TIRUCHY/CHENNAI: Scores of vehicles started arriving at Virugallur village in Tiruchy, moments after news of Fr Stan Swamy’s death broke in the media. People from near and far descended in the 84-year-old priest’s native village to express their condolences.
“He was a humble man who dedicated a lifetime to the welfare of tribal people,” said Swamy’s brother TPL Irudayaswamy (89). “I met him last in 2019, when he came down on a two-day trip. It was just a month before his arrest. The entire village remembers the mass he conducted at the Seven Dolor church here during that trip.”
Fr Stan Swamy, born on 26 April 1937, was the fifth son of Lourdusamy and Kitytiyamal. He studied in the St Peters elementary school in the same village and went to St Joseph’s in Tiruchy for intermediate education. He then did a BA in Hisotry from St Joseph’s College.
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He later left to Dindigul to become a priest. From there, he went to Manila in Philippines where he completed his priesthood in 1970 and returned to India in 1971.
“He was such a content child,” recalls Irudayaswamy. “He never asked us for anything. He was happy with a simple life. Till the end, he never held a bank account.” Virugallur hosted a grand welcome for Swamy when he returned from Manila. “It’s a tradition in our village, accorded to those who embrace priesthood. Stan was taken on a procession across the village, and was gifted a welcome plaque.” The plaque still adorns the wall of Swamy’s native home, preserved carefully by his family.
Swamy did not visit his village often. He came once every 3-4 years. “When he came in 2016, he wanted to see all our relatives. He was not sure if he would get to see them again,” says Irudayaswamy. “Thaatha was my role model. I would sit for hours listening to his stories of activism, his college days, and meetings with different people,” recalls his grand nephew Benitto (26). The family did not hear much from his since the arrest, but got news about his life in prison through Joseph Xavier, the current Director of Indian Social Institute.
Benitto says they heard about Swamy’s death from the media. “When we last spoke to Xavier on Monday morning, he told us that thaatha had been put on ventilator. But, within a few hours, we saw reports about his death.” Benitto recalls how it was Arun Ferreira, who was arrested along with Stan, who wrote letters to Xavier on the latter’s behalf. “In most conversations, thaatha asked us all to be hopeful, and said he would find a way out of this entire issue,” says Benitto.
The sipper that was denied
When government denied Swamy’s request to be allowed to use a sipper straw, as he suffered from Parkinson’s, his supporters organised a protest by sending sipper bottles to the prison address in Mumbai. The campaign was stopped only after the government accepted his request.
Today, as the village mourns his death, a sipper bottle found its place among his pictures, plaques, and memorabilia. “Now, we have only one wish -- to see him one last time. We hope there is some way for his mortal remains to be brought back to our village. We have put our request to the Jesuit society. But, due to Covid, they have said it would not be possible,” says Irudayaswamy.
When asked about the charges against his brother, Irudayaswamy says, “Till his death, Stan cared only about one thing, to which he dedicated his life - the welfare of tribal people. Corporate companies wanted him out, and government aided that process. Charges of Maoist connections are fabricated.”
Stalin, Left leaders condole the activist’s death
Chief Minister MK Stalin and leaders of left parties on Monday condoled over the demise of tribal activist Stan Swamy(84), who died on Monday in a Mumbai hospital. In his condolence message, Chief Minister MK Stalin stated, “I was shocked to learn of the demise of Stan Swamy(84), a tribal rights and human rights activist. Deep condolences.”
He further added, “The tragedy that befell him who fought for the grassroots should no longer happen to anyone”. Likewise, CPI state secretary R Mutharasan and CPM state secretary K Balakrishnan also condoled over the demise of the departed activist and they condemned the alleged government’s cruelty which led to his death.