India faces a crisis when it comes to terrorism. Legislation enacted to deal with terrorism includes the Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act (POTA), the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) amongst others. POTA is far more draconian than the Rowlatt Act enacted by the British in 1919.
India’s response to terrorism on the surface seems proportional when dealing with Naxalism and left-wing extremism but it is important to note that a group of civil society activities who toured Jharkhand in 2003 found that “all the laws of the land were replaced by POTA.” They found that 654 persons had cases filed against them under POTA. Farmers, laborers and students were typically arrested. 83 cases were eventually thrown out.
Similarly, in the aftermath of the Gujarat riots in 2002 showcased the uneven applicability of POTA on different religious communities. The Gujarat government registered cases only against a train burning incident (under POTA) and not the communal riots that followed. After many reports surfaced regarding the misuse of POTA and silencing of political opponents, the government repealed the act in 2004.
The UAPA accords the central government the power to declare “any association that engages in activities that support any secessionist claims” or “disclaims, questions, disrupts” the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India. Once an association is declared unlawful, the government has broad powers to restrict its activities and criminalize individual involvement with such associations. This law was amended in 2004 and 2008. It includes provisions that were present in POTA. Although UAPA deleted provisions that allowed confessions in police custody cases to be treated as evidence (present in POTA) it also brought back many of the provisions of POTA.
The AFSPA was passed in 1958. Originally enacted for a limited period, the act still stands. It allows the government to define, at its discretion and without judicial review, an area as ‘disturbed’ and empowers the military to shoot to kill. The act is criticised for its lack of accountability. AFSPA is applicable in the states of the North-East, which also have autonomous movements such as the Naga movement. According to the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, India freely exploits the resources of the North-East. They write, “Assam produces one-fourth of all the petroleum for India, yet it is processed outside of Assam so the state does not receive the revenues.” There are various autonomy movements in the North-East that only strengthen their case by highlighting the unaccountability of the Indian military under the AFSPA. The AFSPA violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
However, despite human rights violations, acts like the AFSPA and UAPA are here to stay. Various underground organisations operating in the areas of North-East and Jammu Kashmir make it difficult for the government to repeal these draconian acts, despite pressure from activists, academicians and non-governmental organisations. As many proponents of such legislation argue, the threats over Kashmir from Pakistan and the support from China extended to Pakistan makes it difficult for India to operate in unstable regions without such legislation.