A special National Investigation Agency court in Mumbai on Thursday rejected the interim bail plea of 83-year-old Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist Stan Swamy, arrested in connection with 2018 Bhima Koregaon violence case, The Indian Express reported. Swamy had filed the interim bail application on medical grounds, citing his age and health problems.

Swamy was arrested on October 8 by the central agency from Ranchi, Jharkhand, and brought to Mumbai the next day. He was sent to judicial custody till October 23.

The NIA has alleged that he is a member of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and was involved in a conspiracy to instigate caste violence in the Bhima Koregaon village near Pune in 2018.

Swamy suffers from Parkinson’s disease. Advocate Sharif Shaikh, appearing for Swamy, told the court that because of his condition, the activist was unable to even sign documents when he was produced before the court by the NIA. The legal team had to take his thumb impression instead, Shaikh added.

The advocate said that Swamy had undergone surgery and hospitalisation right before his arrest and had fallen down in jail. Shaikh made the bail appeal on humanitarian grounds, and as per the recommendations of the high-powered committee appointed on orders of the Supreme Court to decongest jails.

The NIA had opposed Swamy’s bail plea, saying he was trying to take “undue benefit” of the coronavirus pandemic to get out of jail. “The accused Stan Swamy under the garb of the current situation on account of the global pandemic Covid-19 is trying to take an undue benefit of the situation...in seeking bail,” the central agency said in response to the bail plea.

The agency has used the same argument to oppose bail pleas against others accused in the Elgar Parishad case too.

The investigation agency added that Swamy was booked under various serious charges, including the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and that there was adequate evidence to prove the case against him.

Credit: Jesuit Missions UK/Twitter

NIA chargesheet

The NIA did not seek Swamy’s custody after arresting him and instead informed the court that they have filed a chargesheet against him and six other academics and activists arrested in connection with the case. It was filed before a Mumbai special court on October 9.

This is the first chargesheet filed by the NIA, which took over the investigation in January. The Pune Police had earlier filed two chargesheets in connection with the Elgar Parishad case against the activists.

Besides Swamy, the six others named NIA chargesheet are former IIT professor Anand Teltumbde, his brother Milind Teltumbde, activist-journalist Gautam Navlakha, Delhi University associate professor Hany Babu, three members of the cultural group Kabir Kala Manch and Jesuit priest and human rights activist Stan Swamy. Of them, Milind Teltumbde has been named as an absconding accused and the top operative of CPI (Maoist).

The chargesheet claimed Swamy was given the responsibility of the banned organisation since most party members were arrested. “Stan Swamy is having his own identity,” it added. “Stan Swamy is having his own NGO at Jharkhand.”

Swamy’s arrest has been criticised by Opposition leaders, human rights groups and civil society members. Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren and MPs Shashi Tharoor, Supriya Sule, and Kanimozhi have emphasised the need to build a strong movement against the misuse of laws like UAPA and demanded that it be repealed. They also asked the people to speak up against the Narendra Modi government’s attempts to “chip away at the rights of people”.

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  2. Jailed activist Stan Swamy has spent half a century making Adivasi struggles his own
  3. ‘Project to silence dissent’: All India Catholic Union demands activist Stan Swamy’s release

The case

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.

The Pune Police raided several activists in April 2018, followed by two rounds of arrests that targeted 10 activists.

The first chargesheet was filed by the Pune Police in November, 2018, which ran to over 5,000 pages.It had named activists Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, all of whom were arrested in June, 2018. The police had claimed that those arrested had “active links” with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), and accused activists of plotting to kill the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A supplementary chargesheet was filed later in February 2019, against human rights activists Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves and banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) leader Ganapathy. The accused were charged with “waging war against the nation” and spreading the ideology of the CPI (Maoist), besides creating caste conflicts and hatred in the society.

The Centre transferred the case to the NIA in January after the Bharatiya Janata Party government led by Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra was defeated. A coalition government of the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and Congress came to power in the state in November 2019.