The counsel and family of tribal rights activist Stan Swamy requested the Bombay High Court on Thursday to clear his reputation, which was tarnished due to his arrest in the Bhima Koregaon case, Live Law reported. Swamy died in custody on July 5.

The 84-year-old, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease and contracted the coronavirus infection in prison, was arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act on October 8. He was an undertrial at the Taloja Jail in Mumbai for eight months.

“Article 21 of the Constitution, which assures right to dignity, applies to deceased persons,” said advocate Mihir Desai, representing Jamshedpur Jesuit Province, a society of Roman Catholic priests. “Just as the appellant [Swamy] would have had a right to clear his name if he were alive, similarly those closest to him would have a similar right to clear his name.”

Swamy’s lawyer told the High Court that the National Investigation Agency Court had rejected the activist’s substantive bail in October under the assumption that the accusations against Swamy were true.

The lawyer urged the High Court to set the findings aside and said that though no reliable evidence was found in the case, there was stigma attached to Swamy’s name.

In October, the NIA had opposed Swamy’s bail, claiming that he was trying to take “undue benefit” of the pandemic to get out of jail.

Desai said that the special NIA court’s order refusing bail under the UAPA must be viewed under Section 394 (abatement of appeals) of the Criminal Procedure Code.

“[It must be done] in order to afford an opportunity to the next-of-kin of the deceased appellant to clear the odium attached to his name and reputation,” Swamy’s counsel said.

In July, Swamy’s lawyer had requested the court to allow Father Frazer Mascarenhas, the former principal of St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, to participate in the inquiry. Swamy’s body was then handed over to Mascarenhas, who is considered to be the activist’s next-of-kin.

Inquiry into conditions of deaths

In a note filed on Thursday before the Bombay High Court, Desai sought a mandatory judicial inquiry into Swamy’s death. The counsel suggested that the judicial magistrate should also look at the events leading to his death and not just the immediate cause.

Swamy’s counsel had earlier requested for a court-monitored inquiry that adhered to the National Human Rights Commission’s guidelines. According to the guidelines, a judicial magistrate must conduct the inquiry in cases of custodial deaths. An Accidental Death Record was registered after Swamy’s death.

Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh told the Bombay High Court that he had no objection to following the legal procedures. But he added that there was no question of filing a report before the bench as the pending appeals would be considered abated due to Swamy’s death.

The grounds of Swamy’s arrest

The National Investigation Agency had claimed that Swamy had helped the cause of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) through various civil rights organisations with which he worked.

The NIA had claimed that it had sufficient evidence on Swamy’s involvement in instigating caste violence in the Bhima Koregaon village near Pune in 2018.

Fourteen of the people accused in the case remain in prison in Maharashtra, charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for allegedly conspiring to set off caste violence in a village near Pune in 2018.

In his bail plea in March, Swamy had said that he was being targeted by the NIA because of his writings and work related to caste and land struggles of the people.