‘UAPA and the Threat to Indian Democracy’: A Report

A wake-up call to those ignorant of UAPA’s threat to democracy, a recent Manisha Sethi event in Bangalore helped create awareness among the public about the discrepancies in the judicial policies, writes AMAAT-UL-HAKEEM.

The draconian, twice-amended, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), was pushed forward with the latest set of amendments by the government, as a healing balm to the nation, after the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. However, some of the provisions of this act run parallel to the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian constitution. It criminalizes every suspected individual or organization, which could be associated with any banned group or an organization. The standing committee examining this bill, too, opposes the amendments because ‘it gives leverage to the investigating officer and could lead to harassment.’

The Event: On 14th December 2013, Dr. Manisha Sethi, spoke of the same concerns at a function in Bangalore at the Terrace Garden of Prestige-Feroz building on Cunningham road. This event was organized by a group of NGOs from the city where about 100 to 150 people made their presence as participants. Dr. Manisha Sethi, who is an Assistant Professor at the Delhi-based Center for Comparative Religions and Civilizations affiliated to the Jamia Milliah Islamia University in Delhi, is also the President of Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association (JTSA) which was formed soon after the ‘Batla House Encounter’ in 2008 as an organization fighting against Human Rights violations.

Apart from Ms. Sethi, there were two other invitees: R. Sreedhar, from People’s Democratic Forum (PDF), as the Convener of the event, and advocate Shanthalu, a representative from the Alternative Law Forum. Mr. Sherif Kottappurath, Founder-Member of Newzfirst news-portal, moderated the event and introduced the guests to the audience.

The program began with advocate Shanthalu who spoke on the discrepancies in the policies involving the terror-accused. He said that there is a pattern of fabrication against these accused, which is followed right from the allegation of the crime on the victim, to the court verdict. The media also fails to highlight the lapses in the procedural sequence in these cases. For example, each newspaper provides different dates of arrest of the accused, and often there is more than 24 hours duration between the arrests and the first court trial, which is questionable. Most of the times even the defense lawyers are not permitted to meet the accused, he remarked. In such cases, only the judge and CCP are involved, thereby depriving the accused of his right to prove his innocence.

As Dr. Manisha Sethi took over, she provided the statistics of ‘UAPA terror’ cases in Madhya Pradesh. She said between 2001 and the present day, about 80 cases have been registered under the UAPA. This has resulted in the incarceration of a number of people, sometimes even women. This is mostly on the basis of alleged ‘seized literature.’ These cases have not been documented and pass un-noticed from the general public. All these cases have a pattern of framing, planting of material and rampant judicial abdication, based on flimsy evidences. What is more striking is that Madhya Pradesh has not witnessed any terror incident during the years when these cases were filed. Moving on, Manisha Sethi gave some illustrations of UAPA arrests, which are as follows:

• Rafeeya/ Therik-e-Millet case: A young girl called Rafeeya was carrying a copy of this magazine, Therik-e-Millet in which she had scribed the amount she paid or lent to a person, alleged to be a member of the banned SIMI group. Based on this, Rafeeya was arrested. What is more ridiculous is that though the magazine, Therik-e-Millet, does not fall under the category of banned literature, the same copy of the magazine has been produced as evidence in four different cases, along with the same receipt of contribution to SIMI funds. This concocted evidence has led to many more convictions and arrests.

• Preethampur case in July 2008: The significance of this case is that it led to a chain of arrests when the Superintendent of Police from Preethampur district dispatched letters to police officers belonging to other districts of MP, asking them to register UAPA cases in their area similar to the one in his, which led to allegations and arrests of thirteen SIMI activists who were trying to bury the SIMI literature which had nothing provocative or inimical to the nation. The judicial verdict in all these cases was in favor of the police, who violated the normal procedure of enquiry into the evidence – as the literature the police produced as ‘Proof of Crime’ pre-dates the ban on the organization. Apparently neither this, nor the similar pattern of framing large number of cases by the police, alerted the judiciary.

