Stan Swamy’s Arrest: The need for a prophetic Church

Stanislaus Alla, SJ

 Stanislaus Alla, SJ / Mission / 25 November 2020

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Stan Swamy (Stanislaus Lourduswamy) is an 83-year-old Indian Jesuit who has spent his life working for the integral development of the Adivasis[1] in various parts of north India. A native of Tamil Nadu, he opted to serve the northern missions and joined the Jamshedpur Jesuit province. For nearly two decades he has been at Ranchi, one of the epicenters of the life and the world of Adivasis, Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Belgian Jesuit missionaries who came to work in this area started giving legal advice and assistance to the Adivasis around 1880. They began to win land-related cases against the landlords in the local courts (this area was under direct British rule, like large parts of India), and thousands of Adivasis began to embrace Catholicism. Though less well known, the flourishing of this mission is comparable to that of St. Francis Xavier’s. Constant Livens (1856-1893), called the apostle of Chota Nagpur, worked in this area only for seven years before he succumbed to tuberculosis. The cause for his beatification has been opened.

In what is known today as the field of “safeguarding land rights,” Jesuit missionaries played an important role in the enactment of the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act (1908) and other similar measures across the country.  In brief, according to these “British” laws, Adivasis retain land ownership rights, and non-Adivasis are prohibited from owning or buying the land from them in the “scheduled areas” where the Adivasis are in a majority. These property laws have largely helped them to retain the land, and, though revised and diluted, these laws are still in force today. In this current age of privatization and multinational companies, both the federal government and corporate firms seek to change the property laws so that under the guise of development, the land of the Adivasis, rich in minerals and other natural resources, can be taken over.

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