Caged Bird Can Still Sing: Jailed Jesuit Activist

Caged Bird Can Still Sing: Jailed Jesuit Activist

Mumbai: Incarceration has not diminished the concern for others in an octogenarian Jesuit activist, who has spent more than 100 days in a jail.

“A caged bird can still sing,” asserts Father Stan Swamy in a letter to his conferrers and supporters written from Taloja Central Jail in Mumbai, western India.

Father Stan’s January 22 says he finds strength to bear the jail life by observing the plight of the undertrials– those languishing in prison awaiting their trial in a court.

“A majority of them come from economically and socially weaker communities,” observes Father Stan, who has been in the jail since October 9, 2020.

“Many of such poor undertrials don’t know what charges have been put on them, have not seen their charge sheet and just remain in prison for years without any legal or other assistance,” adds Father Stan, as he is popularly known.

According to the Jesuit, almost all undertrials are compelled to live to a bare minimum, whether rich or poor. “This brings in a sense of brotherhood and communitarianism where reaching out to each other is possible even in this adversity,” he explains.

The 83-year-old priest wrote the letter to appreciate “the overwhelming solidarity” many have expressed during his 100 days behind the bars.

He had completed 100 days in jail on January 15.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA), India’s counter-terrorist task force, arrested Father Stan October 8, 2020, from his residence near Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand state in eastern India. A court in Mumbai sent him to jail the following day.

The Jesuit priest is the oldest person to face terror-related charges in India. He has joined 15 others, including human rights activists, journalists and scholars arrested in connection to a 2018 incident of caste-based violence known locally as the Bhima Koregaon case. The NIA has accused him of having Maoist links.

Father Swamy’s supporters say he is being branded as an anti-nationalist and was jailed because he was fighting for the implementation of laws passed by the parliament for tribal people and their constitutional rights.

“At times, news of such solidarity has given me immense strength and courage especially when the only thing certain in prison is uncertainty. Life here is on a day-to-day basis,” says the priest who wrote the letter three days after three Indian cardinals pleaded Prime Minister Narendra Modi to release him.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, head of the Catholic Church in India, later told a press conference that the prime minister had told them that the case was with the agencies and that he did not want to interfere in their functioning.

“When we brought (Father Stan’s case) up in the meeting, the prime minister said the case was with the agencies. The NIA (National Investigation Agency) was following up with the investigation. The PM was aware of the problem, but said that the government did not want to interfere too much in the functioning of the agency,” Cardinal Gracias explained.

The other cardinals present at the January 19 meeting were George Alencherry, head of the Syro-Malabar Church, and Baselios Cleemis, head of the Syro-Malankara Church.

Father Stan’s letter says those arrested with him in Bhima-Koregaon case have not been able to meet each other, “as we are lodged in different jails or different ‘circles’ within the same jail. But we will still sing in chorus. A caged bird can still sing.”

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