Bilal Ibnu Shahul
As an effective strategy to extinguish the protest against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (2019), the government is knee-bend upon the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 (UAPA). By charging innocent student activists, the government is also trying to portray the activists as a threat to the nation. In this context, it is a high time to critically understand and decode this undemocratic law, its impact upon the general public, and its active targeting pattern of Muslims.
The relation between State and Law
The State is regarded as being in its nature authority—the superior or supreme authority—and law as being a body of commands set by that authority to all the persons who are its subjects.
Law is etymologically something positum, or, as we should say, ‘imposed’: it is something laid down or set, as one sets a task or lays down a rule; and it is accordingly defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘a rule of conduct imposed by authority’.
If this definition is accepted, we are carried back to the notion of the State as being, in its nature, a superior or supreme authority: we are led to regard law as a rule, or a body of rules, imposed by that authority; and we are driven in the issue to conclude that the command of the State, regarded as a supreme authority, is ipso facto the law for its members, regarded as the ‘subjects’ of that authority. This indeed is a view that long prevailed. It may be called the Austinian view of the law.
While critically examining the nature of the present government of India and the implementation of laws by the current regime through its arms like the police force or judiciary, it seems to be still beholding the Austinian view of the law. It is clearer if we dwell especially on the implementation of recently amended Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 (UAPA). The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 enables effective prevention of certain unlawful activities of individuals and associations and for dealing with terrorist activities, and other related matters. According to the law, unlawful activity refers to any action taken by individual or association whether by committing an act or by words, either spoken or written or by signs to questions, disclaims disrupts or is intended to disrupt the territorial integrity and sovereignty of India. On August 14, the Government of India notified amendments to UAPA, empowering itself to designate individuals as ‘terrorists’ without providing them any effective redress. The sheer brazenness of these changes attracted considerable attention.
Through UAPA, the government can ban organizations branded as ‘terrorist’. The government merely has to ‘believe’ that the organization is ‘involved in terrorism’. With the amendment, the same provisions now apply directly to individuals. The true cause of concern about the amendment lies in how it interacts with older provisions, which anyway grant the government extensive powers to prosecute a wide spectrum of individuals. Such vague ambit of law allows the government ample room to prosecute even constitutionally protected activities; criticism of the state can be termed as an act ‘likely to threaten’ India’s sovereignty and ‘means of whatever nature’ has included pamphlets.
NDA Regime and Hindutva Project
Since Hindu ultra-nationalist forces came into power in 2014 through its political-populist wing Bharatiya Janata Party, the Hindutva project is on constant work; transforming the world’s largest democracy from a secular and democratic nation to authoritarian and fascist one. Through undermining the constitutional bodies and subverting the democratic mechanisms, the government effectively managed to sabotage the base hold of the nation in its first tenure. The project advanced into the next stage after the victory in 2019 general elections by actively and legally otherizing and dehumanizing the largest minority of the country; Muslims. By implementing the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 the government blatantly threatens to deny the citizenship of 182 million citizens of the country, which squarely reminds of the Reich Citizenship Law of Nazi Germany.
International organizations and world nations alarmed about the looming genocidal project of the government. Immediately after the enactment of the law on December 13, widespread unprecedented agitations and protests began across the nation.
The idea of UAPA
Now, Government is trying to quell the protests through imposing UAPA upon the students and activists who are primarily Muslims. Police witch-hunting and imprisonment without trials, by charging UAPA, became the means for the government to arrest the movement. In this context, it’s very crucial to understand and demystify this draconian law and its implications upon the general public and their perception about the law as well as about the persons charged under the law.
Since its implementation, civil rights groups and activists oppose the law as draconian and undemocratic. Nevertheless, the popular opinion and public image fabricated by the media about the persons charged under it are often as scary and dreadful. Whatsoever been the accusations, the popular image often frames the accused as culprit even before the judicial trials begin. The state effectively produces mass hysteria about the person who was targeted and sells that image through the popular medium. And because of that, usually, there is observed radio silence for the rights of the accused, even for his right to defend. In most cases, the accused remain as under trial prisoners, and the state effectively produces the public air in tune to make that injustice acceptable.
Unlike the previous governments, the present regime is in constant effort to radically change the nature of the nation itself. In that project, the government looks into UAPA not merely as a law, rather as an effective tool to silence the dissenting voices and suppress the epicenters from where the strong public oppositions emerged. From Sharjeel Imam to Asif Iqbal Tanha, the government is potently imposing UAPA upon the active students and activists, who were the frontrunners of the Anti-CAA movement. In the case of UAPA-imposed student-leader, Safoora Zargar, the government is not even giving humanitarian considerations and imprisoned a mother-to-be Kashmiri woman who is in the second trimester of her first pregnancy.
Each one of these arrests should be looked upon from the broader agenda of the creation of the Hindu Rashtra. The draconian UAPA, for the government, stands as the firewall which effectively clears off all the objections against the implementation of the hindutva project. Through charging UAPA, the state effectively fabricates the anti-CAA protestors as a threat to the nation itself. Such a strategy was been using by the BJP government since 2014, by branding any anti-government activity or any critical voice as anti-national. The law conveniently suits that project due to the already fabricated public consciousness about the UAPA prisoners as a threat to the nation. Due to such an image, the government stands successful in eliminating any type of strong opposition against these arrests. The general public as well as the mainstream political parties keep dreadful silence about these arrests, even while blatant human rights violations are happening in some cases. Invoking UAPA and not any other law, the government thus successfully halts not only its critics but also checks the supporters for the critics. In short, UAPA exists not only merely as a law, but an effective mechanism for the government to carry forward its agendas without any hurdles.
Extinguishing the epicenter
Among the persons charged under UAPA related to Anti-CAA protests, most of them are from Jamia. This pattern pinpoints the fact that the government is specifically targeting the student activists of Jamia Millia exceptionally. Jamia was one of the major epicenter of the Anti-CAA movement and the exceptional movement carried forwarded by the university students even after experiencing heinous state brutality revealed the radical potentiality of Jamia Millia. It is no surprise that the regime was eager to clamp down the continuous day-night agitation. The government got an already demoralized image after unleashing the brutality upon its own citizens for merely protesting. UAPA should be understood. such a difficult situation for the government, as a helpful aid, to contain the unprecedented agitation. By imposing UAPA, the state machinery not only curbs the anti-government protests but also derails the moral support of the general public by branding the anti-CAA protestors as a threat to the nation.
By clearly targeting a particular community and imprisoning Muslim activists, the hindutva regime is replicating the racial model of the American criminal justice system. Similar to the fashion of imprisoning blacks during the civil rights movement in the USA, the totalitarian regime of India is filling up its prisons with Muslim political prisoners, that too under draconian laws.
Bilal Ibnu Shahul is a student of MA Geography at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.