By Frazer Mascarenhas, SJ
I was privileged to be with Stan in the last month of his life and I found conversing with him very stimulating. First of all, he was embarrassed to be incurring expenditure in a “private hospital” and cited a previous Fr. General saying that extraordinary expenses on our health are not warranted for a Jesuit (this was in the Covid ICCU, while on 8 litres of oxygen). After I offered to transfer him to Breach Candy Hospital, where another of his co-accused had been admitted, he was more accepting of Holy Family Hospital.
His hearing aid was giving trouble and so we got him a new set of hearing aids from the Audiology Department, since the quality of life for him depended much on his ability to communicate. He complained that the doctor who did the fittings refused to inform him of the cost. When I said that they were a gift from my parishioners, he felt a little better. And he enquired whether it would be possible to gift his body to a medical college if he passed away, as he felt he should be of some use after death. I assured him that we have made arrangements for him to be in our Jesuit residence at Andheri on getting bail and that we could talk about it then. Unfortunately this was not to be. But his sensitivity to Jesuit values was striking.
Stan enjoyed company and was keen on getting news of the world and of his co-accused, especially those in Taloja. He actually sent for me a couple of times and I found it was just to chat, without anything serious to discuss. He was looking forward to being in a Jesuit community, though he was afraid his health would cause the community a problem. And he was interested in continuing to be of service to the tribals in Jharkhand.
Stan recounted to me how he had convinced his colleague at Bagaicha, P.M. Tony, to assist in doing a survey of tribal youth arrested in Jharkhand. That survey proved very powerful evidence in Court, in the case he had filed on their behalf. His legal petition was likely to be successful and Stan was due to appear in Court around the time he himself was arrested. His activism therefore had a solid basis of scholarship. The intellectual dimension was fully developed, as expected of every Jesuit. Unfortunately, this may often remain only in our Jesuit documents but not so for Stan.
I once pointed out to Stan that he had been given ample warning to desist from his justice work, since the first FIR had been filed 2 years before his actual arrest. Didn’t he realize that they were serious about eliminating him? He said he was fully aware but he felt he had to be ready to pay the price – whatever it might be. The release of about 3000 tribal youth was too important a task to give up. I found that very courageous and I’m afraid I would not have taken that option myself.
Prayer was something quite natural to Stan. I would make a short prayer with him just before I left every evening. A couple of times Stan indicated that he would like me to do so as I was preparing to leave. In one of my last conversations with him, when I told him that a particular person had asked me to tell him that he was praying for him, he responded with, “What is prayer, Frazer? It should not be telling God what to do but asking God to make us ready to accept what He wants for us”. Stan seemed to have been getting ready himself.
The Eucharist was also something he desired. I took him Holy Communion several times and on other days, the Sisters had arranged for a priest to bring Holy Communion to patients. On one Saturday I had promised to take him Communion the next day. However I forgot and did not mention Holy Communion during our conversation. But at one stage he said, “Okay Frazer, now you can give me Holy Communion”. I had to admit that I had forgotten to bring it. However I went back to Church and returned to hospital with the viaticum. He was quite grateful for this.
Finally, I was struck by the wide variety of people Stan had worked with, of all religious and cultural backgrounds. He called them all – his comrades. This was not an ideological term but one in which he showed equality in the common struggle for human dignity for all. I wonder if Pope Francis got his ideas of ‘social friendship’ from Stan!
We thank God for a wonderful human being, a good priest and an excellent Jesuit, that Stan was. His passing away was quite plainly an act of God. However it seemed to be meticulously planned by those who incarcerated him, who ill-treated him in jail by refusing him proper treatment even when Covid-like symptoms were visible in mid-May. It seems strange that even in the Government-run J.J. Hospital where he was taken for a check-up after a directive from the High Court, the RT-PCR Test was not done, although he complained of such symptoms. Professionalism seems to disappear in the face of some strange, invisible pressure from above. An 84 year old, with advanced Parkinson’s disease and several other ailments would need to have super-human strength to withstand such willful negligence. The spirit was willing! Alas, the body could not take it anymore. But you have completed your task, Stan! You have run the race. You have pointed the way to live life for others and to the full. It’s our turn now.
Dr. Frazer Mascarenhas, SJ (BOM) has a Doctorate in Sociology from the University of Mumbai. He was the Principal of St. Xavier’s College Mumbai for 12 years. He retired in 2015. He was on a Sub-Committee for Higher Education of the National Knowledge Commission and on the Steering Committee for Higher Education of the Planning Commission for the 12th Plan. Presently he does community-building work as Parish Priest of St. Peter’s Church, Mumbai.