Ludhiana, Punjab: On 1 March outside the Ludhiana Courthouse, a seminar took place that was arranged by the Peoples Movement Against UAPA. Advocate Jaspal Singh Manjhpur took on the role of stage secretary and among those in attendance were; Jatinder Singh, a scholar from Punjab University, Kamal Faloqui, Advocate Rajvinder Singh Bains and Professor P Koyia.
India introduced its first black law in 1967 known as the UAPA Act which allowed the State to curtail the following rights of citizens who it deemed were not acting in the national interest
- Freedom of speech and expression
- Right to assemble peaceably and without arms
- Right to form associations or unions.
The Congress Party introduced the Act at a time when the State of India was in turmoil. Indira Gandhi’s grip on power was under threat. India had only just emerged from two wars with China and Pakistan, the economy was in crisis, the political system was in crisis and the Congress Party itself was in crisis. There were new strands of opposition emerging and gaining in strength. The Congress Party could not see how to avoid their inevitable failure at the next elections, so they created an atmosphere whereby, anyone who raised a voice was labelled as an enemy of the State and then could be booked under the UAPA Act.
Later in 1985, the TADA Act was introduced and was used to suppress anyone who raised a voice against the Indian State’s actions specifically in Punjab. The Act gave wide powers to law enforcement agencies for dealing with so called terrorists and ‘socially disruptive’ activities in the following ways;
- An accused person could be detained up to 1 year
- Confessions made to police officers were admissible as evidence in the court of law, with the burden of proof being on the accused to prove his/her innocence.
- Secret Courts were set up exclusively, to hear the cases and deliver judgments pertaining to the persons accused under this Act.
- A person could be detained under this act on the mere suspicion (no evidence was required) that an individual may perform an act not in the national interest.
TADA effectively gave the Police, powers to accuse anyone without evidence, to be an enemy of the state. Any government who puts its citizens first, would not grant such powers, even to a police force with an exemplary human rights record. In India, where the police are known for their corruption and inability, the outcome of TADA was predictable and brutal, yet the politicians enthusiastically endorsed it. In the decade that the Act was in force, the Punjab Police imprisoned, tortured and used blackmail to illicit money from victims and their families. The fact that their actions could not be questioned under this Act, further emboldened them to rape and murder large numbers of Sikhs in the Punjab. The Act was scrapped in 1995 but many Sikhs charged under the Act still remain in prison today.
Next, India introduced the POTA Act in 2002 and after strong opposition it was removed in 2004. The same provisions as the TADA Act applied, except for the fact a person could not be convicted on mere suspicion of activities not in the national interest.
Also in 2004, the UAPA Act which still remains on the statute book, was given more bite and as recently as 2008 and 2012, further amendments were made to contain many of the provisions of the POTA Act. Each time these Acts are introduced the Government gives assurances that there are in-built safeguards against abuse, but given India’s abysmal human rights record, their primary use is to target anyone who raises a legitimate voice against the activities of the Police or the endemic corruption in Indian society.
Rajvinder Singh Bains, who is a well known Senior Advocate and member of the SOPW legal team in India, stated that the UAPA Act has been used in Punjab since 2009. Currently in Punjab, there are 50 cases registered under UAPA, 80 Sikhs imprisoned under this Act and 50 prisoners are on parole, who have been charged under UAPA. He cited the cases of Daljit Singh Bittu and Kuldip Singh Barapind as examples of how the Act has been misused and how Barapind, who is a democratically elected SGPC member, has been imprisoned for the past year and a half.
Everyone was urged to understand and raise awareness of the UAPA Act, which is being used to suppress and subdue the common man who raises a voice for his/her rights – be it a farmer, a labourer or a community activist.
We all need to unite in opposition to these Acts and make the wider community aware of their misuse – come join the People’s Movement Against UAPA at the National Conference taking place on Wednesday 5 March 2014 at the Talkatora Stadium in New Delhi.