Jharkhand, in Eastern India known as The Tribal State is home to 32 indigenous tribes – 7.1 million Adivasi whose tribal land is the source of 40% of India’s profitable minerals; gold, silver, copper, graphite, bauxite, uranium, coal.

The combination of rich resources and impoverished Indigenous people is the stock formula for state/corporate theft, violence and racism (ask Indigenous Australians).

Add to this explosive mix President Modi’s fanatical Hindutva supremacists. Under his watch as Chief Minister of Gujarat over 200 Muslims were savagely butchered in 2002. Then add the militant Maoist groups that conduct rural rebellion against state hierarchical violence, exploitation and racism of the caste system under which the poorest tribal folk also suffer.

Then along comes Father Stan Swamy, a Jesuit priest inoculated with the empowerment teachings of Paolo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed wherein “the path to liberation is through raised “conscientização” (critical consciousness) on the part of the oppressed: becoming aware of the situation of oppression and determining how it might be changed without perpetuating an unjust system.”

In the 30 years of devoted service to the oppressed Adivasi, “He moved the high court seeking the release of 3,000 young men and women who have been languishing in prison after being branded as Maoists. He trekked to remote tribal villages to inform them of their rights. He told them how mines, dams and townships were being built without their consent, and of how they had been deprived of land, often with no compensation. He openly sympathised with a 2018 rebellion of tribespeople, asserting their rights over their resources and common land. He regularly wrote articles on how big corporations were taking over tribal land for factories and mines.”

Arrested under anti-terrorist laws 6 months ago on false charges of conspiracy, 84-year old Fr Swamy who is debilitated with poor health and Parkinsons is languishing in a Covid-ridden Delhi prison along with 16 co-accused ‘prominent intellectuals, lawyers, writers, poets, activists, student leaders’ for expressing “their dissent or raised questions about the ruling powers of India”.

“Even in prison, Father Swamy has found ways to keep his thirst for justice alive. “We 16 co-accused have not been able to meet each other as we are lodged in different jails or different ‘circles’ within the same jail …“But we will still sing in chorus. A caged bird can still sing.”

There are calls for Fr Swamy’s immediate release as there are calls for the release of Mohammad al Halabi languishing in an Israeli prison and Julian Assange held in Belmarsh prison by the UK for US interests. What Swamy, al Halabi and Assange have in common is their moral strength, their innocence and imprisonment by right-wing despots; Modi, Netanyahu and Trump/Biden.

Reading about injustice is pointless unless we too drink from the well of justice and act accordingly, “Eat and drink from the provision of Allaah, and do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption.” [Quran 2:60]

(Demand Fr Swamy and his co-accused release; Indian High Commission Canberra hco.canberra@mea.gov.in)