Father Stan Swamy has been in Taloja Central Jail in Mumbai since last October. (Photo: Wikipedia)
Indian Jesuits have petitioned the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to examine the health of a jailed Jesuit following suspicions that the 84-year priest has contracted Covid-19.
The petition calls for the federal body to form a team of retired Supreme Court judges, senior doctors and civil society members to evaluate the condition of Father Stan Swamy, who has been in Taloja Central Jail in Mumbai since last October.
The Jesuits’ demand came after family members of the rights activist priest suspected that he could be suffering from Covid-19 as a second wave of the pandemic spread across India, particularly in western regions.
“Father Swamy had a severe cold, fever, body pain and diarrhea and could not even attend a call from his legal team. This indicates that he was suffering from Covid-19,” his elder brother Irudaya Swamy, 90, told a virtual press conference on May 15.
“We are not sure if he is getting proper medical attention. His health condition is getting worse.”
Father A. Santhanam, a Jesuit lawyer from Tamil Nadu state, said the NHRC was petitioned on May 16.
Father Swamy is already suffering from Parkinson’s disease and needs the help of inmates to take care of his daily chores
Father Swamy has been in Taloja Central Jail in Mumbai, capital of Maharashtra state, since Oct. 9, a day after federal anti-terror police arrested him from his residence in Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand state in eastern India.
The priest, who works for the rights of tribal people in Jharkhand, was accused of conspiring with the outlawed Maoist rebels to overthrow the federal government and organize violence.
He is among 16 rights activists detained in the same jail on charges under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act linked to a 2018 riot in Maharashtra’s Bhima Koregaon village.
Jesuits and rights activists say the police fabricated charges and evidence against the activists to silence them after they criticized the policies and programs of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that runs the federal government.
Father Santhanam said several others jailed with Father Swamy are also not keeping well. They too need care after many in the prison including staff and cooks reportedly contracted Covid-19, he said.
“We are seriously worried about his health,” Father Santhanam told UCA News on May 17.
“Father Swamy is already suffering from Parkinson’s disease and needs the help of inmates to take care of his daily chores. His situation will be serious if he is infected.”
Jesuit Father Joseph Xavier, director of the Indian Social Institute based in Bengaluru city, said Father Swamy “never complained about his health in the past months but on May 14, for the first time, he spoke of his deteriorating health.”
The priest on April 26 appealed for bail in Bombay High Court, challenging the order of a special court that denied him bail twice. The High Court has scheduled the bail hearing for May 19.