India introduced its first black law in 1967 known as the UAPA Act which allowed the State to curtail the following rights of citizens who it deemed were not acting in the national interest
- Freedom of speech and expression
- Right to assemble peaceably and without arms
- Right to form associations or unions.
The Congress Party introduced the Act at a time when the State of India was in turmoil. Indira Gandhi’s grip on power was under threat. India had only just emerged from two wars with China and Pakistan, the economy was in crisis, the political system was in crisis and the Congress Party itself was in crisis. There were new strands of opposition emerging and gaining in strength. The Congress Party could not see how to avoid their inevitable failure at the next elections, so they created an atmosphere whereby, anyone who raised a voice was labelled as an enemy of the State and then could be booked under the UAPA Act.
Later in 1985, the TADA Act was introduced and was used to suppress anyone who raised a voice against the Indian State’s actions specifically in Punjab. The Act gave wide powers to law enforcement agencies for dealing with so called terrorists and ‘socially disruptive’ activities in the following ways;
- An accused person could be detained up to 1 year
- Confessions made to police officers were admissible as evidence in the court of law, with the burden of proof being on the accused to prove his/her innocence.
- Secret Courts were set up exclusively, to hear the cases and deliver judgments pertaining to the persons accused under this Act.
- A person could be detained under this act on the mere suspicion (no evidence was required) that an individual may perform an act not in the national interest.
TADA effectively gave the Police, powers to accuse anyone without evidence, to be an enemy of the state. Any government who puts its citizens first, would not grant such powers, even to a police force with an exemplary human rights record. In India, where the police are known for their corruption and inability, the outcome of TADA was predictable and brutal, yet the politicians enthusiastically endorsed it. In the decade that the Act was in force, the Punjab Police imprisoned, tortured and used blackmail to illicit money from victims and their families. The fact that their actions could not be questioned under this Act, further emboldened them to rape and murder large numbers of Sikhs in the Punjab. The Act was scrapped in 1995 but many Sikhs charged under the Act still remain in prison today.
Next, India introduced the POTA Act in 2002 and after strong opposition it was removed in 2004. The same provisions as the TADA Act applied, except for the fact a person could not be convicted on mere suspicion of activities not in the national interest.
Also in 2004, the UAPA Act which still remains on the statute book, was given more bite and as recently as 2008 and 2012, further amendments were made to contain many of the provisions of the POTA Act.
The anti-terror law UAPA enacted after Mumbai attacks in 2011 have become a tool for human rights violations and denial justice. Recent acquittals of the accused in Hubli bomb blast case and Muvattupuzha incident are the latest examples. All the 17 accused in the Hubli blast case were acquitted after spending seven years in various jails in Kerala, Karnataka and Gujarat as undertrial prisoners in the case. In the Mouvattupuzha incident where a college professor was attacked for insulting Prophet Muhammed (PBUP) was a typical local incident. But strangely investigative agencies turned it into a national security issue and implicated dozens of innocent youths with false charges under UAPA. From the experiences so far in our country it is clear that the black laws like UAPA are mostly imposed on minorities and the marginalised classes as a political tool to silence them.
Each time these Acts are introduced the Government gives assurances that there are in-built safeguards against abuse, but given India’s abysmal human rights record, their primary use is to target anyone who raises a legitimate voice against the activities of the Police or the endemic corruption in Indian society.
On December 10, 2011, Human Rights Day, 50 tribal undertrial political prisoners lodged in sundry jails in Maharashtra went on a hunger strike to highlight the excesses and abuses of state repression on them and in response to then Rural Affairs Minister Jairam Ramesh’s call to the state government to release innocent tribals arrested as Maoist sympathisers. They included 11 tribal women who went on a hunger strike for the dropping of false cases against them, and among them was a woman prisoner with a two–year–old child who was born in jail and who has remained in prison since his birth.
UAPA Act, is being used to suppress and subdue the common man who raises a voice for his/her rights – be it a farmer, a labourer or an activist.