The state of affairs in India is characterised by an outright violation of democratic rights of people by legislations like UAPA that curb dissent. UAPA criminalises the fundamental freedom to associate and assemble by allowing the government to simply ban political organisations that question the status quo. It allows the executive to wield excessive power to restrict the democratic rights of the citizens to organise and agitate democratically.
Legislations such as UAPA are in direct contravention of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the constitution of India that are indispensable for the functioning of democracy. A law like UAPA represents the colonial style of functioning in dealing with dissent. The UAPA can be traced back to the colonial times with the laws like Rowlatt Act. In 1908, the criminal law amendment act first used the term, ‘unlawful association’ to criminalise the Indian National Movement. Ironically, post independence govt uses the same terminology and same powers to curb the dissent using legislations like UAPA.
How does UAPA curb dissent?
UAPA criminalises two kinds of activities- “unlawful activities” and ‘terrorist activities’. The 2004 amendment in Section (20) defines unlawful activity as,
‘Any action taken by individual or association(whether by committing an act or by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or otherwise), 1) which is intended or supports any claim to bring about, on any ground whatsoever, the cession of the part of the territory of India from the Union, or which incites any individual or a group of individuals to bring about such cession or secession or; 2) which disclaims, questions, disrupts or is intended to disrupt the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India; or 3) which causes or is intended to cause dissatisfaction against India.
Such is the ambivalence and vastness of the act that it criminalises everything under the sky, it can penalise any view, belief or person that may be considered threatening to those in power. To take the case of the term disaffection, it can be anything from revenge, grudge to rebellion. As the definition of the unlawful activities stand in the act, it can penalise even the ‘unintentional’ or ‘unintended’ disaffection.
Farmers Protest and Use of UAPA
With more than nine formal rounds of talks between the farmers unions and Centre the issue of farmers is unresolved and no where close to any resolution. The nature and magnanimity of the farmers protests around the borders of Delhi and in almost all states of India has alarmed those in power. From the use of Apex Court to divert the issue to the campaigns used by media with the blessings of government, everything seems to have fallen flat on its face.
Farmers marched to Delhi on 26th November demolishing the barricades on their way, farmers have since then been battling relentless cold, fog, water cannons, media propaganda, vilification campaigns and unwavering attitude of the government. Union Govt in SC hearing argued that there is foreign funding of the farmers protest by one ‘Sikhs for Justice’. Sikhs for Justice or SFJ as it is called is a banned organisation that govt believes is adding fuel to the protests. Surprisingly few hours after the govt argument in the SC, private media channels that sing the praises of govt ran click bait news on how the protests have been hijacked. After the ninth round of the meetings, a series of NIA notices to various supporters of the farmers agitation surfaced. The most prominent among them are those of singer and activist Deep Sidhu. His brother Mandeep Sidhu has also been sent a notice. In addition to many people numbering around 30 and expected to increase, many farmer leaders also received the notice. Farmer leader Baldev Singh Sirsa received the notice from NIA demanding him to be present at the NIA headquarters on 17/01/2021. The notices were also sent to some NGO’s supporting the farmers agitation. Surprisingly this is not the first time that people with different views and affiliations are targeted with the UAPA threat or notices.
History of intolerance against Farmers movements.
From Nov2009-May2010 three leaders from Punjab were arrested for organising mass agitations. They were accused of being Communists and Maoists. Now that Baldev Singh Sirsa has been sent a notice, it is important to take a look at how farmers leaders and the leaders of mass agitations have been dealt with in the recent past using these laws.
According to First Information Report number 94 dated 18 Nov, 2009, Surjit Singh Phul, State president of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Krantikari) was arrested on 18 Nov 2009 from inside the premises of lower court at village Phool in Bathinda on the information received through an informer that he
“has deep relations with CPI (M) and is actively participating and supporting armed struggle in Punjab and other states…. He is instigating the youth to join CPI (M)…This organisation is working actively to promote armed struggle in Punjab. It is working to topple government with unconstitutional methods. These crimes amount to 10/13 under UAPA. After receiving information…. the sub inspector rushed to village Phul where he arrested the man with a bag who identified himself to be Surjit Phul”
As per FIR 65, dated 1 May 2010, Dilbagh Singh, leader of Krantikari Pendu Mazdoor Union (KPMU) was arrested on 3rd May 2010 from Zira in Firoizpur district of Punjab. The FIR stated that Dilbagh singh had put up the posters stating, “Let us unite to fight the bloody battle against the imperialist forces to strengthen people’s movement”, and “Oppose Operation green hunt and anti Revolutionary war started by Indian ruling classes”
Third case was Sanjiv Kumar Mintu State president of KPMU FIR number 57, dated 16May 2010. The FIR against Mintu stated that he was member of Maoist organisation banned by govt and that he was promoting the literature against the govt schemes.
In all three cases the farmer leaders or the leaders who represented the poor were picked up illegally and ghost detained for days before presenting to the courts. Phul was even tortured which became subject of discussion in international law with his ‘biscuit Packet analogy’. Phul had said that the torture might not appear on the outside but it was more or less like a packet of biscuits where biscuits are crumbled and the packet remains intact. None of the three cases stood firm in the courts but it was not before the men had spent appreciable time in the jails and undergone tortures for the crimes of dissent. This can give a fair idea about what is upcoming for the people talking about farmers in 2020.
UAPA and legislations like that are meant to constrict the fundamental freedom of citizens of a country. All successive governments have been using the law to curb any dissent that could possibly pose a challenge to the throne. It would be historically and intellectually wrong to blame it on one political party. UAPA is based on the myth of national security making it widely accepted by common man with little or no information about the act or the people convicted using the act. The mere sentiment of national security is flamed by the media creating a wave that UAPA is the ultimate solution to finding and curbing the anti nationals. The data however suggests that UAPA has the highest failure rate and lowest conviction rate. All that UAPA has been able to do is to create criminals where they don’t exist and spoil lives of young men for the power and position of few. A state that relies on repressive laws like UAPA is a weak state that attacks its vulnerable sections and serves the powerful. The struggle against the draconian laws like UAPA is essential component of movement towards fair and just society.