- Vaibhav Singh
India: Right to Protest Does Not Qualify as an Act of Terror
Contrarian opinion is an integral part of policy formation at a national level. When policies are often pushed through due process without listening to the opposing parties, it often leads to discriminatory regulations that do not project a sense of equality. A similar parallel can be drawn in India, where the ruling regime labels dissenting voices as anti-India or anti-nationals. Branding is still a soft way to stop others from raising voices. However, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, (UAPA) has been actively used against the critics of the government.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, cases of both sedition and UAPA have seen a sharp increase. In 2016, 35 cases of sedition were lodged, as compared to 93 in 2019. This is a 165% rise in just four years. The same report also illuminates the same phenomenon with 1,226 cases in 2019, a 33% increase since 2016.
India's slip in its democracy index indicates how freedom of expression is stifled by filing cases against journalists, and the constant need to discredit each and every protest that takes place in the country.
“Acts such as the UAPA and sedition, and other draconian laws have been used to silence dissent. While this is not something new, we see an intensification of it. We are seeing a pattern --that a conspiracy is alleged and UAPA is imposed. For most of these cases, trials have not even begun. Such low convictions bolster the idea that the aim here is not to punish or convict anyone but to incarcerate them. Therefore, the process itself is the punishment.” - Lara Jesani, member of People's Union of Civil Liberties in an interview with NewsClick
The statistics also point out how the police are using these laws indiscriminately with charge sheets being filed in 9% of UAPA cases and 17% for sedition cases respectively. Even the conviction rates of cases in 2019 were 3.3% (sedition) and 29.2% (UAPA). These figures are extremely low when compared to the average conviction rate under IPC which stands at 50.4 percent.
Recently, Delhi High Court finally granted bail to three student activists Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, and Asif Iqbal Tanha who were booked by Delhi Police under the UAPA anti-terror law. These three students rotted in jail for over an entire year. Although none of the three have been absolved of the charges, the court said that protesting without arms is a fundamental right and not a terror activity.
“Constrained to say that it appears that in its anxiety to suppress dissent and in the morbid fear that matters may get out of hand, the state has blurred the line between the constitutionally guaranteed ‘right to protest’ and ‘terrorist activity’.” - Delhi High Court
Keeping all of these statistics in mind, it is time now to bring these injustices to the forefront of the world. Only then may we hopefully see change in the governmental systems in India. Only then will we be able to protest without the fear of being detained and sentenced for a fundamental right to all Indian people.