NEW DELHI, India—On March 1, 2014, a seminar took place outside the Ludhiana Courthouse, that was arranged by the People’s Movement Against UAPA. Advocate Jaspal Singh Manjhpur took 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.
In 1967, India introduced its first Black Law, known as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), 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 UAPA 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 wars with both 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 election, so they created an atmosphere whereby, anyone who raised a voice was labeled as an enemy of the State, and then could be booked under the UAPA.
In 1985, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) was introduced, and 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, or 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, with no evidence required, on the mere suspicion that an individual may have performed an act not in the national interest.
TADA effectively gave Police the power to accuse anyone of being an enemy of the state, without need of any evidence. A 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, the outcome of TADA was predictable and brutal, yet politicians enthusiastically endorsed it. In the decade that TADA was in force, the Punjab Police imprisoned, tortured, and used blackmail to illicit money from, victims, and their families. The fact that their Police actions could not be questioned under TADA, further emboldened them to rape, torture, murder, and commit other atrocities against, large numbers of Sikhs in the Punjab. The Act was scrapped in 1995, but many Sikhs charged under the TADA still remain in prison today.
In 2002, India introduced the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), and after strong opposition, it was removed in 2004. The same provisions as TADA applied, except for the fact a person could not be convicted of activities not in the national interest, on mere suspicion, without evidence.
In 2004, the UAPA which still remains on the book of statutes, was given more bite. In 2008, and again in 2012, further amendments were made, which contain many of the provisions of POTA. Each time such 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 of Indian society.
Rajvinder Singh Bains, who is a well known Senior Advocate and member of the Sikh Organization for Prisoner Welfare (SOPW) legal team in India, stated that the UAPA has been used in Punjab since 2009. Currently in Punjab, there are 50 cases registered under UAPA, with 80 Sikhs imprisoned under this Act, and 50 prisoners charged under the UAPA on parole. Bains cited the cases of Daljit Singh Bittu, and Kuldip Singh Barapind, as examples of how the Act has been misused. Barapind, who is a democratically elected Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) member, has been imprisoned for the past year, and a half.
Everyone was urged to understand, and raise awareness about the UAPA being used to suppress, and subdue, any common person, whether a farmer, a laborer, or a community activist, who raises a voice for his, or her, rights.
To oppose these Acts, and to make the wider community aware of their misuse, the People’s Movement Against UAPA took place on Wednesday 5, March, 2014 at the at the National Conference in the Talkatora Stadium of New Delhi.