Is UAPA Losing its Conviction?

Politics Nov 10, 2021

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The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) applies to every Indian citizen —  living in India, outside of India, working in the government sector and persons in ships and aircraft, wherever they may be. This is an anti-terror act brought about in 1967, which gives the Central Government the right to book an individual or an organization as a terrorist under 3 circumstances :

  1. On taking part or committing a terror activity
  2. On advocating or inciting unlawful activities
  3. On funding or providing help of any sort to unlawful activities

The loophole here is that the word “unlawful” is not well-defined and can be used by the central government, sometimes in a wrongful manner.

UAPA was introduced at a time when India was in a state of war with China in the northern part of the country, while in the south, the erstwhile Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Annadurai was demanding a separate state. To fight the domestic crisis the country was facing at the time, UAPA was brought about to restrict citizens’ rights. The purpose of the act was to fight the rising terrorism in the country. In 2019, it was amended to make sure that individuals from banned organizations do not form an organization of another name and re-establish their political agenda. For instance, Lashkar -e-Taliban which was responsible for killing around 166 people in the mass shooting incident in Mumbai and the parliament attacks in 2001 and many similar incidents before that. While mass shooting incidents and bombings across the nation are easily categorized as terror attacks, communal riots, mob lynching, and other instances of violent crimes take time to make the news headlines or even to be categorized as a terror attack. Be it the Delhi Riots of 2020 or the 2002 riots of Gujrat, the number of people killed and the loss in economy faced in the region thereafter can never be accounted for. Between 2016 and 2019, the National Human Rights Commission registered 2,008 cases where minorities/Dalits were harassed, including cases of lynchings. Of these, Uttar Pradesh alone accounted for 869 cases. During every election, at least one firing incident was reported outside the polling booths across the country. The accused of such activities are often released after serving time in jail.  None of them are arrested under UAPA even though they can easily be categorized as unlawful.

According to The Hindu,  UAPA cases are investigated by the state police and National Investigation Agency. 48 special courts have been set up across the country for the speedy trial of terror-related cases. Under UAPA, getting bail is extremely rare and the investigating agency has up to 180 days to file a charge sheet. Because bail is the exception in UAPA cases, unlike the doctrine laid down by the Supreme Court, those who have faced charges under the act have described the process itself as punishment.

In a recent event, Tripura police booked Delhi based Human Rights lawyers Mukesh from People’s Union Of Civil Liberties and Ansar Indori of National Confederation of Human Rights under section 13 of UAPA while they were doing their job as a part of the fact-finding team. In another incident, two medical students from Srinagar were booked under the same act for celebrating Pakistan’s victory against India in the recent T20 world cup match. Before that, Swapna Suresh from Kerala was booked under UAPA by the NIA for smuggling 167 kg of gold from the UAE to India. In  2012, Al-Jazeera reported that UAPA was being used as a political weapon to silence activists and demonise Muslims and Kashmiris as terrorists after 5 Kashmiris were abruptly arrested by the ATS under UAPA. In a recent report, The Wire stated that there had been a  72% increase in the arrests made under UAPA between 2015 and 2019.

The question is how many of these arrests serve the true purpose of UAPA? Or maybe it would be better to ask if the UAPA needs amendments? Does India today need an act like UAPA?

The central government needs to define what it considers as unlawful in the official gazette once and for all. In a democratic country, arresting human rights activists under a law meant to fight terrorism questions how truly democratic we are. Moreover, people behind communal riots, mob lynching and electoral booth violence should be booked under the act along with people responsible for mass shooting incidents and bomb blasts.

This article has been written by Shagufa Bava for The Paradigm.

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