There is little doubt that the RSS led Modi government has ascended this mendacity to new heights of repression.”
By Abdul Bari Masoud
New Delhi: At a public meeting held on Saturday to commemorate the International Human Rights Day, prominent civil society groups and activists and lawyers strongly pitched for the repeal of the three most draconian “lawless” laws namely Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act ( UAPA), sedition law, and AFSPA. Highlighting that under the Modi regime, misuse of anti-terror laws has increased manifold, they said these laws are being used to persecute those raising questions and undermining of social welfare and labour rights.
Addressing the meeting at the Press Club of India, speaker after speaker pointed out that the country has a long history of “gross abuse” of power and deprivation of human rights in the context of the laws relating to sedition, Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.
In order to provide legal sanctity to their repressive measures, successive governments in India have armed themselves with various so called ‘anti-terrorism’ laws, each being more draconian than the previous one, they said and added that the three most draconian laws being misused to quell dissent and suppress peaceful democratic movements.
Citizens For Democracy president advocate N.D.Pancholi said these laws also stand out for the remarkable consensual support they enjoy from various ruling parties, albeit with pretence of differences depending on who is ruling where and who is in opposition where.
“This is best illustrated by the manner in which a grand show was made of repealing POTA by the UPA government in 2004, while incorporating all of its draconian provisions in UAPA, including ‘conspiracy’ and ‘act preparatory to the commission of a terrorist act.’”
While different political parties mouth opposition to various acts of state repression depending on their political convenience, none have sought to mobilize their support base for the abrogation of these laws, for they rely on the same to secure themselves as and when and wherever they are in power, Pancholi said.
Referring to the death of Father Stan Swamy, an under-trial prisoner in the Bhima Koregaon case, speakers said these acts have become tools tried and tested by successive governments to suppress dissent and crush peaceful democratic movements.
M K Venu, editor The Wire, spoke at length about the dangers facing journalists under this regime who dare to speak truth to power. He cited a number of examples in which sedition law was slapped on journalists.
The sedition laws owe its existence to the colonial masters who in order to perpetuate their colonial rule, resorted to the draconian laws of sedition.
Unfortunately when leaders of the freedom movement themselves were in power failed to repeal the ‘Sedition Law’.
Instead the first constitutional amendment to India’s constitution was carried out to introduce the words ‘public purpose’ in the Sedition Law and hence grant respectability to colonial era tools of subjugating the people.
“Independent India had no justifiable reasons to continue the law of sedition. However, our rulers continued with the laws of sedition to stifle dissent. Recent history shows widespread misuse of the draconian laws to suppress legitimate political expressions and protests,” said advocate Sanjay Parikh, vice president PUCL.
It is little surprise then that today we have reached a situation where students, journalists, writers, human rights activists, and members of the minority communities are by default included in the definition of a terrorist.
“This change in understanding of who is a terrorist and what constitutes terrorism is best exemplified the recent statement of the National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval who while addressing the new IPS recruits said that a next front of war needs to be opened against the ‘civil society.’ There is little doubt that the RSS led Modi government has ascended this mendacity to newer heights of repression.”
A new database launched by the online portal, Article 14,recently showed that 96% of the sedition cases filed against 405 Indians for criticising political leaders and governments over the last decade were registered after the Narendra Modi government first came to power in 2014. Holding posters, shouting slogans-even against CAA, social media posts and even personal communication were among the expressions considered to be seditious by the current government. The recent killing of 17 innocent miners in Nagaland is only one of the many horrendous instances in the disturbed areas, whether it is North-East or Kashmir.
The meeting also addressed by Dr Vikas Bajpai, (Janhastakshep), Prof Ish Mishra, Advocate Padam Kumar (Lawyers for Democracy), Advocate Tejinder Singh Ahuja , Anil Dubey, Arun Maji, Manimala, Amit Srivastav, Vertika Mani and others.
Speakers said UAPA, Sedition and AFSPA are the most draconian measures which should have no place in a civilized society.
“As responsible citizens of India we feel that we have the right to criticize the executive, the judiciary, the bureaucracy or the Armed Forces. The shoulders of those in power who govern should be broad enough to accept criticism”.
They said it is high time that these laws should be abolished now as ordinary laws are more than sufficient to deal with the problems confronting the nation. And we should make this demand with a new vigour.
THEREFORE this meeting organized on behalf of PUCL, Delhi, Janhastakshep, Lawyers For Democracy and Citizens For Democracy to commemorate HUMAN RIGHTS DAY resolve and urge the government of the day to forthwith take urgent steps for the REPEAL OF THE THREE BLACK LAWS I.E. ‘UNLAWFUL ACTIVITIES (PREVENTION) ACT (UAPA)’, ‘LAW OF SEDITION UNDER SECTION 124-A IPC ‘AND ‘ARMED FORCES (SPECIAL POWERS) ACT ‘ (AFSPA).
Meanwhile, as a part of a nation-wide campaign titled ‘Reimagining India- Campaign, programs were held in 25 states to mark International Human Rights Day on Friday.
In Delhi, a public meeting was held at Mandi House where nearly 500 people from different walks of life raised issues and concerns of human rights. At the public meeting, groups and networks highlighted issues of attacks on human rights defenders, undermining of institutions of oversight, hunger and malnutrition, continuing attacks on minorities, increasing crimes against dalits.
Representatives of several human rights and women rights groups and networks AIDWA, NFIW, AIDMAM, YWCA, Anhad, SNS and Dr. AV Baliga Trust including Annie Raja, Mariam Dhalwale, Abirami Jotheeswaran, Shabnam Hashmi, Anjali Bhardwaj, Pooja spoke at the meeting.
Leaders of several parties including Congress, TMC and Left parties participated in the meeting. TMC leader Sushmita Deb recounted the violence unleashed by the BJP during the recent elections in Tripura and highlighted how the government had slapped UAPA cases against scores of journalists who were reporting on the ground realities.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said that there can be no progress unless basic rights of citizens are safeguarded including the right to food, right to health, right to employment and pledged support to raise concerns about undermining of human rights.
CPIM leader Suhasini Ali spoke of how right wing forces were intimidating and attacking minorities across the country- from not allowing Muslims to offer Friday prayers in Gurgaon to vandalisation of churches in several states. She urged all opposition parties to come together and defeat the divisive forces in society.
People at the meeting pledged to continue the struggle to safeguard and further human rights across the country. Solidarity was expressed with the call for justice against the shooting and killing of coal miners in Nagaland by security forces.
James Pochury, associated with Naga civil society, spoke of how AFSPA has been misused for several years to curtail people’s freedoms and rights in the north eastern states.
Suroor Mander, lawyer and activist, spoke of the targeting of civil society by the government and the urgent need to ensure that oversight bodies- NHRC, SC /ST commissions function independently to protect human rights and are accountable to people.