Drop the UAPA Charges against youth arrested in Parliament Jumping Case!

Dec 20, 2023
Tags: UAPA, Parliament Case, Abuse of Law, Unemployment, Violence against women, inequality
Related Issue: Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression, Right to Liberty

The PUCL condemns the UAPA charges which have been filed against the young persons who have been arrested on 13th December, 2023, for jumping over the visitor’s gallery in the new Parliament, releasing coloured but harmless smoke from canisters and shouting slogans, ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ and ‘Bhagat Singh Amar Rahe’. Sagar Sharma, a 26 year old youth from Lucknow and 35-year-old Manoranjan D, an engineering graduate from Bengaluru, who jumped from the visitors’ gallery were overpowered by the MPs, thrashed and handed over to the police.

At about the same time, 2 other youth standing outside the Parliament premises, Amol Shinde (25) and Neelam Devi (42), were arrested for spraying coloured gas, shouting slogans “tanashahi nahi chalegi” as well as raising slogans on unemployment, atrocities against women in Manipur, and shouting “Jai Bhim”. The others arrested were Vishal Sharma (40) and Lalit Jha (38). The arrested were a part of a group of six people who planned the incident and were associated with a social media page ‘Bhagat Singh Fan Club’. What seemed to be common to all the accused is their admiration towards freedom fighters, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev Thapar, and Shivaram Rajguru.

All the 6 persons were booked for offences under sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 452 (trespass), 153 (wantonly giving provocation, with intent to cause riot), 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions), and 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty).
What is very disturbing however, is that the youth have also been implicated for having committed ‘terrorist offences’ under sections 16 and 18 ( for committing a terrorist act and conspiracy to commit a terrorist act) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, (UAPA).

Undoubtedly what the 2 youths, Sagar Sharma and Manoranjan did with assistance from the others does amount to an unprecedented security breach in the newly inaugurated parliament building and has to be taken seriously from the point of view of the safety and security of parliamentarians.

However, it is an egregious and condemnable misuse of the law to implicate them for committing terrorist activities, especially when it was widely reported that the main motivation behind the audacious, albeit dangerous act, of the 6 – member team was to highlight in a sensational manner, the nation-wide problems of unemployment, inequality, atrocities against women, the Manipur violence, authoritarianism and other issues of common social and political concern.
Behind the actions of the 6 young people is the harsh reality that the issue of unemployment has been simmering over the last nine years with no meaningful response from the Central Government. In 2023, the unemployment rate is 7.6 %, which is higher than pre-pandemic rates. As a response to this seeming indifference by the government, much like their hero Bhagat Singh, these young people too, sought to ‘make the deaf hear and to give the heedless a timeless warning’. As their hero Bhagat Singh explained in a statement when he was being prosecuted for his actions , ‘we dropped the bomb on the floor of the Assembly Chamber to register our protest on behalf of those who had no other means left to give expression to their heart rending agony’.

The use of a draconian law such as the UAPA against the arrested youth is nothing but an abuse of the legal process.

Under the UAPA, for an act to be deemed a terrorist act under Section 15 there must be an intention to ‘threaten’ the ‘unity and integrity’ of India or an intention to ‘strike terror’ in a section of the people. The intention must be accompanied by an action in which ‘bombs, dynamite or other explosive substances or inflammable substances’ or ‘noxious gases’ of a ‘hazardous nature’ are employed which are likely to cause ‘death, ‘loss of life’ or even ‘economic disruption’.

Even under an expansive understanding of a terrorist act in Section 15 of the UAPA, there is no prima facie material to indicate an intention to ‘strike terror’, ‘threaten’ the ‘unity and integrity of India or the use of any ‘noxious gases’ of an ‘hazardous nature’. There is no loss of life or threat of the loss of life or even ‘economic disruption’ in the intrusion into and disruption of parliament.

The fact that what was released in parliament was harmless yellow smoke seems to indicate that the aim of the fans of Bhagat Singh was to ‘make the deaf hear’. The objective seems to have been to draw attention to youth unemployment, authoritarian government and atrocities against women in Manipur.

While the aim of abuse of laws like UAPA is to turn the populace into meek subjects, because of the `chilling effect’ it produces on others who may want to express their views to the government. Incidents like the protest of these 6 youth highlights that democratically minded citizens will find peaceful, non-violent and Gandhian means to protest and express their opposition to authoritarian and fascist politics becoming risky and dangerous.

We would like to stress that it is vital that the issues raised by the young people be addressed by the government as socio-political concerns and these substantive concerns not be twisted into a ‘terrorist act’. The government will do well to keep in mind Bhagat Singh’s statement in his trial when he said that, ‘we then deliberately offered ourselves to bear the penalty for what we had done and to let the imperialist exploiters know that by crushing individuals, they cannot kill ideas… can ordinances and Safety Bills snuff out the flames of freedom in India ?’

In another egregious example of the abuse of UAPA, the Jammu and Kashmir police invoked the law against seven students of Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST) – Kashmir for allegedly raising anti-India slogans and celebrating the Indian cricket team’s loss in the World Cup 2023 final. While the ensuing widespread condemnation of the police action led to the police reportedly dropping the UAPA charges, this incident once again highlights the abandon with which the state uses laws like UAPA. What permits this continued abuse of laws like UAPA by the executive is the unwillingness of the judiciary to check the abuse at the inception stage of prosecution itself.

It is unfortunate that cases like the parliament case as well as the Kashmir case are not isolated instances of the abuse of the law. There is an increasingly trend of the invocation of UAPA to deal with dissenting opinions. While 814 cases were filed in 2021, 1005 cases under the UAPA were filed in 2022. The injustice of the UAPA is that of the 24,134 who were arrested between 2016-2020, only 212 were convicted, leaving the rest to languish in prison under the harsh `no bail’ doctrine of the UAPA. A study by the PUCL of UAPA cases from 2015-2020 concluded that the conviction rate of UAPA cases is an abysmal 2.8%.

The continued unconstitutional invocation of UAPA is an egregious violation of the right to freedom of speech, assembly and association. The arrest of the six young people is nothing but a weaponization of the UAPA to extinguish these constitutional freedoms.

Over the last 4 decades PUCL has opposed draconian, anti-democratic so-called anti-terrorism laws like TADA and POTA and successfully campaigned for their repeal. Our report on the abuse of UAPA has highlighted the widespread nature of abuse of UAPA across India to silence human rights defenders, rights activists, academics, journalists and other concerned citizens who have questioned the state. The PUCL once again calls upon all democratic minded citizens and groups to unitedly demand repeal of UAPA.

The PUCL reiterates its demand that the cases under the UAPA against the six young people be withdrawn by the state, the accused be released and the state desist from filing such frivolous UAPA cases against all those who dissent.

Kavita Srivastava, President, PUCL
Dr. V. Suresh, General Secretary, PUCL