• Sarvate bus stand case, Indore: This happened the same night when SIMI was banned in 2001. A person named Irfan was pasting the posters of SIMI which was banned on the previous day, in Sarvate bus stand. He was screaming that though the government had banned SIMI, he would continue to be its member. He was arrested and charged with section 10 of UAPA. The experts witness also testified that the Urdu literature on the posters which were seized contained only the veneration of God and had nothing against the state or the society. This was also agreed by the prosecution. Yet, the court convicted Irfan, sentencing him to two years of imprisonment because the police witnesses had testified that they saw him pasting the SIMI posters.

Regretting the court verdict, Manisha said: “Such a perversion of an axiom of justice is hard to imagine.” From this, it is clear that the judgment merely accepts the case put forward by the prosecution. The prosecution merely gives the version provided by the police that are inconsistent. The inconsistencies are ignored and the judgment merely argues for the possibility of the police account, in a strange and twisted logic, accepted on the most flimsy grounds which are provided as the basis for conviction for the most heinous crimes. Therefore, now, the police, the prosecution and the judge become interchangeable terms. Talking about the torture faced by the under-trials, she said: “The confessions by the accused are made when they are under police custody, facing the torture.” Some of the techniques used, like ‘Narco-Test’ and the injection of the so-called ‘Truth Serum’ drug, constitute demeaning ways of eliciting information from the accused. Although this treatment is rarely recognized as torture, it reduces human dignity to an animal state. These confessions are then used to build Jihadi stories, according to which the Malegaon, Mecca Masjid, Samjhauta Express and the like of these incidents are cited as triggers for revenge by the accused.

Under such circumstances, Dr. Manisha stresses, it is imperative for the media to subject the claims of the police and anti-terror agencies like SIT, NIA etc. to some scrutiny. However, in direct contradiction to this, the media tries to justify the claim. Even the extra-judicial violence like fake-encounters are deemed as a necessity by renowned media personalities like Shekar Gupta and Praveen Swami, when they are carried out with precision, accuracy and planning. They condone it as: “violence in good faith and for the greater good.” This can be referred to in an article by Praveen Swami: “Ishrat Jahan case: Intelligence won’t Survive the Investigation.” In one of his articles in Indian Express, Shekar Gupta writes: “You can safely say that our intelligence’s past hasn’t exactly been either ineffective or incompetent, nor would it pass with flying colors if subjected to the legal/ moral scrutiny of the Ishrat Jahan case.”

Another term coined by the same person for the same reason is ‘controlled killing,’ while, in reality, this term is used to describe the less-brutal and more humane way of slaughtering animals and poultry. This is a subtle way of drilling into the public ear that, encounters are permissible if it is done legally. The ‘Batla House Encounter’ on 19th September 2008 and Ishrat Jahan case are two examples where the investigative agencies have failed to provide substantial evidences in support of these encounters or killings. The Judiciary even denied the public witness for the Batla House tragedy, as they belonged to the same religion as that of the victim of accusation. Many human rights activists call the ‘Batla House’ verdict perverse and a mockery of justice. In the Ishrat Jahan case, the Special Intelligence team concluded that: “The teenaged college girl, Ishrat Jahan, and her three companions were killed in cold blood and they were not terrorists on the way to kill Narendra Modi.”

Dr. Manisha Sethi concluded her talk calling the fake encounters as preference of the security forces for quick-fix, gun-justice over the more painstaking investigations. Her presentation was followed by a ‘Question & Answer’ session, after which Mr. R. Sreedhar put forward a basic criterion for remedial action, thus: “Terror accusations have both global and nationalistic avatars; the only possibility which can help fight through this is the solidarity of expression.” He urged people to come forward and show their agitation and disenchantment over intelligence agencies for their lapses in investigation, and human rights violation by anti-terror squads.

This event was a wake-up call to those who were ignorant of UAPA’s threat to democracy. It certainly created awareness among the public about the discrepancies in the judicial policies.

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To know more about UAPA cases in Madhya Pradesh, please refer to Guilty by Association, a report by JTSA on the sa