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Without Any Reason Or Charge: The Rowlatt Act And UAPA Have A Similar Design

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The Rowlatt Act

Just 6 months before the Montford Reforms were to be put into effect, two bills were introduced in the Imperial Legislative Council. One of them was dropped, but the other, an extension to the Defence of India Regulations Act 1915, was passed in March 1919. It was officially called the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act but popularly known as the Rowlatt Act.

Sidney Rowlatt
Sidney Rowlatt.

It was based on the recommendations made in the previous year to the Imperial Legislative Council by the Rowlatt Commission, headed by the British judge, Sir Sidney Rowlatt, to investigate the “seditious conspiracy” of the Indian people. The act allowed political activists to be tried without juries or even imprisoned without trial.

It allowed the arrest of Indians without a warrant on the mere suspicion of “treason”. Such suspects could be tried in secrecy without recourse to legal help. A special cell consisting of three high court judges was to try such suspects and there was no court of appeal above that panel.

This panel could even accept evidence not acceptable under the Indian Evidence Act. The writ of habeas corpus, the basis of civil liberty, was sought to be suspended.

The object of the government was to replace the repressive provisions of the wartime Defence of India Act (1915) with a permanent law. So the wartime restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly were re-imposed in India.

There was strict control over the press and the government was armed with a variety of powers to deal with anything the authorities chose to consider as terrorism or revolutionary tactics.

The UAPA [Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act]

The UAPA was introduced as legislation to set out reasonable restrictions on the freedoms under Article 19(1) of the Constitution. Its main objective is to make powers available for dealing with activities directed against the integrity and sovereignty of India.

The Similarity Between The Rowlatt Act And UAPA

The British government in India passed the Rowlatt Act to give powers to the police to arrest any person without any reason or charges. The purpose of the act was to curb the growing nationalist upsurge in the country.

Similarly, In July 2019, the ambit of UAPA was further expanded. It was amended, allowing the government to designate an individual as a terrorist without trial. Earlier it was allowed only in the case of organisations.

Criticism

Man arrested
Representative Image.

The arrest of several activists in recent times have pointed towards possible misuse of the draconian UAPA law. National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data shows that around 67% of the cases registered under UAPA ended in acquittal or discharge.

The definition of unlawful activities includes terms that are vague and broad. For instance, questioning the territorial integrity of India and activities to cause “disaffection against India” are unlawful activities.

There is no definition of membership in the UAPA, making it susceptible to misuse. The Supreme Court in 2011 had ruled that mere membership of a banned organisation would not make a person a criminal. However, under UAPA, if one is found to be a member of banned organisations, they could be imprisoned for life.

Some of the provisions, such as extended detention periods, no anticipatory bail, no bail if the case seems prima facie true, etc., have been termed as draconian. In addition, it contains no sunset clause and provisions for mandatory periodic review, which makes the UAPA a permanent statute.

Way Forward

The misuse of UAPA does not mean there is no need for such stringent laws. On the contrary, the UAPA has been enacted to deal with certain situations and it is the duty of the government that these laws be used for their rightful purposes.

For this, there is an urgent need for some sort of checks and balances that will safeguard the interest of any innocent accused while still enforcing the spirit behind this act. A simple yet effective safeguard might be a periodical review of the Act and sunset clauses.

Re-defining terrorism with a reduced ambit and fixing the accountability in case of misuse will be very useful.

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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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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