Fr Stanislaus Lourduswamy SJ was Near & Dear To Me for 3 Years while in Bengaluru
Mangaluru: I have known Fr Stanislaus Lourduswamy SJ , now known as Fr Stan Swamy for nearly three years (between 1983-1986) when I was employed at Smith Kline & French, a pharmaceutical company in Bengaluru, and occasionally I used to stay for few days at Indian Social Institute (ISI) on Benson Road, Benson Town, Bengaluru Fr Stan was the Director of ISI then)- a Institute engaged in Training of Trainers and leaders of the marginalized communities, with special focus on South India, through holistic and quality capacity-building training, networking and advocacy engagements, to help them claim their entitlements, rights and improved quality of life- and Building an egalitarian and inclusive society by promoting socially conscious communities, with stakeholders like-Dalits, Adivasis, Minorities, unorganized labourers, Fisher folk, distress migrants, Dalit Christians, Community Leaders, Civil Society Organizations, People’s Movements and Jesuit Social Centres with special focus on women and youth.
Fr Stan became very close to me, after I was introduced to him by our family friend Br Archie Cordeiro, a Goan who was in the managing committee at ISI, and we used to spend some time discussing sensitive community issues during breakfast, lunch or dinner. The days before I was leaving Bengaluru to Chicago, USA , Fr Stan would always convince me by saying, “You should stay in India, because Bengaluru will be growing soon, and you’ll have all the comforts and income, just like Chicago. (I think Fr Stan was absolutely right when he said that in 1986, looking at the progress in Bengaluru now in 2021). Change your mind and stay back, you can always stay at ISI, if you want to, and pay nothing”. With all my papers ready after waiting for nearly ten years to get my visa to the US, I decided to migrate to the States, saying sorry to Fr Stan, that I have to leave Bengaluru. But I kept in touch with Fr Stan through letters mailed to Br Archie, and this continued until Br Archie passed away.
Whenever Fr Stan used to go to interview the poor in the slum areas of Bengaluru City, I used to accompany him, and during the trip he had to narrate lots of stories about Adivasis, Dalits and his social work. I was shocked and dismayed to hear the news that 83-year-old Fr Stan Swamy, who has been working all his life for the uplift of the downtrodden and other vulnerable people, was arrested by the NIA, where the agents have linked him to groups of Maoist guerrillas, which is NOT TRUE! The priest was only defending the rights of prisoners, Dalits, tribals, and his work impacted the powerful interests of politicians in government-therefore all this issue. Sources reveal that the officials reportedly spent around 20 minutes at his home before taking him away. The arrest has sparked outrage.
INDIAN SOCIAL INSTITUTE-BENGALURU where Fr Stan was Director from 1975-1986
“The NIA is after me. I’m being pressured to go to Mumbai… The NIA questioned me for 15 hours… I’m being called to the Mumbai office of the NIA. I refuse to go there. I am 83 and have health issues. I don’t want to expose myself to the coronavirus. I have never been to Bhima Koregaon,” Stan Swamy had said in a video on 6 October 2020. “If NIA wants to question me, they can do so via video-conferencing,” he said. It’s sad that after going through all the hardships and torture while in jail, Fr Stan breathed his last after being put on ventilation in ICU at a Mumbai hospital. Indeed a sad incident, which is hard to believe that NIA had done such inhumane treatment to this 84-year-old Jesuit priest, who will be remembered as a martyr.
This inhuman treatment to an 84-year-old, frail, and peace-loving citizen of India, who has given his life in the service of the Adivasis and other marginalized sections of society – speaks volumes of the deterioration of the democratic ethos in the country. Fr Stan has done yeomen service in the Indian Social Institute, Bengaluru, and later with the Adivasis in the Chotanagpur area. His sudden death after the prolonged illness has shocked everyone who was near and dear to him- Sadly missed. With heartfelt sympathies, I dedicate this article as a tribute to my beloved priest, my mentor, and most of all my great friend for three years, while in Bengaluru in the ’80s.
Fr Stan had made a difference in people’s lives as a religious Jesuit priest – by walking with people he knew and also strangers, journeying together with them, interacting with them at the most special moments of their lives, the greatest joys, and the deepest sorrows. Therefore everyone respected and adored him as a religious leader, a devoted priest, a religious educator of young and the old, and as a true role model. He was always courteous and ready to assist anyone in need regardless of their religion or way of life. While I was at Indian Social Institute , Fr Stan was very simple, soft-spoken, and never talked too much. But he was kind at heart and humble to everyone, including myself. For Catholic Christians, priests are mentors, teachers and friends who celebrate both the ordinary and special events in their lives. Therefore, it is important to find the right priest to share these moments with you, and for that matter, Fr Stan was the right example. His nature of closeness and friendliness endeared him to all.
