ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Memories of the Father of Our Movements, Father Stan Swamy

A researcher and activist remembers the time spent with Father Stan Swamy at Bagaicha, a community training centre that was started by the Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist.

Father Stan Swamy had many dogs at Bagaicha; when he came out of his room, all the dogs would come running to him, play with him, and he would feed them. Between 2016 and 2018, first as a volunteer and then as a coordinator for Sahpathi (a project that was mentored by economists Jean Drèze and Reetika Khera), I visited Bagaicha, Father’s home for years. A Jesuit-run training and social action centre in Ranchi, Bagaicha was managed and supervised by Father. It is as much a training centre and a community place as it is a beautiful and lively place full of plants, birds, animal, and insects. It is also home to a big black statue of Birsa Munda holding a mashaal (flame torch), a memorial for Adivasi martyrs, every wall pasted with posters of slogans and stories from people’s movements, as well as an amphitheatre, and a backyard full of trees and places to sit, where we would spend time together after dinner. Bagaicha also had a small library with books and research booklets that perhaps one would get nowhere else, written by tribal writers, researchers and activists like, Dayamani Barla, Gladson Dungdung and Aunj Lugun.

I don’t have much of a liking for vegetarian food, but I can never forget how delicious and blissful every lunch, dinner, and breakfast was at Bagaicha. At every meal, Father would ask affectionately if we liked the food. Perhaps we enjoyed the food there because of the sense of community it gave us, as we got to sit and eat with activists, writers, researchers and workers. Everyone present there cared for rights and people’s movements, against injustice and exploitation. We would sit surrounding Father, and he would talk to us, helping us understand, with love and patience, what made movements for social justice sustainable. We wouldn’t spare him in the evenings either; we would have him speak of his own experience in grassroots movements research, under the open sky in the amphitheatre. We shared our individual struggles, differential imagination of politics and political aspirations, and stories of victories and vulnerabilities. As a person from a “backward caste,” although I had found my way into university spaces and people’s movements, I had learnt about the struggles of different oppressed communities only in the classroom. But the lessons I have got from Father and others at Bagaicha, and listening to the experiences of activists, has helped me understand ground realities—a perspective that was missing—and enriched my participation in grassroots research and people’s movements.

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Updated On : 20th Jul, 2021

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