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Mainstream, VOL LX No 1, New Delhi, December 18/December 25, 2021 (double issue)

Repeal UAPA, Sedition Law & AFSPA | Statement adopted by a meeting of Human rights groups, Delhi 11, Dec 2021

Friday 17 December 2021


Our country has a long history of gross abuse of power and deprivation of human rights in the context of the laws relating to sedition, Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. In order to provide legal sanctity to their repressive measures, successive governments in India have armed themselves with various so called ‘anti- terrorism’ laws, each being more draconian than the previous one.

These laws also stand out for the remarkable consensual support they enjoy from various ruling parties, albeit with pretence of differences depending on who is ruling where and who is in opposition where. This is best illustrated by the manner in which a grand show was made of repealing POTA by the UPA government in 2004, while incorporating all of its draconian provisions in UAPA, including ‘conspiracy’ and ‘act preparatory to the commission of a terrorist act.’ While different political parties mouth opposition to various acts of state repression depending on their political convenience, none have sought to mobilize their support base for the abrogation of these laws, for they rely on the same to secure themselves as and when and where ever they are in power. Rather, these acts have become tools tried and tested by successive governments to suppress dissent and crush peaceful democratic movements. The recent death of Father Stan Swamy, as an under-trial prisoner in the Bhima Goregaon case under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act is illustrative of the gross misuse of power. Thousands of undertrials, who are entitled to bail under the ordinary criminal trials, are denied bail and made to suffer prosecution in false cases.

The sedition laws owe its existence to our colonial masters who in order to perpetuate their colonial rule, resorted to the draconian laws of sedition. Great freedom fighters like Bal Gangadhar Tilakand Mahatma Gandhi suffered trial and imprisonment under the sedition laws in their fight against the British Rule. Unfortunately when they themselves were in power failed to repeal the ‘Sedition Law’.

Instead the first constitutional amendment to India’s constitution was carried out to introduce the words ‘public purpose’ in the Sedition Law and hence grant respectability to colonial era tools of subjugating the people. Independent India had no justifiable reasons to continue the law of sedition. However, our rulers continued with the laws of sedition to stifle dissent. Recent history shows widespread misuse of the draconian laws to suppress legitimate political expressions and protests.

It is little surprise then that today we have reached a situation where students, journalists, writers, human rights activists, and members of the minority communities are by default included in the definition of a terrorist. This change in understanding of who is a terrorist and what constitutes terrorism is best exemplified the recent statement of the National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval who while addressing the new IPS recruits said that a next front of war needs to be opened against the ‘civil society.’

There is little doubt that the RSS led Modi government has ascended this mendacity to newer heights of repression. A new database launched by the online portal, Article 14, recently showed that 96% of the sedition cases filed against 405 Indians for criticising political leaders and governments over the last decade were registered after the Narendra Modi government first came to power in 2014. Holding posters, shouting slogans-even against CAA, social media posts and even personal communication were among the expressions considered to be seditious by the current government. The recent killing of 17 innocent miners in Nagaland is only one of the many horrendous instances in the disturbed areas, whether it is North-East or Kashmir.

The people of India however have resisted these black laws through the history by putting up valiant struggles for fulfilment of their democratic aspirations while defying all attempts by the rulers to muzzle their voices. All the aforesaid three laws UAPA, Sedition and AFSPA are the most draconian measures which should have no place in a civilized society. As responsible citizens of India we feel that we have right to criticise the executive, the judiciary, the bureaucracy or the Armed Forces. The shoulders of those in power who govern should be broad enough to accept criticism.

During the rule of the present regime the demands for repeal of these black laws have been raised with a new vigour. It is high time that these laws are now abolished.
Ordinary laws are more than sufficient to deal with the problems confronting the nation.

Therefore this meeting organized on behalf of PUCL, Delhi, Janhastakshep, Lawyers for Democracy and Citizens for Democracy to commemorate human rights day resolve and urge the Government of the day to forthwith take urgent steps for the repeal of the three black laws I.E. ‘Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA)’, ‘Law of Sedition Under Section 124-A IPC ‘and ‘Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act‘ (AFSPA).

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