By Jayant Pankaj
Twenty years ago, in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, the Bush Administration enacted a law called the Patriot Act (2001), which gave extrajudicial powers to the United States (US) federal agencies to detain without trial any individual suspected of terrorism in the US mainland.
The word ‘suspected’ is key here. Whereas under the general purview of the law the defendant is innocent until proven guilty, under this act the detainee was guilty until proven innocent. As a result, the usual protections accorded by law to any suspected criminal which are necessary to ensure a free and fair trial were completely eroded and the person was left at the mercy of the government agencies leading to a systematic detention of Muslims who were often brutally tortured and later left to rot into prisons such as Guantanamo Bay.
When it comes to enacting extraordinary laws, India isn’t different from first-world nations like the US. Though there are variants of extraordinary laws in India, these days, the act which has grappled the headlines and has served to maintain a gruesome hysteria among common people is the “Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).”
Indira Gandhi’s regime initially passed UAPA in 1967, which gave overarching powers to the central government to deal with the activities which allegedly posed a threat to the sovereignty and integrity of India. In 2008, the Congress-led UPA government added certain amendments to this law and gave powers to the government agencies to deem any organisations as ‘unlawful’ which posed a threat to the Indian state.
Finally, in 2019 the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government re-amended this law and brought ‘individuals’ into the ambit of suspicion for terror activities too.
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data shows, since, the BJP came into power in 2014 the average number of UAPA cases are increasing at the rate of more than 790 cases per year.
The rising UAPA cases in India
It’s evident from figure I that, from 2014-20, there are around 5900 UAPA cases registered. In 2014 when Modi came into power, the number of registered cases drastically increased to 976. In 2019, when the Narendra Modi government won a second term in the parliament with a landslide victory this number stood at 1226.
Surprisingly, there were only 796 cases reported under UAPA in 2020, which is somewhat lesser than previous records. In figure I, it’s visible that the trend line for cases has remained significantly higher in proportion. The government has thrown thousands of people into prison whose conviction rate is lower than one could imagine, as NCRB data reflects.
Manipur, Kashmir, Assam are the focal location of UAPA, NCRB data suggests
It’s not surprising though when we analyse the data further and come across the haplessness on the ground. In figure II, from 2014-20, around 69% of the cases have been registered in three particular states: Manipur, Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), and Assam.
The highest number of incidents of UAPA has been reported in Manipur alone, where the number stands at 2595 which constitutes 37.6% of total number of cases. The second-highest number of such cases are in J&K, which is 1208, comprising 17.5% of all UAPA cases, whereas, in Assam 960 cases are registered which constitutes 13.9% overall cases in seven years.
The remaining incidents of UAPA have been reported in the other parts of India, such as Jharkhand (528 cases), Uttar Pradesh (415 cases), Tamil Nadu (280 cases), Bihar (274 cases), Kerala (193 cases), according to NCRB.
The extensive analysis of these three states shows in figure III; there’s been a slow drop in cases in Manipur. In 2014 there were 630 cases registered, and in 2020 it reached 169 cases. In Kashmir, the trend line has been exponentially rising. In 2014 there were 45 cases which rose to 287 cases in 2020.
In Assam, the cases have been fluctuating and have remained inconstant every passing year, which is clear from figure III that’s in between 148 to 76 cases per year.
Kashmir’s case is miserable
Although, this article is purely an analysis of NCRB reports, other sources have been considered in order to broaden our understanding of this situation. A recently published report by The Indian Express states that in J&K, since 2019, over 2300 people have been booked under UAPA, and 954 people have been booked under Public Safety Act (PSA). Of those, the individuals in around 46% of the cases booked under UAPA and 30% cases booked under PSA are still in jail.
Looking at the NCRB data, it might seem that in comparison to Kashmir, the cases in Manipur are far in numbers, but a deeper analysis shows the number of arrests in Kashmir are greater than any other NE state which NCRB has not recorded. The disproportionality in data might show that the Indian state treats both NE states and Kashmir the same way, but truth be told, Kashmir’s case is far more miserable. Since it’s the government that demarcates between a friend and an enemy, they create laws like UAPA to use it as an instrument to counter their enemies.
The rising arrests in Kashmir show an average Kashmiri is perceived as a greater threat to the government in comparison to any other Indian.
Explaining: The UAPA prejudice
In the age of relentless propaganda, BJP tries to portray the normalcy in the parts of North East (NE) and J&K, where the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) is still in imposition.
Although, Kashmir’s case is brutally miserable than any other NE state. BJP, on numerous occasions, has tried to boost its electoral victory in these states. In Assam, BJP won the past two consecutive elections from 2016 onwards, whereas, in Manipur, they allied with the smaller regional parties in 2017. Even in J&K, before article 370 was abrogated, the BJP was in alliance with Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for some time till the governors’ rule was imposed.
In such a situation, can we say that mere electoral gains in politics are a sign of normalcy in states?
The massive cases of UAPA are lodged in NE states, and J&K shows that electoral victory is not the only mark of clarity. An article published in The New York Times says BJP has managed to make inroads into the rural development council elections in Kashmir. But the reality shows Kashmir is still bleeding from turmoil as the internet shutdown and curfews remain an everyday reality in the valley which is portrayed by the government as a necessity to bring normalcy in Kashmir.
In Manipur, there’s growing insecurity within Manipuri Muslims, locally known as Pangals; ever since BJP rose to power in 2017, the pangal dominated areas have remained a government target under the pretext of locating insurgents and illegal immigrants, which can be viewed as BJP’s bid to saffronize Manipur.
Recently in Assam, a horrible event took place when 1300 Muslim families were forcibly evicted by the government authorities from their homes and they were rendered homeless within a fortnight. Numerous people have been injured, and many have been killed in the government-led eviction drive. Such events are connected to BJP’s larger project to saffronize, and Hinduize these territories and UAPA remains their prime tool to exterminate dissent under the garb of bringing normalcy.
BJP has been using all its state apparatus, which includes UAPA, to counter its ideological dissidents. The massive rise in the cases in these three states is a symptom of rising opposition, and it proves that the general people are not satisfied with BJP’s government.
There are bizarre cases of UAPA that have been registered. In one case, 10 children were booked under UAPA in Kashmir because police suspected they were playing cricket in remembrance of a slain insurgent. After the burial of Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s dead body, their family members were also booked under UAPA for wrapping his body in a Pakistani flag.
In Assam 16 people have been arrested over pro-Taliban posts and the Muslim community in Assam fears that their community would be targeted further. Recently, two journalists in Manipur were held under UAPA, and these are just a few of the dozens of such cases. The relentless registering of UAPA cases against Muslims from a select few states reveals the actual intention of the BJP regime.
The continuous clampdown of civil liberties in Kashmir through militarization, the rise of the anti-CAA movement in Assam, the rampant deforestation and disrupting of indigenous and tribal lives under India’s corporate developmental agenda in these states, and the mainstream media’s failure to capture these states’ plight account for rising political defiance against the erstwhile regime.
To curb the voices of the protesters and activists, the union government uses UAPA as a convenient instrument to paint them as a ‘threat’ to India’s sovereignty.
Though, we don’t have sufficient data which could show the number of Muslims, tribals, Dalits, who have been held under UAPA, the continuous use of UAPA to target these states which are home to a large number of Muslims and different tribal communities’ lays bare the settler-colonial project of the BJP and the RSS.
Views expressed are personal
Jayant Pankaj is a resident of Assam. He has recently completed his master’s degree in Political Science from the University of Hyderabad. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org