Petition for Fr Stanislaus Lourdusamy

Fr Stanislaus Lourdusamy

Fr George Pattery SJ, Provincial of South Asia, has organised a petition calling for false charges against Fr Stanislaus to be dropped.

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A Jesuit priest accused of sedition has appealed to Indian people to fight a worrying trend that undermines the nation's fundamental principles of socialism, secularism and democracy.

Human rights activist Fr Stanislaus Lourdusamy, 82, was charged in a sedition case along with other rights activists last August in what many say was a move to threaten and silence those speaking against the policies of the ruling pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

"India has vowed to be a socialist, secular, democratic republic. Sadly, all these values are steadily being eroded in the present political developments," the elderly priest said in an open letter titled "An appeal to the conscience of the nation" on 26 January.

In August, police raided the home of the priest and eight other human rights activists, linking them with a violent January 2018 clash between socially poor Dalits and upper-caste Hindus in Bhima-Koregaon village in Maharashtra state. Charges including sedition were filed against them under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which aims to check so-called anti-national activities.

The priest appealed to Maharashtra's High Court in Mumbai to quash the case on grounds that he was only a suspect until investigations were completed, but the court on 17 December rejected his application.

The priest, popularly known as Stan Swamy, has not been arrested yet.

In a letter he wrote that some 20 intellectuals, professionals and activists working for the fundamental rights of the poor and marginalized are being labeled as urban Maoists and are being "harassed to no end either as accused or suspects."

"Some are already in prison, others face arrest any time," he said.

He criticized the "shoddy" police investigation and negative role of the judiciary, saying that the court not only rejected his application but also authorized police to continue their investigation without any time frame. It is "really an open-ended offer to the police," the letter said.

"Several of the accused have refuted the charges against them, but the court seems to go by the police's version with scant regard to what petitioners are saying," he said.

Fr Lourdusamy appealed to "all democratic-minded" people who are "genuinely concerned about the steadily deteriorating human rights situation in our country and to raise their voice against it."

His colleagues told that he lives and works in Jharkhand state and has not visited Maharashtra for years, so he could not have taken any role in the violence.

Police claim that those who engineered and supported the violence had also plotted to kill Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The priest has worked for an organization called Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee. He has also sought to create awareness among tribal and Dalit people of their rights over their land and underground minerals. He believes his help for the poor has angered powerful people with vested interests.

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This article first appeared on Independent Catholic News