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? Well, this act frightens me because:
By approving the UAPA Bill, the parliament has allowed the centre to tag individuals as TERRORIST; without any stark evidence or process. This takes away an individual’s right to life with dignity. It is the state which will decide—What is terrorism?, Who is a terrorist?, What constitutes as terrorism? This particular bill though amended in 2019, was actually in place since 1967. However, tagging individuals as terrorist is a part of the amendment, which is highly undemocratic and unconstitutional.
Earlier, according to the bill, certain organizations could be labelled as terrorist organizations. “Terrorist, Anti-national, Maoists, Naxals”, are examples of the extreme value-tags (largely used post-2014) that have actually been used by the right-wing groups for critics; individuals who have fearlessly voiced their dissent against the 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 point 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 to be “Democratic” nation 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—as witnessed through the killings of Muslim and Dalit folks on the name of “Jay 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; institutionalized 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, among whom do we see terrorism? Among the unarmed civilians of Kashmiri Youths who have been protesting for their rights against Militarisation?; or among the historically oppressed Dalits, tribals and religious minorities whose voices go unheard?; or is it 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 entitlement, with impunity, crushing away all the voices of dissent, of criticisms, of voices that will bring discomfort to the extreme comfort of 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 counter-terrorism law.” This further is evidence of 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, which was fought for decades, has its foundations in human rights. Unfortunately, the struggle for human rights is seen as terrorism today, and 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—the first woman 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”.
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 the government is of the people, by the people and for the people. Any government in India has to serve its civilians and not rule over them. After coming into power, the BJP government 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 don’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).