The utterly draconian character of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the manner in which it is used to crush the voices of dissent has once again come to the fore.
The UAPA is a fascist act that provides legal justification for the most bestial attacks on the human, democratic and national rights of our people. It allows the state to detain innocent people for long periods of time without having to prove them guilty.
The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act was first passed in 1967 to enable the Indian state to declare “unlawful” organisations that could be deemed as “promoting secession”. It was amended in 2004, following mass opposition to the POTA which the UPA government that came to power was forced to repeal as part of its election promise. The amended UAPA incorporated into it verbatim the worst features of the POTA, including the definition of “terrorist act” and “terrorist organisaton” as well as the list of organisations that could be classified as such. In 2008, the UAPA was amended following the 26/11 attack in Mumbai. More provisions similar to POTA and TADA regarding maximum period in police custody, incarceration without a chargesheet and restrictions on bail were incorporated into the UAPA. The 2012 amendments to the UAPA further expanded the already arbitrary definition of “terrorist act” to include offences that “threaten the country’s economic security”, such as “counterfeiting currency” and funding of “banned” organisations.
With each amendment, the scope for incarceration by the state authorities, of organisations and persons fighting against state terror and injustice, has been systematically increased. The defence of the accused has been made progressively difficult.
The terms of the UAPA have been deliberately framed in such an arbitrary manner as to allow the state to criminalise every form of dissent against the existing order. According to the Act, “unlawful activity” includes mere intention, which has not even been acted upon, that either “disclaims, questions, disrupts or is intended to disrupt the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India” or causes or is intended to cause “disaffection against India”. The definition of terror encompasses “militancy, insurgency and Naxal extremism” as well as other forms of non-violent political protest.
The period of preventive detention has been extended to 180 days. Police custody for 30 days and denial of bail are some of the other features of this law. It allows police officials to search or arrest anyone on “suspicion” without the need for a warrant, and seize their properties. A person can be arrested for not “disclosing information” to the police!
Under the UAPA, “the court shall presume, unless the contrary is shown, that the accused has committed an offence for which he has been arrested”; in other words, a person shall be presumed to be guilty until he can prove that he is innocent. At the same time, the police need not even inform the families of those arrested, in which case the question of the person trying to prove his or her innocence does not even arise.
Under Section 35 of the Act an organisation can be labeled as a terrorist outfit by a notification in the Official Gazette and the reasons for the same need not be disclosed. Nearly 40 organisations have been listed as banned in the Annexure to the UAPA.
The UAPA is an outright attack on the right to conscience of our people. It criminalises ideology and association. Not only membership or association with any organization declared “banned” under the Act, but even possession of literature or advocating ideology of any such organization (in the absence of any violent action) is construed an offence.
Using this logic, leaders and activists of organisations fighting for the rights of the tribals, poor peasants, victims of state organized communal violence have been charged under the Act on the basis of “association” with members of banned organisations! They have been arrested, jailed indefinitely and denied bail.
The Act authorises the creation of special courts, with wide discretion to hold in-camera proceedings (closed-door hearings) and use secret witnesses.
The struggle of the people of Kashmir, the people of the North east for their national rights, the struggles of peasantry and tribal peoples against attacks on their livelihood and against land acquisition by the big corporates with the help of the state authorities are deemed to be a threat to the territorial integrity of India. Anyone expressing support for or defending such struggles are liable to be arrested under the Act.
The unrestricted power of the police to arrest any person under UAPA on mere suspicion has led to countless arrests without any basis.
A notorious example of this was the “Hubli Terror Conspiracy” case of 2008 when 17 Muslim youth were accused of being part of a hit squad of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), a banned organisation, and arrested under various sections of the IPC and the UAPA, for allegedly planning a series of terror strikes across Karnataka. The youths were charged with having “jehadi” literature, which, in fact, was nothing more than copies of the Koran. After seven years, a trial court in Hubli acquitted all 17 accused.
A document first released in 2012 by the Jamia Teachers’ Association, chronicled the cases of 16 accused who were all acquitted subsequently. However, the process itself, first of illegal detention and torture, then of incarceration and trial, exacted a heavy toll. Businesses were destroyed; family members suffered humiliation, trauma and even mental illnesses; children had to abandon studies while parents died heartbroken. Some of the accused were incarcerated in prison for 14 traumatic years!
There are countless such examples of persons accused of one or more crimes under UAPA, but where the police have been unable to prove these charges despite years of “investigation”. The accused have finally been charged of a crime totally unrelated to the original charges or have been acquitted for lack of evidence.
From all this it is clear that the UAPA is a thoroughly fascist piece of legislation, aimed at crushing the voice of dissent and harassing and torturing definite sections of our society. Despite all the disclaimers by the government, it has been and continues to be used to target people of the Muslim community, Bangladeshi migrants, revolutionary communists, all those opposed to the agenda of the ruling big monopoly capitalist class, all those who raise their voice in defence of the rights of the people. Its aim is to create an atmosphere of terror amongst the people, so that people do not dare to even exercise their right to conscience, to express their views or beliefs, for fear that they could be locked up as potential terrorists.
The UAPA has been used by all law enforcement agencies throughout the country as the foremost “anti-terror” law. In addition, many states have their own “anti-terror” laws – such as the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, 1999; Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005; Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978; and Andhra Pradesh Public Security Act, 1992. These laws are as much and in some cases even more, draconian and are used by the law enforcement agencies of the respective states in addition to the UAPA.
The Indian state justifies draconian laws such as the UAPA saying that such laws are necessary to deal with the problem of terrorism. But the experience of our people with the UAPA and numerous other draconian laws clearly shows that they have not reduced the incidents of terrorist attacks. Instead, they have been used to terrorise and incarcerate various sections of the working class and people fighting for their rights.
It is well-known that world over, the imperialist and bourgeois states regularly use the tool of terrorism to disorient and crush the opposition of the working class and toiling masses. The Indian state is no exception. A close study of terrorist incidents in different regions of our country show how the various agencies of the state, the bureaucracy, the intelligence and the armed forces as well as various imperialist agencies are closely linked to the many heinous acts of terror that have been organised against our people.
Terrorism and state terrorism in the name of “fighting against terrorism”, is a preferred weapon in the hands of the monopoly capitalist ruling class and the imperialists. It enables the ruling class to intensify its exploitation of the working masses and crush any opposition to its rule, to consolidate its hegemony within the country and its geo-political interests abroad.
Therefore, to expect that strengthening the apparatus of state terror through laws such as the UAPA will actually help to get rid of the problem of terrorism is like expecting the hangman to tighten the noose around his own neck.
Terrorism can be ended only when the working class and people take political power in their own hands and use that power to severely crush all those who commit such heinous terrorist crimes against the people. With political power in their hands, the working class and people will usher in a new system in which democratic rights and liberties, including the right to conscience, will become a reality for the masses of working people.