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Why Gujarat’s New Anti-Terror Bill Can Also Terrorise The Nation

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By Abhishek Jha:

In what seems to be a measure in the direction of “good governance”, the Gujarat Assembly has yet again passed a controversial anti-terror bill already rejected twice in its previous formats by previous presidents, APJ Abdul Kalam and Pratibha Patil. The reason that the Gujarat Control of Organised Crime bill was sent for amendments by the presidents in 2004 and 2008 is that it had provisions for accepting telephone interceptions and confessions made before the police as evidence in court.The rechristened version (while GUJCOC is still pending approval by the President after it was passed again in 2009) does nothing better.

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Does Gujarat Really Need This?

Crime statistics published by the NCRB in 2012 showed that between 2007 and 2011 incidents of total cognizable crimes (IPC) in Gujarat were neither the highest nor were always increasing. With the rate of total cognizable crimes (IPC) at 216.6, the state in comparison to other states did not supersede the national average of 195.3. There doesn’t, therefore, appear any express necessity to pass a legislation in line with TADA and POTA, both of which have been scrapped because of misuse. If the GUJTOC is to exist in contravention of the Code of Criminal Procedure or the Evidence Act, it needs to establish that the existing laws are terribly failing at curbing crime in the state. This is because neither the statistics nor the opinion of the government or people seem to suggest that Gujarat is under any sudden exigency.

Is The Bill Legitimate?

Confessions And Phone Tapping: There is reason why permissions have to be sought for tapping phones and confessions contested as evidence in the rest of the country. These provisions of the bill are being opposed because they have been misused when part of other acts. For instance, the acceptance of telephone conversation as evidence in court led to misuse under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act. Chaggan Bhujbal, who was deputy chief minister at the time when MCOCA was passed, himself had the following to say about the law in an interview in 2010: “Once MCOCA is used against a person, he is behind bars for a year. He does not get bail; there is no provision for it. And after that, if the court decides there is no case against the person and discharges him, still a year is gone. His family life is totally ruined.”

Little accountability for the state: The GUJTOC also makes offenses under it non-bailable. With confessions acceptable as proof, an accused may languish in jail even when little proof exists against the person. Reeking of the draconian AFSPA it also states that “No suit, prosecution or other legal proceeding shall lie against the State government or any officer or authority of the State government for anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done in pursuance of this Act.” This almost seems like an invitation to indulge in extra-judicial proceedings as long as one does it in good faith.

And Narendra Modi, now honourable Prime Minster of India, when pushing for the law said that his government was presenting only a “xerox copy” of MCOCA when it was rejected by the UPA government. This photocopying, which in addition to aforementioned provisions doubles the probe period allowed before filing charge sheet to 180 days and reduces the amount of investigation needed, needs serious questioning.

Possible Misuses: What Does This Mean For Those Who Are Critical Of The State?

“If there is no bail and period of probe is lengthened, it effectively means that a person can be detained for 180 days merely on the basis of phone records,” Gautam Thaker, general secretary of the  People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Gujarat said, according to a Hindu report. He also voices fears about the act being used against dissenting activists. His concerns are not unfounded as we have been seeing, quite recently, crusades being made against Priya Pillai (a Greenpeace activist) and Teesta Setalvad (a journalist and civil rights activist). The government has only to tie up disagreement with the government’s views and actions to nationalist discourses to invoke “good faith” or vague things like “intended to be done in pursuance of this Act”. This can wreak havoc for anybody who wishes to voice concerns when the state itself is working against its people.

Justice precludes the conviction of the innocent. So, it is about time that rickety investigations were strengthened instead of sidestepping procedure. Acts like GUJTOC make a lot of innocent people confess to crimes that they never committed and their conviction creates the facade that the government is working. On the other hand, that acts like GUJTOC exempt the police from proper methods of investigation means the bigwig remains free. There is little doubt then that GUJTOC, in its present form, needs to be booted and shown the door.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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Find out more about the campaign here.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

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