The Cost of Discipleship – India.
The recent death of Fr. Stan Lourduswamy, S.J (26 April 1937 – 5 July 2021), more popularly known as ‘Fr Stan’, defended the rights of Tribal Peoples in India for many decades. On 8th October 2008 he was arrested and imprisoned even though he was severely debilitated due to age and Parkinson’s disease. While in prison his condition continued to deteriorate. He died of Covid 19 complications 5th of July 2021.
Fr. Stanislaus Lourduswamy SJ, the Jesuit priest from Tamil Nadu, was a martyr for social justice. He spent most of his life time working for the rights of the Tribal people. It is his zealous work for them for over three decades. It was his achievements, especially the implementation of PESA (Panchayat Extension to the Scheduled Area, 1996) and the Forest Rights Act, 2006, of the Tribals, that resulted in Fr. Stan’s arrest and imprisonment. He was falsely accused of anti-national activities. He was arrested nearly nine months ago on 4th October, 2020, from the Jesuit house in Bagaicha on the outskirts of Ranchi, Jharkhand.
Fr. Stan’s death was mourned by many across the globe. Now, there are two questions that surface in everyone’s mind.
First, why did Fr. Stan have to die as a prisoner accused under various sections of the UAPA (Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act)? What exactly constituted his anti-national activities?
Second, why was his bail application rejected multiple times during the nine months of confinement in spite of his critical ailment?
Perhaps, the answers to these questions are not clear to many people. Obviously, his work for the marginalized was a thorn in the flesh of the government because he stood against those who crushed human rights and expressed a different opinion to the authorities. Further, his voice in support of the exploited Tribals exposed the corporates and put pressure on them. That is why Fr. Stan was put behind bars, labelling him as anti-national.
He attained martyrdom as a prisoner. Although his voice has been silenced, for the countless number of Tribals, Dalits, poor and marginalized people, his voice continues to be heard. In fact, Fr. Stan’s voice has found a new dynamism through the many people who continue to take up the cause for which Fr. Stan gave up his life.
In Fr. Stan, India lost one of its leading and determined human rights activists. However, his death has given birth to many more. When he breathed his last at Holy Family Hospital, Mumbai, his life was shared with others. Interestingly, at that crucial moment, his bail application was being heard by the Bombay High Court. Previously, his application was rejected multiple times after Fr. Stan was put in Taloja prison. It is significant to note that he was the oldest person to have been accused of terrorism by NIA (National Investigation Agency) and was in prison under the UAPA in which the hearing is not time-bound and the person can be confined for long time, without any obvious reason. This would indicate that the authorities are not duty-bound to present the evidence of the crime with in a time limit.
Stan knew that he was about which he expressed just before his arrest in October, 2020: ‘I am not a silent spectator but ready to pay the price whatever it might be’. He valiantly paid the ultimate price.
It is a caricature of justice and truth to accused Fr. Stan of a crime he never committed. The upsetting reality is that the investigating agency and the courts had not taken into account his age and illness. Based on international laws pertinent for such prisoners this surely should have been a consideration. It is obvious that Fr. Stan would not have succumbed to death so fast had he given timely bail and treatment. Thus, many strongly feel that the State, which has responsibility to protect its citizens, is itself responsible for his untimely death. The courts also were indifferent to the case of Fr. Stan.
The shocking news of Fr. Stan’s death stimulated enragement across the globe, among the human rights activists, political leaders, civil society, and common people cutting across religious beliefs and ideological positions. It was moving to see how the residents of Mumbai gathered across the road from the church as his requiem Mass was in progress. They wanted to express their solidarity and register their protest at the circumstances of his untimely death. Similar protests continue in various towns in India and elsewhere. The spontaneous expression of revulsion at the way Fr. Stan was treated has given birth to a new generation who will work towards a more just world.
It was not any ideology but his Christian faith and the Jesuit formation that motived Fr. Stan to pursue in the path of justice. This is evident from his public involvements where he used to quote from the Bible and from the Jesuit sources to highlight the significance of “faith that does justice.” The anawim of the Lord was always Fr. Stan’s priority. For him, the Tribals were anawim who were deprived of wealth and exploited by the rich. Fr. Stan’s Christian faith, nourished by the Jesuit formation, led him to stand with these vulnerable peoples. This is the cost asked of Jesus’ disciples when they work for the Kingdom of God. Fr. Stan was and has become an inspiration to the Jesuits, their collaborators and others striving for a better world without “counting the cost.” May God grant Fr. Stan an eternal reward for his tireless struggle for justice.
His martyrdom at the altar of injustice is not only a sacrifice but an enduring witness that persons with deep and insightful vision and faith can contribute to the project of socio-political change in order to pave the way for God’s Kingdom. Those who risk their lives for the Kingdom are of inestimable value not only to Christians but to humanity. Such remarkable individuals give us the rays of hope and faith for a more just future.
Postscript: From Fr. Vernon D’Cunha SJ. General’s Assistant for India.
From his early days as a young Jesuit priest Stan was a Jesuit committed to the cause of the poor and also deeply rooted in his faith. This faith was constant and matured throughout the course of his life and his work. The eucharist was at its heart. This could be seen from the days he spent at Holy Family Hospital, Mumbai, during the last month of his life. He would look forward to receiving Holy Communion every day. On days when the Fr. Frazer Mascarenhas, the only Jesuit authorized to visit Stan by the Court, would forget to bring it, he would gently ask for it. He certainly was a Christ- centred Jesuit and his love for the poor and marginalized stemmed from and was rooted in this love of Christ.