LSE professor pays tribute to Fr Stan Swamy SJ at Jesuit Missions’ event

Anthropologist and author Alpa Shah delivered a heartfelt tribute to the late Indian Jesuit priest Fr Stan Swamy at an event held in his memory last night (Monday, 8 July).

Giving a talk for Jesuit Missions at the London Jesuit Centre, Alpa outlined Fr Stan’s trailblazing work with indigenous Adivasi and Dalit communities, his arrest on terrorism charges aged 83 and his death in custody less than a year later, in July 2021.

Fr Stan features prominently in Alpa’s latest, highly acclaimed book The Incarcerations, which looks at the case of the ‘BK-16’, a group of human rights’ activists accused of inciting caste-based violence in Bhima Koregaon in 2018.

In Fr Stan’s case, the Washington Post reported that hackers had accessed his computer, planting evidence that would implicate him in being involved in the riots.

Alpa, a professor at London School of Economics, called on the audience to honour Fr Stan’s legacy by fighting to clear his name, those of the other 15 jailed activists and all those around the world facing similar punishments.

‘They had to be silenced and silencing them
also meant silencing their work

“These were versatile activists, who offered many different types of contributions – they were deeply embedded in social movements on the ground, reaching from grassroots up to national and international level,” she said.

“This is why they were considered ‘dangerous’. They had to be silenced and silencing them also meant silencing their work.”

Alpa read extracts from her book, detailing Fr Stan’s confusion at being charged and arrested, and noting his deteriorating health, including the impact of Parkinson’s disease that meant he couldn’t even hold a glass of water.

She also spoke of his defiance and how he would always have his co-accused in his thoughts in all that he did following his arrest.

“A caged bird can still sing,” Fr Swamy said while he was in jail – a phrase which forms the epigraph of The Incarcerations.

Alpa speaking in the Aula Magna at the London Jesuit Centre in Mayfair

Paul Chitnis, Director of Jesuit Missions, thanked Alpa for writing the book, describing it as “a story that needs to be told”.

“We’re so grateful that this book has been written. Thank you for your scholarship and your persistence; your willingness to take a stand on Fr Stan, the others accused, and human rights in India generally,” Paul said.

Jesuit Missions engaged in a campaign to have Fr Stan released from jail and, following his death, has consistently called for his name to be cleared.

It has written to the Indian High Commission on three occasions, most recently at the start of July in the run-up to Alpa’s talk, asking for a meeting to discuss his case.

The Deputy High Commissioner to India in the UK, Sujit Ghosh, has since agreed to meet with Jesuit Missions’ Chairman of the Management Board, Stephen Power, on this subject.  

Click here to purchase ‘The Incarcerations: BK-16 and the Search for Democracy in India’.

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