MUMBAI, India – Hindu nationalist have accused a Catholic college of “challenging national unity” for proposing a park on its campus named for human rights activist Jesuit Father Stan Swamy.
Swamy died from COVID-19 on July 5, months after his October 2020 arrest for allegedly supporting Maoist rebels in east India. The Jesuit order and human rights activists strongly objected to the arrest, calling it politically motivated, and denied the priest was supporting insurgents.
St Aloysius College in Mangaluru, in Karnataka state, wanted to name the park after the Jesuit, leading Hindu nationalists to protest.
“It is an insult to the social system to name a park after him,” said. Sharan Pumpwell of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), a rightwing group.
“The move by an old institution like St Aloysius College, which has contributed immensely to the field of education, to name a park after a person like Stan Swamy is akin to it indirectly challenging national unity and such a development is shocking,” he said.
The VHP is associated with the with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist group. The RSS is also associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has ruled India since 2014.
Jesuit Father Melwin Joseph Pinto, the rector of the St. Aloysius Institutions and vice-president of the Mangalore Jesuit Educational Society, postponed the renaming at the suggestion of the local authorities.
“It was meant to be a private inaugural of a small peace park within our external campus called AIMIT (Aloysian Institute of Management and Information Technology). The threats of the right wing are of no consequence for us. We will not cow down for threats. We neither feel intimidated nor allow anyone to dictate terms to us,” he told Crux, adding the college would speak to stakeholder about the issue.
Father Melwyn Pinto, the Director of the St. Aloysius Institute of Management and IT, said Swamy was treated wrongly by the justice system. (Father Melwyn Pinto is no relation to Father Melwin Pinto.)
“Father Stan Swamy was a human rights activist and spent his life for the cause of tribals of Jharkand [a state in eastern India.] He was wrongly framed by the state agencies and his so-called crime has not been proven in the court of law. Hence he remains innocent until proven guilty,” he told Crux.
“Since he is a champion of the forest rights of farmers, we want to name the peace park in his name. Just because some fringe elements have some issues with him, we cannot be dictated by their likes and dislikes,” he added.
“We know we have not done anything unlawful. If they have some issues, they need to approach the court and not order us to remove the name of Father Stan Swamy. We reserve the right to follow the Constitution of India and the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression, especially express our respect and regard for the great champion of human rights, Father Stan Swamy,” Father Melwyn said.
The renaming ceremony has not yet been rescheduled.