Celebrating the Spirit of Stan Swamy

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When on 5 July 2021, the fascist regime of India, killed Jesuit Fr. Stan Swamy, they succeeded only in destroying the frail body of an 84-year-old Catholic Priest. Today, three years after that fateful day, the Spirit of Stan Swamy lives on. Millions of people: the Adivasis and the Dalits, the excluded and the exploited, the marginalised and the exploited, the displaced and the denied, the poor and other vulnerable, the academics and the writers, human rights defenders, other civil society and political leaders remember him with fondly. The fascist regime has not been able to destroy the Spirit of Stan Swamy – they will never be able to do so! His Spirit lives on forever: millions today celebrate it and try to emulate his Spirit! The Spirit of Stan Swamy will never be killed! His spirit is radiated through the five inter-related dimensions of Symbol, Servant, Shepherd, Singer and Saint!

Stan Swamy is a SYMBOL: He is a symbol of resistance! He is a symbol of hope! He is a symbol of a new dawn! He is a symbol that justice and truth, which will ultimately triumph, whatever the consequences or the price, one may temporarily have to pay! Stan Swamy is a sign-post, a non-negotiable direction for the country today, particularly for the sub-alterns, those who have nowhere to go, and those who live on the peripheries of society. Stan is a symbol of the relentless struggles of ordinary people belonging to all sections of society.  He is a symbol for the ostracised and the dehumanised, that all is not lost! That there is still hope and that change is inevitable.

Stan Swamy is a SERVANT: in the complete sense of the word! Someone who loved to serve others and he served with love!  Stan Swamy was a servant made in the image and likeness of his Master Jesus. At the Last Supper, Jesus, went down on his knees to wash the feet of his disciples. It was an unimaginable gesture at that time. The mandate of Jesus to his disciples was clear: “do this in memory of me!”; “love one another, as I have loved you!” Stan lived this mandate throughout his life in the service of others. He served others without counting the cost! He did so with humility and selflessness. He epitomised what is referred to, as ‘servant-leadership,’ today! Like Jesus, he knelt down and washed the feet of his people, he embraced them, he held their hands and walked the miles with them in their struggle for justice, liberty, equality, fraternity and dignity!

Stan Swamy is a SHEPHERD:  accompanying his people to greener pastures; being in their midst: in their ‘joy and hope, grief and anguish’. Stan Swamy lived in the villages of Adivasis, ate their food, and sang their songs, danced with them. He lived a simple, frugal life and his possessions were the meagre necessities. He was a compassionate pastor! A little after he assumed office, Pope Francis called on the world’s priests to stay close to the vulnerable, the marginalized and to be “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.”  This is what I am asking you,” he said with emphasis, looking up from his prepared text, “be shepherds with the smell of sheep.” In ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ Pope Francis issued the same call to all Christians, “Evangelisers thus take on the ‘smell of the sheep’ and the sheep are willing to hear their voice” Stan Swamy did exactly this: and his people heard his voice!

Stan Swamy is a SINGER: who always had a song to sing! Stan would surely smile hearing this!  A true singer, everyone knows, is much more than a song:  much more than the lyrics and the music. A singer is the soul, is the spirit that touches, that motivates, that inspires that leads. The singer is about attitude and conviction, about one’s body language: the song is from the heart!  A singer cannot be caged, can never be imprisoned. The song is immortal: the words will never die. From Taloja Jail, during his incarceration, Stan Swamy wrote, “my needs are limited. The Adivasis and the Society of Jesus, have taught me to lead a simple life… Listening to the life narratives of the poor prisoners is my joy in Taloja Jail… I see God in their pains and smiles… Many of such poor under trials don’t know what charges have been put on them, have not seen their charge sheet and just remain for years without any legal or other assistance. The 16 co-accused have not been able to meet each other as we are lodged in different jails or different ‘circles’ with the same jail”; he concludes, “But we will still sing in chorus. A caged bird can still sing.”

Stan Swamy is a SAINT:  there is no doubt about that! A saint is one who personifies holiness in the small simple, ordinary things of daily life. Pope Francis gave us an incisive Apostolic Exhortation in 2018, ‘Gaudete Et Exsultate’ (On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World). In it he emphasises that saints are not only those who have been beatified and canonised by the Catholic Church. Pope Francis states, “your identification with Christ and his will involves a commitment to build with him that kingdom of love, justice and universal peace. Christ himself wants to experience this with you, in all the efforts and sacrifices that it entails, but also in all the joy and enrichment it brings. You cannot grow in holiness without committing yourself, body and soul, to giving your best to this endeavour”. A description that fits Stan Swamy to the T! His companions in prison Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira will testify to this!  Stan Swamy was a living saint – the Adivasis believed in him! A few days after his death, in July 2021, hundreds gathered together at ‘Bagaicha’ near Ranchi, the Centre he had begun for the rights of the Adivasis. During the memorial ceremony, his name was etched on the stone that had the names of tribal leaders who gave their lives for the sake of their people! Yes, Stan Swamy is a martyr and a Saint! Many pray to him today!

Alpa Shah, who teaches at the London School of Economics, recently released her path-breaking book, ‘The Incarcerations: Bhima Koregaon and the Search for Democracy in India’. She writes, “In July 2018. Stan found himself accused of sedition by the Jharkhand government, alongside nineteen others. He wrote an email to his friends on 28 July 2018 in defence of his new status has a national traitor.  ‘FIRs have been made out. We are accused of supporting the self- rule movement taking place among Adivasis in Jharkhand and neighbouring states of central India. Pathalgadi (erection of stone slabs) listing the powers of gram sabha (village councils) as per PESA Act 1996 and declaring their right to self-governance. The state government is not able to digest this declaration and calls it “a war against the state” and all those who support it as desh drohi (a national traitor)! In an attachment to the email, Stan listed all the issues he had raised about the government and ruling class policy in the light of the Indian Constitution and concluded, ‘if this makes me a ‘desh drohi’, then so be it”!  

 That was and is the quintessential Stan Swamy and his indomitable spirit: Symbol, Servant, Shepherd, Singer and Saint – all rolled in one! That Spirit will never die!  We are ALL called to celebrate and emulate that Spirit today!

(Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights, reconciliation and peace activist/writer. Contact: cedricprakash@gmail.com )



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