On the night of 6th August, while updating myself with what’s happening around in the country, debates around the passing of the contentious UAPA Bill seemed to be ubiquitous. As soon as I read the word UAPA, comes to my mind the arrest of five human rights activists: Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha, Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj and Varun Gonsalves, who were arrested last year under this Act without any stark evidence by the police who could not explain the reason for arresting these activists. These human rights defenders were termed as “maoists” and “deshdrohis (anti-national)” by the BJP government.
These were the civilians who knew the law and got support from opposition parties and a number of civil rights activists. Returning from flashback to present, I as a woman and Women’s Studies student felt fear; fear of raising my voice and advocating, amplifying the voices which demand their rights from the state. Why so? Why should “an act which actually aims at curtailing terrorism” frighten me?
Returning from flashback to present, I as a woman and Women’s Studies student felt fear; fear of raising my voice and advocating, amplifying the voices which demand their rights from the state.
By approving the UAPA bill, the parliament has allowed the centre to tag individual as a terrorist, without any stark evidences or processes. This takes away an individual’s Right to life with dignity. Is it the state who will decide what terrorism is? Or who a terrorist is? Or what constitutes as terrorism? This particular bill though amended in 2019, was actually in placed in 1967.
Tagging individuals as terrorist is a part of the amendment which is highly undemocratic and unconstitutional. Earlier according to the bill, certain organisations could be labelled as terrorist organisations. “Terrorist”, “Anti-National”, “Maoists”, “Naxals” are examples of the extreme value loaded tags (largely used post 2014) that have actually been used by the right wing groups for criticising individuals who have fearlessly voiced their dissent against the government (BJP government). This is evident from the forceful arrest of student activists and student leaders from JNU, killing of Gauri Lankesh, to arresting human rights activists. All these cases mark towards the unquestioned power and the entitlement to act with impunity allotted to police and the government even when the UAPA Bill was not passed. And now when this bill is passed, I am fearful of not only my future but also the future of this supposed “democratic” nation which I inhabit.
Cases of state sponsored violence, exclusion and oppression against the marginalized communities proliferated post 2014 under the fascist, extremely fundamentalist and right winged government of BJP, witnessed through the killings of Muslim and Dalit folks on the name of “Jai shri Ram” and “Gauraksha“, killings of Kashmiri youths in the name of “protection”; violence against “Bangladeshi Muslims” who migrated to India and excluding them, making them not just homeless but ‘nationless’ through the National Register of Citizens, institutionalised murders of Dalit and tribal students, denying farmers’ rights; displacing Tribal communities and silencing them through violence if they protest or dissent, and many more examples!
In all the above cases, do we see terrorism? Among the unarmed civilians of Kashmiri youths who have been protesting for their rights against militarisation, among the historically oppressed Dalits, tribals and religious minorities whose voices go unheard, or among the poor farmers who are living their lives in debts? Many of these groups and many more of us are vulnerable, not well versed with the law neither are we well known names. These struggles and movements for human rights, for self respect, for livelihood, for a dignified life, is today seen as terrorism by the government. The state has unquestioned power due to which it is acting with entitlements, with impunity, crushing away all the voices of dissent, of criticisms, voices that will bring discomfort to the state. This bill thus, is against an individual’s Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression, of which dissent is an integral part.
According to The World report 2019, “In April, police in Tamil Nadu state arrested a folk singer for singing a song at a protest meeting that criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In August, state authorities detained an activist for sedition, allegedly for describing police abuses against protesters opposing a copper factory at the UN Human Rights Council. When a magistrate refused to place him in police custody, police arrested him in an older case and added sedition to the charges against him. Police have also added charges under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), the key counterterrorism law.” This further is an evidence to how the UAPA Bill will be actually ‘misused’ rather than ‘used’ for the nation.
I come from Women’s Studies, a discipline which was formed after the women’s movement fought for decades and whose foundations lies in human rights. Unfortunately, the struggle for human rights is seen as terrorism today and so with this bill in place, how will I fight for human rights? How will I do justice to my education? My University is named after Savitribai Phule who was the first women teacher of India, who opened the gateways of education for women in India. She believed, “Education alone can banish ignorance and inhuman behaviour and make us human beings.”
The Constitution of India is grounded in democracy. But the current government has been highly undemocratic and unconstitutional in it’s functioning. The architect of our constitution Dr. B.R. Ambedkar passed the message of “Educate, Organise and Agitate” for democracy to survive. But the UAPA Bill will jail me for following the path laid by Ambedkar. How can I live upto the ideas of such revolutionaries when my life is being dominated and ruled by fundamentalists like Amit Shah and Narendra Modi? Since the BJP government has come to power, funding for feminist organizations and Women’s Studies Centres along with Social Sciences have already declined. With this Bill in place, I fear that my discipline itself will be removed from the academic discourse.
Cases of state sponsored violence, exclusion and oppression against the marginalized communities proliferated post 2014 under the fascist, extremely fundamentalist and right winged government of BJP
This fear in a student’s heart is a shame to the BJP government for it is a product of the nature in which the BJP government is ruling over the nation. The Constitution of India drafted by Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, talks of India as a democratic nation; a nation where government is of the people, by the people and for the people. Any government in India has to serve it’s civilians and not rule over them. BJP government by coming into power seems to have forgotten the Indian constitutional values which are a part of every government textbook’s initial page. We are facing a Modi-Shah Monarchy in India where anybody criticising these monarchs and their rule, becomes a “terrorist, anti national who doesn’t want development.”
Will the BJP ever understand that “Development can be seen as a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy… development requires the removal of major sources of unfreedom.“?—Amartya Sen.
Disclaimer: This article was published earlier in Youth Ki Awaaz.
Featured Image Source: India Today