Defending Freedom, said: “We all speak about the good days but are we really enjoying it in our society. Democracy is stressed now but people like Father Stan are showing how to uphold it. This day reminds us about liberty, unity and freedom of expression, hence we should promote an inclusive India where all are equal in front of the law.”
Father Paul D'Souza, head of the department of Dalit studies at ISI, highlighted the importance of spreading the values of the constitution as it had been framed by all sections of society including Father Jerome D'Souza, who founded the institute in 1951.
He lamented that the vision of the founding fathers of the nation articulated in the Preamble of the Constitution remains an unfulfilled dream for millions of citizens.
“In particular, those who have worked hard for decades to ensure that the constitutional rights of citizens become a lived reality are branded as anti-nationals and are languishing in jails as they have been charged with terror cases,” the Jesuit priest said.