Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ
It was quintessential Stan! In a manner that has come to characterize him, Jesuit Fr Stan Swamy told the Bombay High Court during a hearing on 21 May 2021, “I want to go to Ranchi to be with my friends….Whatever happens to me I would like to be with my own”
Fr Stan who turned eight-four a few weeks ago on 26 April, has been lodged in the Taloja jail since his arrest on 8 October 2020. He was the last one of sixteen to be arrested, in the Elgar Parishad/Bhima-Koregaon conspiracy case. That he had nothing to do with either is clear as daylight! His only ‘crime’ over the years, much to the chagrin of powerful, vested interests, was his total identification with the Adivasis and of his accompanying them, in their quest for a life based on justice, dignity and equity. So naturally, when Fr Stan says, “Whatever happens to me I would like to be with my own”- he is making a very powerful statement of his life and mission.
Fr. Stan had approached the High Court some time ago challenging a Special Court’s decision of March this year. In the order, the Special Court had rejected his bail sought on medical grounds as well as on merits. On 21 May, Fr Stan was produced before a Division Bench of Justices S J Kathawalla and S P Tavade of the Bombay High Court, via video-conferencing from the Taloja prison, where he is lodged as an undertrial. Some days ago in a telephonic conversation with a fellow Jesuit, he spoke about his deteriorating health condition. Ever since, plenty of efforts were being made from several quarters, to ensure that he receives the proper and adequate medical treatment and if needed, also hospitalisation.
Fr Stan reiterated this position telling the court that he had suffered much during his stay in prison, “I was brought here eight months ago. When I came to Taloja, my full system, my body was still very functional. But during these eight months, I have gone through a steady regression of all bodily functions. Eight months ago I could have a bath by myself and also do some writing by myself. But these are disappearing one after another. Taloja jail brought me to a situation where I can neither write nor go for a walk by myself or even eat. I am not able to meet this demand. Eating has become a real difficulty; someone has to feed me with a spoon.” He also spoke about the dire conditions in Taloja jail that prompted prisoners to help each other in the face of acute economic deprivation.
The Court then asked Fr Stan if he wished to be admitted to the Government-run J J Hospital for a “general treatment in order to improve his overall health.” His response was a categorial ‘no’ saying, “I have been there twice. I am not for being hospitalised in JJ Hospital. What medicines will that hospital give me? It will not improve, it will keep going. I would rather die here very shortly if things go on as it is.” Fr. Stan went on to add, “I was taken to JJ hospital and there were a lot of people but I had no opportunity to explain what I should be given. There are some medicines which the jail authorities game me, but my deterioration is more powerful than the tablets they are giving me,”
Earlier the High Court was provided with a Medical Report of Fr Stan Swamy prepared by the JJ hospital. This report was submitted pursuant to the Court’s order of 19 May, wherein the Dean of JJ Hospital had been asked to constitute a committee and to examine Fr Stan’s health condition on 20 May. However, Fr Stan’s advocate, Senior Counsel Mihir Desai was not given a copy of the Report; therefore it had to be read out in the Court. The report mentioned that the petitioner’s poor health largely had to do with age. The committee did not find any neurological defect or psychopathology. Some of the ailments mentioned in the report include the imbalance of limbs, lumbosacral degeneration and some degree of hearing loss. It recommended urgent surgical assistance for the hearing loss and physical assistance owing to his general weakness. It also said that he required physical assistance in the form of a walking stick or a wheelchair. However, his overall condition, his pulse rate etc., were stable and Swamy was “responsive” and “cooperative”. Fr. Stan’s personal sharing to the High Court of his deteriorating health condition in fact thrashes this report.
The Court also informed Fr Stan that it was willing to issue orders to transfer him to JJ Hospital or any other hospital of his choice for the general treatment of his health, which was largely deteriorating due to his advanced age; the response of Fr Stan was very clear, “The only thing I request is to consider for interim bail. I have been in deteriorating condition. I would rather be in Ranchi. I do not think any of that (hospitalisation) is going to help.” He also told the Court that his co-accused were worried about his health, and he believed that his condition would gradually worsen if he was kept back at Taloja Jail or any other hospital.
Advocate Desai was also given an opportunity to speak with Fr Stan during the video conference. He then urged the court to adjourn the hearing for a week to permit him to speak again with Swamy and to convince him to get admitted to a hospital. “Since he is a priest, he feels ‘forgive them, for they do not know what that do’… This is the approach he has taken,” The High Court granted him the liberty to approach it again if Fr Stan changed his mind about hospital admission. The bench said, “Someone must have told him, or he himself is an intelligent man. He knows his problems are only age-related. That’s why he is pressing only for interim bail says won’t take hospital admission.”
The High Court in the meanwhile has directed the authorities of the Taloja prison to strictly comply with all the recommendations made by J J Hospital in providing the necessary health facilities and treatment to Fr. Swamy while in prison. The Court finally posted the matter for hearing on June 7, 2021.
The drama that unfolded in the virtual court hearing was vintage Fr Stan: someone who is very clear about his choices: that he is innocent, that he should be given the bail to go back to Ranchi and to be with his people; if not, he would rather continue to be in Taloja jail identifying himself with his fellow-prisoners and even die there! Stan takes a Stand! However, whilst respecting his opinion ,there are many others, who are genuinely concerned about his deteriorating health and would like him to be hospitalized as soon as possible. In this Ignatian Year: for Jesuit Fr Stan and for several others, his reality today is indeed a cannonball moment!
Fr Cedric Prakash (GUJ) is a human rights, reconciliation and peace activist/writer.