UAPA – a tool to crush all opposition to the present system of exploitation
The brutal and prolonged incarceration of political activists under the UAPA and the use of the NIA to repeatedly deny bail were some of the issues that dominated the discussion in a meeting on the UAPA, organized by Lok Raj Sangathan on July 25. The proceedings were conducted online. The meeting was attended by a large number of youth and students, women, workers, kisans, political activists and human rights activists.
The meeting began with a power point presentation by Lok Raj Sangathan. The presentation looked into the history of preventive detention laws in our country, starting with the Preventive Detention Act (1950), the original UAPA enacted in 1967, various other draconian laws such as the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Prevention Act, 1987 (TADA) and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) which was enacted in 2002. It pointed out that these laws were widely used to arrest and torture youth and political activists opposed to the government.
The presentation showed that UAPA has been amended over the years to increase its scope and severity. It was amended in 2004, 2008, 2009 and 2012, but each time the harshest provisions previously existing were retained and more severe provisions were included. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) was set up in 2008, under the control of the Central Government, to investigate the cases booked under UAPA. The NIA is empowered to conduct raids anywhere without the relevant state government’s prior permission. In 2019 the UAPA was further amended to designate not merely organisations, but even individuals, as terrorist. The pre-charge sheet custody period has been extended in successive amendments, from 15 days to 30 days, to 90 days to 180 days. Police can keep on extending the detention period using supplementary charge-sheets. Any person can be arbitrarily designated as “terrorist”. UAPA has been used extensively against Muslim and Sikh youth, against adivasis fighting their displacement and dispossession, anti-CAA protestors, youth in Kashmir and Northeast and people fighting for human and democratic rights. The burden is on the person accused to prove his/her innocence.
The presentation give statistics to show that the conviction rate under the UAPA has been extremely low, just about 2.2%. Thus thousands of people have been punished for no crime committed, and their lives have been criminally devastated.
S. Raghavan, President, Lok Raj Sangathan, initiated the discussion. He raised several important points. He pointed out that the main purpose of the UAPA, as of all other such draconian laws preceding it, is to crush all opposition to the exploitation and oppression of vast majority of the people in the existing system. They are meant to threaten all those fighting for the rights of the oppressed into submission before the might of the state.
He brought out the fact that the Constitution and the courts have always upheld the need for preventive detention laws, even though, from time to time, some courts have called for “caution” in the exercise of such laws. The continuation of laws such as the UAPA, despite the massive popular opposition, clearly brings out the utter marginalisation of people in decision-making and in the entire political process.
There are no mechanisms for people to challenge the arbitrary use of such laws. People have no mechanism to initiate legislation to protect their rights or to revoke laws which violate their rights. The political executive is not accountable to the legislature and the elected legislature is not accountable to the people. Once people have cast their vote, they have no means to hold their elected representatives to account or recall them. He concluded that the only way to put an end to such laws is to strengthen the movement for a new system in which human rights are inviolable and people are sovereign.
Several well-known lawyers and activists, who have been consistently opposing the UAPA and fighting for the rights of people, addressed the meeting. These were Shri Prashant Bhushan, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court; Shri MG Devasahayam, IAS; Dr. SQR Ilyas, National President, Welfare Party of India; Shri Rajvinder Singh Bains, Senior Advocate, Punjab and Haryana High Court; and Shri Chandru Chawla, Political Commentator.
The speakers concurred with the conclusion that the main purpose of draconian laws such as the UAPA is to crush all forms of dissent. They recounted the recent death in custody of Father Stan Swamy, jailed under UAPA for raising his voice in defence of the rights of the tribals and dispossessed, and repeatedly denied bail despite his age and deteriorating health, to show how the UAPA brutally violates basic human rights.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan gave examples to show how all kinds of evidence concocted by the police have been accepted by the courts to deny bail and prolong the arrest and torture of persons.
Shri MG Devasahayam elaborated on the electoral system existing in our country, which enables the worst criminals to remain in power, with the people being utterly powerless to remove them.
Dr. SQR Ilyas declared that the authorities must be held responsible for the plight of thousands of Muslim youth, who have been branded “terrorist” merely on account of their religious belief and then declared innocent several years later. While ordinary people are branded “threat to national security”, the government has never clarified to the people the national security lapses that caused the death of our soldiers in Pulwama, he said, calling for greater accountability of the authorities. He concluded with an Urdu couplet which says that “when the daroga, the judge and the hangman are one and the same – where is the hope of justice?”
Advocate Rajvinder Singh Bains called for a mass movement like the ongoing kisan agitation, demanding repeal of the UAPA and other such draconian laws.
Shri Chandru Chawla raised the demand that those responsible for the arrest and torture of innocent people should be held accountable and punished. He sought changes in the Constitution to declare violation of human rights as a crime.
Several participants intervened to give their views. They were unanimous in their condemnation of the UAPA and other such draconian laws, which are meant to crush the struggle of people against the violation of their rights. They called for building a mass movement demanding people’s control over all institutions of the state. Several youth spoke of the fact that many of the institutions and laws that the British colonialists used to subjugate the Indian people continue even today, 73 years after we have been declared independent. Our present day rulers, the biggest monopoly capitalist houses, Tata, Ambani, Birla and others, view our people as merely objects to be exploited to the bone, for ensuring their maximum profits. That is why they need laws like this to silence all those who stand up against state terrorism, exploitation and injustice. This was a common view expressed by many of the participants.
The meeting concluded with a rousing call by Lok Raj Sangathan to strengthen the movement demanding repeal of the UAPA and all such draconian laws. We need to mobilise people for an alternative vision of society, in which human rights will be guaranteed and inviolable and in which sovereignty – the supreme decision making power – will be vested in the people. This was the clear message that emerged from the meeting.