The Lok Sabha has passed the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, which seeks to designate individuals, not just groups, as terrorists. Union Home Minister Amit Shah said the Narendra Modi government has “no sympathy”for urban Maoists either.
ThePrint asks: Individuals & ‘urban Maoists’ terrorists under UAPA: Will it unleash new witch hunt?
New UAPA provisions allow for facts to be distorted and give police a long rope to misuse the law
Retired I.P.S officer
Under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act 2019, anyone can be targeted. It gives the state the power to persecute people’s ideologies by designating individuals as terrorists. Our terror-related laws broadly specify that unless an offence takes place or there is an overt move pertaining to terror-related activities, no action can be taken. The current amendments will change that.
In 2007, in Uttar Pradesh, activist Seema Azad and her husband were arrested for being ‘Maoist sympathisers’ and the evidence presented against them was that they had ‘Maoist literature’. This is extremely odd because literature can be of varying kinds. Under this Act, there will now definitely be a witch hunt because the scope of who qualifies as a terrorist has increased. Earlier, these supposed ‘urban Naxals’ could not be regarded as terrorists and now they can be both persecuted and named terrorists. The provisions under this law increase the ambit for facts to be distorted and give the police a long rope to misuse the law.
It is important to understand that such harsh laws do not help in curbing crime, on the contrary, they are counter-productive and lead to innocent people being framed and jailed.
Many terrorist groups change name to avoid ‘terrorist’ tag. So, designating individuals necessary
Former police commissioner of Delhi
The reservations emanating from various quarters with the recent amendments in the UAPA are misplaced, and almost Pavlovian.
For instance, the amendment to designate individuals as terrorists is necessary because they move from one terror organisation to another, and once given a terror tag, the group conveniently changes its name. By designating a deserving offender a terrorist, the label would stick irrespective of which organisation, he or she joins.
To elaborate, the Lashkar-e-Taiba became the Jamaat-ul-Dawa, when the UK, the US, India and the UN banned it. Quite expectedly, members of this organisation continued to indulge in terror-related activities, because it made no difference to them. So, rather than calling a group as terrorist, it is better to call its members as so.
Similarly, in the case of ‘urban Maoists’, it is important to understand that if anyone has a personal ideology that she or he keeps to herself, or which is restricted to drawing-room discussions, no one would have an issue with it. However, many such individuals incite people to act against the state by taking up arms, or harbouring and aiding terror-related activities. This should most definitely be stopped and the state should act against such people.
I do not think that these amendments will lead to a witch hunt. Checks and balances are in place to prevent misuse. However, in the event of their misuse, the law itself can be scrapped lock, stock and barrel like the TADA and the POTA have been in the past.
Use of the UAPA lies in its misuse – it is used more to target minorities and dissenters than to fight terrorism
Activist and former JNU student
The very use of the UAPA lies in its misuse. Even before this amendment, the UAPA was used to target those with political opinions contrary to that of the ruling establishment. One key use of the UAPA has been to target the marginalised communities – Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis.
The abysmal conviction rates under the UAPA, and before that under laws like the TADA and the POTA, illustrate this very point. When courts acquit a vast majority of those arrested under such draconian laws, it tells us that the only purpose the arrests served was political, that is, to intimidate dissenters.
The UPA came to power in 2004 and promised to repeal the POTA. Barring one provision, they included every other unreasonable provision of the POTA in the UAPA. There’s very little debate needed to prove that the UAPA, POTA and TADA have all been ineffective in fighting terrorism. If one goes by the rates of conviction, it is clear that the very reason they exist is to only target minorities and dissenters— not to fight terrorism.
The UAPA violates basic civil liberties and fundamental rights by arresting people merely on suspicion and then putting the onus of innocence on the accused. The amendments extending such provisions to individuals further centralises and gives vast discretionary power to the government.
Home Minister Amit Shah said in the Lok Sabha that those involved in “urban Maoism” will not be spared. ‘Urban Maoist’ is such a blanket term— anyone who raises objections to the policies of this government can fall under this bracket. As the government gets ready to pass several anti-people bills, such as the amendments to the RTI, these amendments just more teeth to the penal laws to intimidate and silence voices of dissent.
Threat of urban Maoists and lone wolves real – nothing wrong with treating them as terrorists
CEO, Indraprastha Vishwa Samvad Kendra, and author of Know About RSS
With the advent of newer technologies, it has become easier for the ‘lone wolf’ to carry out acts of terror. The legal and constitutional framework have to take into account the fast-changing dynamics of national security in light of these developments. There is nothing wrong in treating such individuals as terrorists, who are carrying out acts of war against the people of India.
As far as treating urban Maoists as terrorists is concerned, this should have been done much earlier. The threat of urban Maoism is deep and real. Several urban Maoists have been arrested in the past, but many more are still there. Urban Maoists want to break up India. They provide logistical support to armed Maoists, who are on a killing spree in several parts of the country. They are the umbilical cord that provides the lifeblood to the Maoists unleashing terror on the ground. Unless this umbilical cord is cut, we as a nation will not be able to resolve the Maoist challenge.
As far as apprehension of misuse is concerned, the fact is that any law can be misused if a government intends to do so. The Congress led-UPA government had misused anti-terror laws to create a false bogey of Hindu terror and arrest many innocent nationalists. In fact, the Modi government has a much better record than any of the previous Congress governments as far as impartial implementation of laws is concerned.
By Fatima Khan and Revathi Krishnan