I had taken a group of students from the Department of Interreligious Studies (DIRS), St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai for the annual Jesuit national tribal festival to Ranchi in 2016. As an integral part of the trip we visited Stan Lourdusamy SJ at Bagaicha and were shocked to notice a group of about 30 adivasi youth there with smart phones being trained to shoot videos. When I surprisingly exclaimed, “Stan, you seem to be updating the adivasis in hi-tech stuff,” he promptly replied, “They have been instructed to click videos of the police who come to their villages. Many innocent adivasi youth are imprisoned as the police raid the village and arrest scapegoats claiming that they are Naxalites.” Together with a team of dedicated lawyers Stan has been fighting for about the release of about 3000 adivasi undertrials languishing in jail.
Stan shared how once a news item based on police sources labelling him as a Naxalite appeared on the cover page of one of the local newspapers. When he demanded an apology from the Deputy Police Commissioner of Ranchi, who was quite familiar with the Jesuits and did not agree with the news item, he had to listen to the sheepish reply that an apology would put his post in danger. When quizzed about the apparent futility of his unflinching struggle to safeguard the human and ecological rights of the adivasis, he promptly replied that of the 104 corporations that were attempting to infiltrate the area about 100 were still kept at bay – not a mean feat by any standards.
After the festival an exposure trip was organised to a coal mine on the outskirts of Ranchi. All the windows of the bus were firmly shut about 5 kilometers away to avoid the coal dust. The guide informed the group that those living in the vicinity of the coal mine suffer from a variety of bronchial diseases due to pollution, not to mention the coal miners for whom working in the treacherous mines is like being condemned to a death sentence. On reaching the spot around sunset we were startled to notice the hellish environment in which the coal miners were toiling. The next morning at breakfast one of the tribal Jesuits mentioned that on rising while blowing his nose he noticed fine specks of coal dust.
We had also visited a village earlier at the edge of a huge electrical grid and could not believe our ears when villagers expressed their frustration that while electricity was being provided for urban areas far away there was no electricity in that village. On inquiring which corporations were exploiting the coal miners and the local resources, our shock knew no bounds on being told that Jindal and Tatas were in the forefront. We became painfully aware that among the many projects funded by the Tatas was the amount donated to air condition the much-in-demand Multimedia Room at St. Xavier’s college. The ongoing reflection with the students made us question the lavish use of electricity for ACs and glamourous festivals as it is the poor tribals who are paying for it at the cost of their lives. This has raised doubts about the generous donations of benefactors and our subservient receptivity.
I remember when visiting the Pardhi nomads, who were labeled as a criminal tribe by the British, in the Reay Road slum of Mumbai a student asked me why they are imprisoned for minor crimes. I spontaneously replied, “Isn’t it strange that the small criminals are put in jails, but the big criminals are put in the parliament.”
Although Jharkhand is rich in resources from coal to gold the tribals are reduced to stark poverty by the manipulative exploits of the greedy multinational corporations.
Stan’s relentless struggle for ‘Jal-Jungle-Jamin’ is reflected in the bold FABC statement of its President, Cardinal Bo who says, “When Asian governments choose to evict the indigenous people and offer their lands for corporate gain, they are opting to infect the lungs of this world. This is ecological Covid. Pope Francis has called for protecting the precious lungs like Amazon, Congo and Asian forests. Humanists like Fr. Stan Swamy are trying to save the world from ecocide.”
Will the arrest of Stan and the unfolding solidarity movement help to unmask the real criminals behind the systemic injustice and dispel the widespread virus of fear to voice dissent against the powers that be who are hand in glove with the corporate culprits?
Will the “Stand for Stan” movement help us to understand the interconnected roots of the current crisis so that we can respond courageously, compassionately, and collectively to the cry of Mother Earth and the poor?