In a video released two days before his arrest on Thursday, human rights activist and Jesuit priest Stan Swamy said he was being forced by the National Investigation Agency to travel to Mumbai for interrogation in the Bhima Koregaon case. The 83-year-old said he refused to comply with the agency due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which made it unsafe for a person his age to travel.
On Thursday, he was arrested without the officials presenting a warrant, according to his colleague present on the spot. The NIA took the 83-year-old Jharkhand-based activist into custody from the Bagaicha campus of Ranchi Jesuits, where he currently lives. Swamy, who has been questioned in the Bhima Koregaon case before, said the recent interrogation focussed on his alleged connections with “extremist leftist forces”.
In the video posted by Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha, Swamy said he was interrogated by the central agency for 15 hours during a span of five days – July 27 to July 30 and then on August 6. The investigating officials presented several extracts of information allegedly taken from his computer implicating his connection to “maoist forces”.
“One such extract showed maoists were communicating with each other, and in some places they were also mentioning my name,” Swamy said. “NIA asked me where I met them.”
Swamy said he declined to answer the question because of the dubious nature of the information presented before him. “I told them all these are fabrications stealthily put into my computer and I disowned them,” he added.
The activist said he “denied and disowned every single extract presented in front of him” except for one, which was related to a call he and activist Suddha Bhardwaj – who is currently in prison in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case – had issued to all human rights organisations across the country regarding Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee. Bhardwaj and Swami are co-conveners of the organisation.
Swamy said the NIA investigators were now forcing him to go to Mumbai for further investigation. “I am not in a position to undertake the long journey given my age (83) and the nature of the epidemic ravaging the country,” he added. “Besides, the Jharkhand government has given a directive that during the lockdown period elderly persons above the age of 65 may not appear in public.
He said that he was willing to compromise with the inquiry if the investigating agency wanted to interrogate him further, but through videoconference.
The activist added that he was being falsely implicated by central agencies because of his work in Jharkhand and his anti-government stance over multiple development projects undertaken in the state. Swamy has spent many decades fighting for the rights of Adivasis in the state and has also worked with Adivasi undertrials who are falsely accused of being Maoists.
“I am being investigated in connection with Bhima Koregaon, a place that I have never been to,” Swamy said. “I was implicated there, I was raided twice. First by the Pune Police and then the NIA.” Swami was booked as a “suspected-accused” in the Bhima-Koregaon case. His Ranchi home has been raided twice – once on August 28, 2018, and June 12, 2019 in that connection.
Violence broke out between Dalits and Marathas in the village of Bhima Koregaon near Pune on January 1, 2018. This came a day after an event in Pune called the Elgar Parishad was organised to commemorate the Battle of Bhima Koregaon in 1818, in which the Dalit Mahar soldiers fighting for the British Army defeated the Brahmin Peshwa rulers of the Maratha empire. One person died in violence during a bandh called by Dalit outfits on January 2.