It’s a paradox that citizens in nations that proclaim themselves to be democratic do not get their democratic rights expanded as time goes by but those sitting in positions of power get theirs.
People who have been worst victims of governmental excesses never bother to scarp such systems once they come to power; they would instead use them effectively to strangle their opponents. India is now witnessing such a paradox.
The Delhi police last Sunday arrested Umar Khalid, a former student leader of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, for ‘inciting violence’ during the Delhi riots, and got him remanded to its custody for 10 days.
It is understood that he has been booked under, apart from various sections in IPC including murder and attempt to murder, the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which would ensure that he remained incarcerated for a long time without bail.
The police action comes close on the heels of it filing a chargesheet in connection with the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, in which it included the names of CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, Swaraj Abhiyan leader Yogendra Yadav, economist and academic Jayati Ghosh, Delhi University professor Apoorvanand and documentary filmmaker Rahul Roy.
They are purported to have “encouraged” anti-CAA protests.
Given the way the Union government uses the legal process to engage people who are ideologically opposed to, as is seen in the case of Bhima Koregaon case, it is not long before all those whose names are mentioned in the chargesheet will find themselves behind bars.
What makes it interesting is that it happens on the watch of people, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who cut their teeth in politics fighting the excesses of Emergency.
The BJP government in Uttar Pradesh is going a step further and introducing a parallel system to ensure law and order. Personnel of the newly formed Uttar Pradesh Special Security Force can “without the prior permission of any magistrate and without any warrant, arrest any person”.
This is a dream project of chief minister Yogi Adityanath! The government clarifies that the provisions are similar to the ones that govern the functions of the Central Industrial Security Force.
None has a doubt that governments need powerful legal tools to tackle terrorism. But in India, tools such as UAPA are used more to rein in political opponents, apart from persecuting the most vulnerable sections of society such as Dalits, tribals, minorities and other marginalised sections of society, than taking on terrorists.
The Allahabad high court had to recently intervene to ensure liberty to doctor Kafeel Khan after it found that there was little reason to slap sections of the National Security Act, 1980, on him.
The Public Safety Act, 1978, of Jammu and Kashmir is being used to smother popular politicians of the Union territory.
“The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened,” former US president John F. Kennedy once reminded his countrymen. Time Indians woke up and kept the wolf from the door.