Jharkhand-based human rights activist and Catholic priest Stan Swamy on Monday refuted the claims made by the Maharashtra Police about his links to banned organisations. The 83-year-old activist speculated that his work as the convener of the Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee and his campaign to increase awareness about their rights among Dalit and Adivasi communities may have led to him being targeted.
Swamy is among the activists whose homes were raided on August 28. The Pune Police then arrested five of them in connection with its investigation into an event in Pune that reportedly triggered violence in Bhima Koregan near Pune on January 1. The police have claimed that the violence was incited by Dalit rights activists, who addressed an “Elgar Parishad” event in Pune on December 31. They have maintained that this event was funded by the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).
In a statement issued on Monday, Swamy denied Maharashtra Additional Director General Param Bir Singh’s statement to reporters regarding a letter purportedly written by Sudha Bharadwaj, one of the activists arrested in the case. “Sudha Bharadwaj never asked me for any funds for the activities, as mentioned in the letter,” Swamy said. “It is nothing but a concoction and absolute falsehood that is being propagated by the Maharashtra police. Sudha Bharadwaj has also repeatedly denied the veracity of the said letter.”
The Bombay High Court on Monday asked the Maharashtra Police why its officers had addressed a press conference on the arrests when the matter is still sub-judice. Singh had read out letters at the press conference which he claimed were part of the correspondence between “underground” and “overground” Maoists.
Swamy said that the Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee was set up in December 2015 to help under-trial prisoners and refuted reports about its links to any banned organisations.
“I have been raising awareness among Adivasi and Dalit people for their rights guaranteed under the Indian Constitution,” Swamy said. “I fear that these activities have angered powerful interests within the government that has led them to foist a case of sedition against me in Jharkhand and link me with banned organisations to discredit me and others who have been raising our voices for the rights of poorest of poor people.”
On August 30, Swamy had accused the government of “silencing the people who are working for the poor, marginalised and the voiceless”. Swamy had demanded that the National Human Rights Commission intervene, and that the government drop all “false cases” and release those arrested.