One of the black spots in the NDA’s rule since 2014 has been the predilection to use the infamous Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in a manner that has failed to grasp a singularly important distinction – that between an often-radicalised social and political activism and terrorism.
The anti-CAA protests in Delhi are a case in point. Safoora Zargar, the Jamia Millia Islamia research student, who is in a fairly advanced stage of pregnancy, finally secured bail after the prosecution did not object to her release on humanitarian grounds. But at least 11 others are languishing as undertrials, many who seem to have no direct link with the violence, having done little more than orchestrate protests and make speeches.
There is a clear streak of sheer vindictiveness here, one that is most apparent in the case of Devangana Kalita, who participated in the anti-CAA protests at Jafrabad. The M-Phil student of JNU is a member of Pinjra Tod (Break the Cage), a group of women students across Delhi that opposed what is regarded as restrictive rules in university hostels and accommodations. Kalita was arrested three times in ten days to get bail orders. Following the third arrest, the Delhi police slapped another case against her, this time under the UAPA.
There have been calls here and abroad for the release of these activists, the latest being from a group of United Nations experts, which stated that the arrests seem “clearly designed to send a chilling message to India’s vibrant civil society that criticism of government policies will not be tolerated.” But in a world that is caught up with the pandemic, the demands for the release of the activists have largely been in the form of statements, which has left the government unmoved. They have become victims of the government as well as our distracted attention.
The other batch of cases that demands proper scrutiny is those relating to the Elgar Parishad riot. A clutch of activists has been arrested under the UAPA, for ostensibly stoking the violence and fanning the flames, including author and professor Anand Teltumbde and former journalist and human rights activist Gautam Navlakha. Sympathy for an ideology or for the motives of those who fight against state repression is not tantamount to supporting or standing for terrorism. The Modi government and the Amit Shah-led Home Ministry are only attempting to exercise a pernicious kind of thought control, having ignored the distinction between the transcendent realm of ideas and the real world of violent action by conflating the two. History will not remember them kindly for doing this.