Portrait of a priest as an Adivasi

Stan Swamy left Tamil Nadu early in life not to preach, but in search of an enduring identity, which he found among the indigenous people he worked with in Jharkhand for close to four decades.

“For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.” Stanislaus Lourduswamy aka Father Stan Swamy loved to quote this immortal line from Khalil Gibran’s “On Death”. He has made liberal use of it in his yet-to-be-published memoir, “Why Truth has become so bitter; Dissent so intolerable; Justice so out of reach?”. In the 57-page memoir, which he calls “an autobiographical fragment, memory and reflection”, Stan Swamy writes: “‘…the river and the sea are one’ means the fresh water of the river when it flows into the sea becomes salty water, but water remains water. The form may change but the substance is the same.”

Elucidating this metaphysical indulgence, he goes on: “There is a strong belief among the indigenous Adivasi societies that when someone dies he/she comes back in spirit to the near and dear ones…. This is the way I wish to be remembered by near and dear colleagues and comrades as well as those who I have tried my best to accompany in their struggle for truth, justice and humanity. But life is still there to live. May we all live our lives to the fullest!” This lucid perception on life and death reflected the very disposition and predilection of the 84-year-old Jesuit priest, who preferred to be called a “trained sociologist”. This is how he identified himself during the interrogation by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). He had been in search of an enduring identity; he found it among the indigenous people he worked with for close to four decades. It was his dream to ensure that the people close to his heart lived in harmony with ‘Mother Nature’ protected from state-aided corporate and mining mafias.

Fruits for the birds

Father Stan Swamy, like a tribal person, loved nature. He said he had learnt a lot from the tribal people about “Mother Nature”. He recalled an incident that gave him an insight into the Adivasi way of life. Once when he was staying at the residence of a tribal student, the boy’s father asked him to pluck mangoes from only certain branches of the tree. The boy did as he was told. Stan Swamy noticed that one branch laden with ripened mangoes was not touched. When he asked the father why he had not asked his son to pluck any fruit from that branch, the father said: “Those are fruits for the birds of the air. Nature has given freely, and so we share freely.”

Stan Swamy was aware that his struggle to ensure the tribal peoples’ rights to land and forest would be challenging. “Can flowers blossom in volcano?” he asked. But he pursued his dream with determination. He once said that “Mother Earth” had taken him into her bosom, “guiding, strengthening, and standing by him in a never-fading solidarity”. He was reluctant to leave Ranchi and its people who had endeared themselves to him, and rarely visited his family at Viragalur village in Tiruchi district in Tamil Nadu.





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