Fr. Stan: Doyen of social justice, action

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By Robancy A Helen

An 84-year old Jesuit priest, a social activist, a human rights defender and a guardian of Dalit, Tribal and other backward communities, died on June 5 after being in jail for nine months.

He was arrested by National Investigation Agency on October 8, 2020, under the draconian law— Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Born on 26 April 1937, Fr. Stan Lourduswami, or better known as Stan Swamy, in Virahalur, Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu. He joined the Society of Jesus on May 30, 1957. 

It is a great loss for India, especially for the Dalits, Tribals and the marginalized. Fr. Swamy was a committed social activist from the beginning. He was the cause of starting many NGOs in Tamil Nadu especially in the old South Arcot district which included Villupuram and Cuddalore, said Dr. PMD Arockiasamy, a social activist who was trained by the Jesuit.

Arockiasamy is known for his NGO name ‘People’s Multipurpose Development Society’ that was established on November 22, 1975.

PMD works in 150-villages in Kanai and Chinnasalem Blocks, rendering development to the rural marginalized communities in Villupuram District in Tamil Nadu for 46 years.

Arockiasamy remembers the noble work of Fr. Swamy.  

He recalls those moments how he got to know Fr. Swamy.  Some eleven like-minded graduates from the rural Dalit communities joined together in 1966-67 to fight for discrimination in the Church in the name of caste.

“In this context, Fr Claude introduced us to Fr. Swamy.  He was then the director of the Indian Social Institute, Bangalore. Under their guidance, my companions and I undertook some special training. Those have become the genesis of our social work in Tamil Nadu,” said Arockiasamy.

Fr. Swamy helped the group to mobilize the rural poor washer-man, cobbler and tribal communities for their socio-economic development system and to organize the bonded labourers, he said.

“The training of Fr Swamy motivated us to get the basic needs of the people from the government like getting housing title-deed, drinking water, reasonable wage, burial grounds for Dalits,” said Arockiasamy.

Fr. Swamy educated the group on human rights, child and Dalit Rights during the years 1978-79.

“His training helped us to involve ourselves in the emancipation of the Dalits,” said  Arockiasamy, founder of PMD.

Fr. Swamy was the reason for many NGOs to commit themselves to the service of society.

He is a saint of liberation and dignity. He is a true witness of Christ who had the strong will and determination to work for fundamental rights, said Arockiasamy. 

He is a legend of social justice. We shed tears and express our heartfelt condolences and pay respectful homage to our great warrior, bemoaned Arockiasamy. 

He was the cause of starting many NGOs in Tamil Nadu especially in the old South Arcot district which included Villupuram and Cuddalore, said Fr. Devasagaya Raj M Zackarias, the former national secretary for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India-Office for Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes.

He has conducted many training programs which in those days mainly included conscientising with social analysis. He conducted one-week training for the NGOs in Nangathur in Villupuram, Tamil Nadu.

“When I was studying in high school I attended his social analysis training at PMD Mangalapuram, Villupuram district. After becoming a priest, I went along with late Fr. Antony Sagayam and met him in Bangalore,” recalled Fr Zackarias.

“After working with the Dalits for so many years, Fr Swamy worked in Karnataka and then moved to north India to work with the Tribals. He was working with the people with perseverance and gave his life for the people. May his life inspire us,” adds the priest.

Today, the whole world looks at Fr. Swamy as the voice of the voiceless, pioneer of social justice who stood with the poor and died for protecting the Tribal and Dalit Rights, he added.

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