Swamy was born on 26 April 1937 and hailed from Trichy in Tamil Nadu In the 1970s, he studied theology and received a masters degree in sociology in the Philippines, where he encountered a series of protests and demonstrations against the administration. During his further studies, he made friends with Brazilian Catholic Archbishop Hélder Câmara, whose work with poor people influenced him. Fr Stan was a former director of the Jesuit-run Indian Social Institute, Bengaluru from 1975 to 1986. He has questioned the non-implementation of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, which stipulates setting up of a Tribes Advisory Council with members solely of the Adivasi community for their protection, well-being and development in the state.
While incarcerated in Taloja central jail, in a letter to his Jesuit colleague, Swamy highlighted the plight of the prisoners stating, “Many of such poor undertrials don’t know what charges have been put on them, have not seen their chargesheet and just remain in prison for years without any legal or other assistance.” He ended the letter saying, “But we will still sing in chorus. A caged bird can still sing.”Swamy had applied for bail in November 2020 which was dismissed by the special NIA court on 22 March 2021. On 28 May 2021, the Bombay High Court directed the Maharashtra government to admit Swamy to a private hospital for 15 days, considering his rapidly deteriorating health, preferably the same day of the order. He was admitted to the Holy Family Hospital, Bandra, Mumbai.
Fr Stan was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and other age-related illnesses. He fell multiple times while in prison. He suffered from hearing loss in both ears and had undergone surgeries. On 18 May 2021, in a note submitted to the Bombay High Court,[it was reported that Swamy was gravely ill in prison. The Court ordered the formation of an expert committee to examine Fr Stan.While appearing before the Court over video conferencing on 21 May 2021, Swamy refused to be admitted to either JJ hospital or any other hospital and requested only interim bail so that he could go to his home in Ranchi, citing his rapidly deteriorating health. Fr Stan tested positive for COVID-19 in May 2021. On 4 July 2021, Stan was put on ventilator support at Holy Family Hospital, Mumbai, as his health deteriorated. He died on 5 July 2021 ahead of his bail hearing in Bombay High Court.
Fr Stan always created a welcoming atmosphere-he represented humility and had a way of making his acquaintances feel equally important. People were attracted to him since he was kind and friendly, together being gentle and cheerful. Always warm, compassionate, people have seen Fr Stan’s journey in his walk with God, and so many people were blessed to be on that path with Fr Stan and his friendship that transcended any barrier. Fr Stan had a reputation as a “true pastor”. Smart, active, intelligent, energetic, social, friendly, and a spiritual Catholic priest, Fr Stan has won the hearts of everyone who came in contact with him. Today faithful expect their priest to be a dynamic preacher, impressive celebrant, effective healer, sensitive listener, able administrator, friendly person, dedicated caretaker of the administration, sounding board-Fr Stan had all these qualities and had kept his promises to serve as a good, God-fearing priest.
People compliment him for his loyalty to the Jesuit community, his wonderful gentleness and friendliness and for the wonderful things he has done for the Jesuit congregation and the community. Fr Stan Swamy was truly an inspiration to many people, young and old, in his daily interaction with them. The inspiration one gets from a humble person’s declaration of humanness and frailty is taken from Scripture’s words, ” Man does not live on bread alone but by the words of God”. Fr Stan had a special way that warmed the hearts of everyone who knew him. And the qualities that made him a wonderful person have left us all with beautiful memories. He respected everyone with dignity and pride, and was courteous and kind to all. He never acted proud of his designation as Director of ISI or other higher posts, instead led a very simple designation. In January 2021, Swamy was awarded the Mukundan C. Menon award 2020 for human rights.
Even though Fr Stan has departed, his love is still with us. His life well-lived is a precious gift of hope and strength for someone who has made our world a better, brighter place. It fills us with sweet and bitter memories, with smiles and tears, with friendships formed and good times shared and laughter through the years. Finally, to my beloved priest, my mentor, my friend, and friend of all, my message is , ” Fr Stan , your memory is our keepsake with which we’ll never part. God has you in his keeping, but we’ll always have you in our hearts and in our memories. I pray for your happy repose and may you Rest In Peace”.