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The UAPA Amendment And The Future Of Civil Liberties In A Constitutional Democracy

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Recently, the Home Minister Amit Shah introduced a legislation in the “people’s house” termed as the UAPA or Unauthorized Activities Prevention Act Amendment Bill 2019. The major change in the already existing law adds to the draconian characteristic which is carried by the law. The government intends to designate an individual as a “terrorist.” What’s more? The bill aims to designate an individual terrorist even before the accused be presented to the court for “due process” to prove someone a terrorist.

The main arguments I would like to put forth against this bill:

1) This amendment only strengthens the state to curtail civil liberty behind the guise of national security. Amit Shah claimed in his speech that the government needs to be ahead of the terrorists to combat them. This arguments is flat and disguised with usurping powers and bestowing it to the “competent authority.”

2) The bill results in and end to “cooperative federalism” as coined by the NITI Aayog by shutting out centre-state cooperation in handling terror threats. The bill seeks to empower the NIA to imprison the designated terrorist without the involvement of the state and local agencies thus shutting out the major partners in actually combating terrorism.

3) The bill is an extension of the statism championed by leaders like Indira Gandhi who first brought in the UAPA in 1967 to encounter secessionist movements looming large. The MISA or Maintainance of Internal Security Act during the emergency gave the central government leeway in imprisoning the political opponents under the guise to protect “national security.”

4) The bill fails fundamentally in defining who is “terrorist” and what constitutes “terrorist literature” or “terrorist propaganda.” Siddharth Varadarajan put forth a question as to whether carrying Marx’s Communist Manifesto or Mao’s Red Book constitutes terrorist literature?

5) The government ridiculously fails to clarify as to why the government is deciding to place additional layer on the already existing provision of Section 4 which empowers the government to imprison lone wolf terrorists.

6) The government also fails to exhibit the necessity to further strengthen the bill while Nirmala Sitaraman argued that the terrorist attacks on mainland have drastically reduced since 2014? It is also to be noted that the armed forces are already equipped with the powerful Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which has enabled drastic reduction is secessionist activities in the Northeast. These evidences nullify the government’s move to further strengthen the bill.

7) Amit Shah drew an equivalence with foreign nations such as the US, UK, China, Israel, Pakistan, the UN, UNSC, etc. which he claims designates individuals as terrorists. This, I would opine is a half-baked truth. Amit Shah is right when points out at these above mentioned nations for their terrorism laws. However, he selectively refuses to also point out the fact that the liberal democracies like the US, UK, etc. are also protective of civil liberties and prioritize due processes.

Meanwhile, China is an authoritarian regime where political opponents of the Communist regime are deemed to be threats. Basically, a comparison of apples and oranges.

8) The hasty amendment, I opine, is short sighted and inconclusive of various aspects when an individual is labelled as “terrorist.” The socio-psychological trauma of solitary confinement and the outcast of individuals who would bear the name as terrorists from neighbourhoods and communities is completely invisible in the amendment.

9) The loosely defined amendment not only empowers the state to designate an individual as a terrorist but also, inconsequentially allows to blur the line between terrorism and activism. The equivalence between a globally designated terrorist like Hafeez Saeed and activists like Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao or Anand Teltumbde is concerning.

While the sponsors of this draconian legislation hail the record of NIA, their argument falls short when it comes to the record of UAPA. It is to be noted that 75% of all the cases registered between 2014 and 2016 resulted in acquittal as per NCRB data available online.

Now that the UAPA amendment bill has been given nod by both the houses of Parliament and given assent by the President of India, I was to read the history of this particular act and while I was doing so, I came across the criticism levelled against this particular act when tabled in the Parliament in 1967, the then Member of Parliament Surendranath Dwivedi who likened this bill to that of colonial law.

The equivalence of this bill was to the 1932 ordinance passed by the then Viceroy of India, Lord Willingdon declaring all the Congress organizations “unlawful.” It was on the eve of the civil disobedience movement. He pointed out the major aspects of this bill which continues to exist even to this day: “unlawful association, unlawful instigation, preventive molestation and boycotting ordinance.”

The current bill contains the ordinance of unlawful association and instigation.

Post-independence India’s UAPA bill can also be likened to the 1919 Rowlatt Act. The designation of an individual as a “terrorist” without a due process: the trial. This act is now a culmination of colonial laws aimed at stifling fundamental rights and civil liberties of Indians. The only trivial difference is the actors involved.

It is also to be reminded of the fact that Atal Bihari Vajpayee was one of the major critics of this bill when tabled in the Parliament in 1967.

The fundamental nature of this debate is unfortunately watered down to reflect a narrow BJP versus Congress debate. However, the debate is solely pertaining to the state versus citizens’ civil liberties and human rights. It is to be critically noted the contribution of both Congress and the BJP in the subversion of civil liberties. Whether it is press restrictions placed by Jawaharlal Nehru, UAPA 1967, MISA, TADA, POTA, etc. only expanded the scope of the State in interfering with the civil liberties.

While the Modi government is being blamed for gross abuse of such apparatus, it would be an example of intellectual dishonesty if not pointed out that the very apparatus which empowers the state and negates the fundamental rights were the product of previous regimes.

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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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.

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

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.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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