Ranchi: Eighty-one year old Stan Swamy isn’t going to be gagged or intimidated. He speaks gently, but clearly. He says that both the governments: the one in Jharkhand and the one in the centre, are busy trying to frighten people who have begun to speak out against mismanagement and failure to govern.
“What do you do when winds are against you? You threaten voices of dissent with lathis at your command,” he told a journalist, implying that the BJP led government was rattled.
Jesuit priest-activist Stan Swamy, whose home was searched as a part of nationwide raids against activists dubbed “urban Maoists”, says that unlike previous governments, the ruling BJP-led dispensation at the Centre denies space for dissent.
It is an “undeclared emergency” , in the run up to the general and state elections,Fr Stan said speaking to the press at his home in Bagaicha, Namkum, on Wednesday, a day after the Maharashtra police led nationwide raids against Human Rights Activists, in an effort to link them to Dalit violence in Bhima Koregaon near Pune on January 1.
Fr Stan said he did not know how he came into the picture in the Bhima Koregaon case and added he told the Pune police team on Tuesday that he was ready to face any grilling. He demanded all false cases against activists be dropped and human rights panels probe into Tuesday’s multiple raids.
Thorn in the flesh of State
Fr Stan said he remains a “thorn in the flesh” of the state, referring to the sedition case against him and 22 others in the ‘pathalgadi row’.
The tribal ritual to honour ancestors with stone plaques has been projected in several quarters as ‘an anti-government self-rule movement’. Charged with supporting it, Swamy said he supported its original form.
“But I am not afraid. I am 81 and mentally strong to do what I always did, fight for jal, jungle and jameen concerns of Jharkhand’s moolvasis and adivasis,” he said. (I will always fight for the concerns of the indigenous people over their water, forests, and land rights)
He laughed at the sedition case filed under Section 66A of Information Technology Act. “This section was scrapped in 2014 by Supreme Court,” he said. “There are many flaws in the FIR. My activist friends and I met home secretary (S.K.G. Rahate) recently on this. Some activists facing the same sedition charge have moved to HC seeking it be quashed. I will follow suit.”
The pathalgadi protests needed to be understood in the larger context of anger at the government. “It was a sign of dissent among tribals. What has the government done to solve the basic issues except tokenism and fear tactics?” he asked.
Chanting Development but playing Divisive Politics
Fr Stan echoes what several others have observed. The Jharkhand government chanted the development mantra but changes on the ground were too few. “How many Momentum Jharkhand MoUs fructified? Or even those signed by past governments? Only a handful. Most did not as land isn’t available. The government claims it has chunks in its land bank. I have extensively studied the land bank and found rivers, mountains, burial sites and the likes included in it,” he stated.
The Jesuit priest said he was never opposed to mining or corporate entry. “But give tribals their due share instead of throwing peanuts. For example, if you want land for mining, go through gram sabha. When villagers consent, make them stakeholders/shareholders in profits till the tenure of the mining lease instead of a one-time piecemeal compensation that wipes them off from their roots.”
Echoing the frustration of the tribals, Fr Stan says that though Pesa debuted 22 years ago, no rule had been framed yet to implement it. “Forest Rights Act, 2006, empowers 4 acre land to all forest dwellers, but of 30 lakh applications across India only 14 lakh got land titles. No, this government is not the only one at fault obviously… But when you have such a huge mandate, why can’t you use it instead of playing divisive politics?”