It is the duty of all patriotic citizens to protect the international reputation of their country. For the greater part of its post-independence period India has experienced a reasonably good reputation in terms of democracy and human rights. There were always some problems, things were never perfect, there were ups and downs, but on the whole there was a reasonably good reputation. However in more recent times, as seen in various indicators , there has been a decline which can not be denied. Instead of being in denial specific steps should be taken to check this decline.
As we look at what steps we can prioritize, which we can achieve immediately, which are easy to take, clearly a top priority should be to move towards the release of all those persons about whom there is widespread agreement that they are innocent and have been arrested on the basis of serious misunderstanding of their actual work and role. When we examine the list of respected persons , those known very widely for doing important work within a framework of justice based peace and democracy , yet have been arrested in an arbitrary way then we see several names. Somewhere at the top is the name of the 83 year old Jesuit priest Fr. Stan Swamy who has devoted his life to serving oppressed people in peaceful ways, with special emphasis on helping tribal communities. He is highly educated and learned, has served in senior positions in India and abroad.
He has been in jail for nearly 8 months now. He suffers from Parkinson’s disease, finds it difficult to hold a glass, cannot hear , has undergone surgeries, suffers from many-age-related ailments. It is this man who is accused of being involved in violent conspiracies. This allegation has been refuted by several eminent persons with a very well-established reputation for being firm believers in peace and who have known Fr. Stan Swamy and his work .
Just look at the list of all those who have demanded his release and emphasized his innocence. These include at least two chief ministers, prominent opposition leaders, eminent academics and public persons, associations of Jesuit priests and other priests in India, similar associations at the international level based in other countries, human rights organizations in India and abroad, Christian organizations in India and abroad, and so the list goes on. Surely the government should care for justice for such a senior person and others , like Sudha Bharadwaj, who have been placed in a similar position of arrest which is very widely perceived to be highly unjust. A list of all such persons should be carefully prepared with the help of eminent jurists including retired senior judges and such persons should be released as early as possible.
In the case of a very elderly person with several ailments like Fr. Stan Swamy an additional question is—who is responsible if , God forbid, something even more serious happens to him in jail? There are Covid times and as emphasized by several persons of world-level fame including United Nations senior officials, there is special need for protecting the health and life of eminent persons jailed as political prisoners. Conditions of following Covid protections including physical distancing are just not available to Fr. Stan Swamy and others placed in similar circumstances in jail, as has been written about earlier and explained earlier in detail.
To summarize, there are two urgent reasons for very early release of Fr. Stan Swamy and others placed in somewhat similar circumstances and having a somewhat similar background of working within the framework of justice based peace and democracy. Firstly, there is the clear and urgent demand of justice and of saving precious human life, and this should be an adequate reason in itself. Secondly, there is also the need for protecting our international reputation in the context of democracy and human rights. As explained above, there can be no easier way forward in this direction than to announce the immediate release of Fr. Stan Swamy and others placed in similar conditions and who share a similar background of working within a framework of justice based peace and democracy.
Bharat Dogra is a veteran journalist and author.
The views/opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the writer and don’t necessarily reflect the stand of The New Leam.