United States Rep. Juan Vargas yesterday announced the introduction of a resolution in the US House of Representatives, co-sponsored by Reps. Andre Carson and James McGovern, to honour the life of Indian human rights defender Father Stan Swamy.
The resolution, introduced on the first anniversary of Father Stan’s death in police custody, notes the use of malware to target hundreds of Indian activists and plant evidence on the devices of Father Stan’s Bhima-Koregaon case co-defendants, and expresses concern at the misuse of anti-terror laws to target rights defenders and political opponents. The announcement came at an international webinar featuring lawmakers from around the world.
The webinar, titled “Persecution of Religious Minorities and their Defenders in India: Commemorating Father Stan’s Death in Custody,” featured Rep. Vargas as well as MP Neale Hanvey (UK), MEP Alviina Alametsä (EU), Senator David Shoebridge (Australia), and UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor. Adivasi rights defenders also spoke on ongoing violations against India’s Indigenous peoples. Poet, author, and activist Dr. Meena Kandasamy moderated the event.
The webinar was co-organised by Front Line Defenders, Hindus for Human Rights, The Humanism Project, India Civil Watch International, and Survival International, and cosponsored by Adivasi Lives Matter, Dalit Solidarity Forum, the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America (FIACONA), and the Indian American Muslim Council. The recording of the event can be viewed here.
“I am appalled by the abuse Father Stan faced while in custody. No one who fights for human rights should face such violence and neglect,” said Rep. Vargas.
Mary Lawlor said, “If Father Stan’s life represents the best tradition of human rights defense and social justice work, his unlawful arrest and death in custody represent the rapidly accelerating assault on rights, justice, rule of law, and democracy by India’s current political regime.”
Echoing concern over these assaults, especially through the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Australian Federal Senator David Shoebridge said, “The continued erosion of human rights and the rule of law makes India a less reliable partner, economically and politically, for democratic countries like Australia. This is ultimately a tragedy for both countries.”
“We have to emphasize that we cannot have business deals, investments, and cooperation, if the issues in India are not fixed,” Member of the European Parliament Alviina Alametsä said.
All panelists noted Father Stan’s extensive service fighting for the rights of Adivasi peoples. Adivasi leader Soni Sori highlighted the continued instances of rape, incarceration, torture, and killings of Adivasis in the region of Bastar in Chhattisgarh.
Lalsu Nagoti, an Adivasi lawyers and rights activist, spoke of both the denigration of Adivasi culture by groups attempting to impose Hinduism on Adivasis, and the destruction of sacred mountains and forests by mining corporations. “This is not development, it is destruction,” he said.
Rights defender Gladson Dungdung spoke about traveling alongside Father Stan on fact finding missions when innocent Adivasis were brutally murdered by government forces. Dungdung said, “Today, if you raise your voice, demand for the enforcement of constitutional rights, demand for people-centered laws, or if you speak for your rights, all this comes under the purview of crimes in India. I am speaking today, but I don’t know what will happen tomorrow.”
UK MP Neale Hanvey took great efforts to raise the case of Stan Swamy in the UK Parliament and with the Foreign Secretary, including introducing an Early Day motion condemning the persecution of Father Stan in June 2021, and another expressing condolence for his death in July 2021.
This international condemnation comes in the wake of a new round of arrests. UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor said, “The most recent arrests of Teesta Setalvad, RB Sreekumar, and Mohammad Zubair show just how urgent it is to intervene to prevent the further deterioration of the rule of law in India.”
Remarking on the recent Wired expose linking the Pune police to the digital attacks on the Bhima Koregaon arrestees, Dr. Kandasamy said, “There is not a shred of evidence left in the case against the Bhima-Koregaon 16. They must be released immediately.”