January 26 is India’s Republic Day, when the government will conduct an elaborate parade under the vanity of national pride as the world’s largest democracy — supposedly guaranteeing liberty, equality and freedom of speech.
India’s Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) was established in 1967 with the purpose of centralising political power to prevent “unlawful activities” and upkeeping the integrity of India’s sovereign democratic status. This law, in theory, was passed to protect India’s citizens from disastrous physical, mental and emotional distresses and harms that threaten the due processes of democracy and free speech enshrined and guaranteed under India’s Constitution. It is crucial to note that the UAPA Act did not econmpass acts of terrorism until 2004.
Constitutionally, and in reality, however the UAPA Act poses severe legal problems. Much of the Act has been warped, stretched and leveraged by India’s current BJP government. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP government, just like many of his predecessors in power, amended the law in 2019 to further his Party’s agenda of silencing any and all of his opponents. By pushing the rhetoric of national security, any sort of criticism and dissent that emerges from citizens can be silenced, at the cost of their secular freedoms. Now, the UAPA is intentionally vague so as to deem anyone unlawful for the action of speaking out against the various critical human rights violations that plague Indian society, like rising political corruption, religious hate, propaganda, racism, casteism, and sexism.
Consequently, Indian citizens mobilising to protect their rights to freedom of speech and sovereignty in India are being unlawfully arrested and booked under the UAPA and Sedition Acts for their activism.
The UAPA has been amended and warped so many times that it no longer holds constitutional validity. Citizens booked under this Act can now be held for 180 days – directly contradicting Article 21 of the Constitution, which states “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.”
There are detrimental examples of the UAPA being wielded against political dissenters, journalists, and academics. Dalit human rights activist and reknowned scholar Anand Teltumbde was charged under the Act in 2018 for apparent affiliation with violence in Bhima Koregaon. He has still not received bail and as he awaits trial, he navigates the risks of COVID-19 in incarceration. Looking into the Bhima Koregaon incident in Pune, there is very little consistency between the media storm created about violence and what actually exists on FIR chargesheets where Teltumbde was accused of “waging war” for espousing Maoist revolutionary ideas. Anand Teltumbde is a revered scholar whose work has brought attention to severe inequities in India’s Dalit community. Discussing social change is not proportionate to the charge and punishment of terrorism – there is no evidence that actually links Anand Teltumbde with a plot to kill the Prime Minister. The link appears through connecting Teltumbde’s revolutionary ideas to Communism and therefore terrorism. To this day, Anand Teltumbde sits in jail under false charges – guilty until proven innocent.
However, Anand Teltumbde isn’t the only marginalised person sitting in a high security jail in contravention of internationally recognized human rights. UK resident Jagtar Singh Johal was illegally kidnapped and detained by Indian police forces after travelling to India to get married in November 2017. Johal, a Sikh male from Dumbarton, Scotland was baselessly accused of conspiring to murder numerous Hindu political leaders. In reality, Johal was responsible for meticulously documenting the horrors of the 1984 Sikh Genocide, where terrifying state-sponsored and citizen violence against Sikhs throughout India — concentrated in the capital of Delhi — ignited insurgency in Punjab. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, thousands Punjabi youth were falsely accused of terrorism and killed in fake encounters by police, while hundreds of Punjabi women were raped and tortured alongside their families. Johal’s documentation of the crimes against Sikhs in Delhi and Punjab are not criminal, but rather, an effort to push back against the erasure and denial of India’s genocidal history in Punjab. Johal was tortured in detention and forced to sign a blank confession – which was enough to book him under anti-terrorism laws and keep him jailed, despite the fact that he is not an Indian citizen. He currently sits in Tihar Jail after his 172nd preliminary pre-trial hearing, now in his 5th year of detention.
The UAPA holds no regard for investigation nor the fundamental legal premise of “innocent until proven guilty”, as indoctrinated in the OHCR International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It thereby gives the government completely unchecked power to deem anyone guilty without means to prove their innocence.
Narendra Modi’s BJP government is utilising UAPA to sanction, justify and continue violence against dissenting citizens despite their Constitutional Rights. As India’s current government continues to actively and tacitly condone gross human rights violations against minorities, it has deformed the country’s institutions to protect itself from accountability and responsibility for its violence.
January 26 is India’s Republic Daythe government will conduct an elaborate parade under the vanity of national pride as the world’s largest democracy — supposedly guaranteeing liberty, equality and freedom of speech.
On India’s Republic Day, we ask what is India celebrating?
Where does democracy exist in the borders of a nation whose government persecutes and mercilessly murders anyone who does not follow or promote their ideology?
What does a nation celebrate when it persecutes its people through division of caste, creed, religion, gender, and sexual orientation?
Where does democracy exist when laws are warped to coerce its citizens into quiet subjugation?
What is a republic where citizens can not exercise their freedoms nor protect their liberties?
What will the political prisoners sitting in India’s cold jail cells, facing torture and isolation, be celebrating this Republic Day?