The death of India’s Father Stan Swamy: ‘his fate should be a wake-up call for the international community’

FATHER STAN LOURDUSWAMY, THE ELDERLY INDIAN JESUIT PRIEST imprisoned for several months by Indian authorities, died July 5,2021 in a Catholic hospital in Mumbai at age 84. Widely known as Father Stan Swamy, the priest had been suffering for some time from Parkinson’s and other age-related conditions. Following his admission to hospital, he was also diagnosed with COVID-19.

“In Father Swamy we have lost a fearless advocate for the poor and an inspiring Catholic pastor,” commented Dr. Thomas Heine-Geldern, executive president of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “It is unimaginable, the martyrdom he was forced to endure during the last months of his life,” he added.

International protests were able to secure an easing of the conditions in which he was held. ACN was among those appealing for his release. For months, according to eyewitnesses, Father Stan had scarcely been able to eat anything because of his Parkinson’s condition. Eventually, (in May this year) after his condition had deteriorated still further, the MumbaiHigh Court agreed to allow him to be transferred to a hospital. A bail hearing had finally been agreed upon and set for July—too late for Father Stan.

The fate of this Indian Jesuit priest provoked international concern. Father Swamy was arrested in October 2020. The Indian authorities accused him of having contacts with Maoist and militant groups, which the Jesuit has always denied. Father Stan had been working for decades in Jharkhand state in northeast India as an advocate for the underprivileged and for reconciliation among the tribal peoples.

Father Stan Swamy, SJ (photo courtesy of Communications Hub JCSA)

Father Swamy’s fate is a reminder of the hardship of many priests, religious and catechists in India, according to Dr Heine-Geldern: “We know from our project partners that false accusations are often made against them in order to intimidate them and disrupt their work on behalf of the ethnic minorities and the low-caste Dalits, (or ‚’untouchables’),” he explained.

He added that ACN was very concerned at the growing trend of Hindu nationalism in India. This is a trend that was also identified in the Religious Freedom in the World 2021 report, recently published by ACN. “This Hindu nationalist movement is seeking to force other religions such as Christianity out of India and suppress Christian voices in the country,” the ACN executive president said. “The suffering and death of Father Stan Swamy should now be a wake-up call for the international community. Freedom of religion and advocacy on behalf of the poorest of the poor in India must continue to be supported,” he concluded.

—Tobias Lehner