From his daily routine to the experiences of his co-inmates in jail, Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist Father Stan Swamy’s communication through letters and phones calls with his colleagues and friends gives a glimpse into the 200 days spent in jail by the country’s oldest prisoner arrested in a terror case.
Swamy, who turned 84 on Monday, was arrested on October 8, last year, from Ranchi by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for his alleged role in the Elgaar Parishad case.
The NIA filed a chargesheet against him and others the next day. It has opposed his bail plea on both medical grounds and merit.
Lodged in Taloja Central Jail in Navi Mumbai, Swamy writes about his co-inmates and all the help he receives from them to carry out daily chores. He suffers from Parkinson’s disease. Those who have received his letters said that they are written in a “shaky” handwriting, denoting that he has attempted to write himself or else have dictated to others.
In one communication, written on October 30, Swamy spoke of his inability to adapt to prison conditions considering his age. “I have been given a private cell with a commode facility and simple special diet. I have access to some journals and magazines. I spend my time reading, praying and interacting with fellow prisoners.”
In another letter sent in November, Swamy says that his cell is approximately 13 ft by 8 ft and he has two others lodged with him, who help him with his dinner, washing clothes and massaging his knee joints.
“They are from very poor families… Despite all odds, humanity is bubbling in Taloja prison.”
In another communication after he completed 100 days in jail in January, Swamy speaks of life in jail being spent “on a day-to-day basis”
and the plight of other undertrials – a majority of them having come from economically and socially marginalised communities and do not know what charges they are facing.
In the same message, Swamy said that he has not met all 15 others named in the chargesheet with him. “But we will still sing in chorus. A caged bird can still sing,” he wrote.
His lawyer Mihir Desai said that an appeal has been filed before the Bombay High Court against the special court’s order rejecting Swamy’s bail pleas. The special court had said that his right of personal liberty and other grounds like his old age and sickness were outweighed by the “collective interest of the community”.