ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Father Stan Swamy’s persecution and martyrdom: a case study of India’s democratic decline


Torri Michelguglielmo - Università di Turin, Dipartimento di Lingue e Letterature Straniere e Culture Moderne, Torino, Italy


22 – The present democratic crisis in South Asia: causes, distinctive elements and historical precedents


 On 8 October 2020, India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) – namely the agency which deals with terror related crime – took into custody Jesuit social activist Father Stan Lourduswamy for his alleged links with Maoists and banned organizations. Father Stan Swamy – as was generally called for brief – in spite of being octogenarian and in difficult and declining conditions of health was kept in prisons, his bail pleas on health grounds being rejected. Father Swamy’s conditions of detention were so harsh that that, in May 2021, he told the Bombay High Court that «possibly [he would] die here very shortly if this were to go on». In fact, he died at the beginning of July, while still in custody.

This presentation argues that Father Swamy was imprisoned, accused to be a dangerous terrorist, and left to die in jail, where he was treated in an unjustified harsh way, because he was a social activist, who had spent his life fighting for the rights of the most downtrodden sectors of Indian societies. His social activities, judicial persecution and eventual martyrdom will be examined as a demonstration as evident as any of the way in which a political regime which claims to be democratic makes use of the might of the state to crash dissent. Father Stan Swamy’s persecution and death is therefore seen as a case study highlighting the disastrous democratic decline of the country that glories herself as being not only the largest world democracy but also «the mother of all democracies».