Fr Stan Swamy SJ, the 84-year-old Jesuit, activist and defender of the rights of indigenous people who was incarcerated on 9th October 2020 in Taloja prison, Mumbai, is now ill with the symptoms of Covid-19. Fr Swamy, who has advanced Parkinson’s disease and is hearing impaired, is in an overcrowded prison in which several staff are reported to have the virus. He is one of a group of activists and human rights defenders who have been falsely accused of links with extremist Maoist group. Taloja prison is overcrowded and has no medical staff, except for one Ayurvedic practitioner. Fr Swamy has not been tested or vaccinated despite being 84 years old. Visits to prisoners have been stopped and only three- minute phone calls are allowed once a week.
Joseph Xavier SJ, a friend of his said that in a telephone conversation on Saturday 14th May, Fr Swamy said: “I feel bad, I have a severe headache, fever and cough. I feel very weak.” Fr Joseph Xavier was “very alarmed” by this, saying of Fr Swamy, whom he has known for many years: “He never complains about anything. In the six months that he has been in prison, he has never complained, despite the obvious difficulties. It is not easy, but I manage, he used to say… However, in this last conversation, he said, ‘I have to tell you that I do not feel well. I feel very weak, very fragile.’ What is happening is a matter of grave concern. I call on the State and prison authorities to recognise that they cannot afford to provide medical treatment for the detainees. We will take over and look after them.” Furthermore, Fr. Stan is disturbed by what he is seeing inside prison. The Jesuits and the family members are deeply concerned about his health. While Ayurvedic medicine is available inside prison, it is not good enough to address the precarious health conditions and spread of COVID-19 in Taloja prison. Being an 84-year-old suffering from Parkinson, loss of hearing and now suffering fever, cough and troubles in his stomach, it is necessary that he be provided allopathic medicine and a doctor for diagnosis and treatment. He has to be vaccinated for COVID-19 urgently. He cannot be denied vaccination just because he does not have an Aadhar card. Prison authorities are not able to take care of him. While Fr. Stan has a hearing problem, phone calls are not adequate to communicate with him. Communication through letters have become inconsistent as letters take 1 or 2 months to reach the family and friends. On behalf of the family members, he placed three requests to the state and the prison authorities –
- Present a correct and clear picture of the Taloja prison conditions from the point of view of health conditions and protect the lives of the Bhima Koregaon arrestees. He said the family and friends are prepared to address the medical needs of the prisoners.
2. A proper COVID report of these prisoners must be made and follow up treatment should be done as per requirement.
3. Finally, considering the pandemic situation, facilitate the release of all 15 prisoners immediately on bail.