Kerala government’s use of UAPA calls into question its policy on dissent

Extrajudicial killings, charging citizens under UAPA, and the government siding with the police triggered protests against the current government in Kerala.
Kerala government’s use of UAPA calls into question its policy on dissent
Kerala government’s use of UAPA calls into question its policy on dissent
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The extrajudicial killings of seven Maoists, including two women, between November 2016 and October 2019 triggered widespread protests against the current government in Kerala. Despite the anger, the state went ahead and booked many of those who responded against these killings via poster campaigns under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and used the law of sedition too in some cases. 

In the context of the killings of four Maoists, Manivasakam, Sreemathi, Karthi and Suresh, in Manchakkandi on October 28 and 29 this year, two students were arrested and booked under UAPA for allegedly distributing pro-Maoist brochures. This raised questions over whether dissent was being curbed by the Left government.

Use of UAPA for putting up posters

After Maoist leader CP Jaleel was killed on March 6 in Vaithiri near a resort, Nahas and Sreekanth, activists from the Left youth organisation Purogamana Yuvajana Prasthanam (Progressive Youth Movement), were charged under UAPA. The two had put up posters demanding action against police officers who killed Jaleel and dissolving of the Thunderbolts, the anti-insurgence force of the Kerala police. This campaign was done from Kasargode to Thiruvananthapuram. The activists received a notice from Malappuram’s Pandikkad police station months back. The case details were provided via the Kerala police website only in the last week of October.

“Progressive Youth Movement (PYM) is not a banned organisation and has never been involved in any unlawful activities. It is a Left leaning youth movement that advocates scientific socialism, strives for the protection of the environment and the safeguarding of human rights. It is a political conspiracy based on a conscious effort by the state to impose seditious charges and arrest activists of transparent and democratic organisations like PYM,” says Sreekanth.

He adds, “Arrest the murderers of martyr comrade CP Jaleel’, ‘Dissolve bloodthirsty Thunderbolts force’ – these were the two demands put forward through the posters. These demands in no way ask people to violate any laws. These are demands asking the government to enforce the law.”

Kerala High Court senior advocate M Madhusudanan says these UAPA cases are fragile. Referring to the case of the tribal woman Gauri who was charged under UAPA for putting up an election boycott poster and the Supreme Court judgment that validates NOTA, he says, “There are cases charged on many for election boycott campaigns. But that poster simply demands the enactment of a Supreme Court verdict on NOTA. What is wrong in that? What is wrong in saying the murdered are martyrs?”

Gauri and Chathu, both tribal farmers languished in jail for many months after police registered two UAPA cases against them for calling for an election boycott.

Sreekanth alleges that with these arrests the government has been successful in creating a certain kind of fear. “When we went to collect signatures against this, a director who made a film against UAPA said that he is a CPI(M) member and needs to ask the party before signing. A Dalit organisation member openly said that he was scared to sign. What fascism aspires to bring is this very fear. It exists on this fear,” Sreekanth says.

Consecutive Congress and Left governments have used the UAPA, and more than 150 cases have been filed under UAPA between 2014- 2018. After coming to power, the Pinarayi Vijayan government has filed 82 cases under UAPA in just two years, the statistics for 2019 are not clear yet.

Detractors also point out that what is worrying is not just the usage of UAPA against those the state believes are Maoist supporters, but also the reluctance to use it in other cases.

An amendment to Section 15 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in February 2013, makes provision to treat producing or smuggling of counterfeit Indian currencies, as an act of terrorism.

On November 28th , BJP Yuva Morcha leader Rakesh from Thrissur Kodungallur was arrested for printing and using fake currency of 40 lakhs. He was charged with IPC 489 B (use and transaction of forged currency note) and 489 C (possession of forged currency notes, with an intention to use the same as genuine notes).

This is not the first time that Rakesh was caught for printing forged currency. It was post demonetisation that Rakesh was found printing counterfeit currency and was first arrested. Recent amendments to the NIA Act also allows the agency to probe cases related to counterfeit currency. But in Rakesh’s case, the UAPA was not invoked.

Former DGP of Kerala TP Senkumar had defended this move saying that “Rakesh was just making photostat copies” and termed it a petty crime. He also alleged that fake currency printed in Pakistan was brought to India and nobody talks about that. When he added that only Muslims were making a big deal of this case, the statement received widespread criticism from citizens who reminded the former police officer that was defending an act of sedition.

Lukhman Pallikkandi, who is part of the People’s Revolutionary Front, was arrested under UAPA for putting up a poster demanding punishment for the murderers of CP Jaleel and had to endure 65 days in jail.

“I put up the posters of the Progressive Youth Movement in Kannur. The government can either accept the demand or reject it. When we asked the DYSP why this stand, he replied that Thunderbolt was formed by the government, so asking to dissolve the force is seditious. Union Minister Amit Shah himself demanded that the Kerala government must be dissolved post the Sabarimala women entry verdict. Will they take action against Amit Shah? These cases reflect a tendency to resist people’s dissent whenever fake encounters happen,” Lukhman says.

He was allowed bail as the Kerala High Court observed that a person cannot be charged under UAPA for putting up posters.

“When repressive laws like TADA and POTA were brought in, the state witnessed massive resistance from the people. They had to withdraw both laws. P Chidambaram cited the Mumbai terror attack to bring in UAPA,” Lukhman says. He points out that there is an imbalance in the system, citing the anti-women entry to Sabarimala protests by RSS affiliated organisations. “They hurled bombs at the Nedumangad police station. The government didn’t dare to charge them under UAPA. But when someone put up a poster, the government thought it worthy of charging under UAPA!” he alleges.

Kerala ruling party’s stand on UAPA

CPI(M) polit bureau members Sitaram Yechury and Prakash Karat opposed the Kerala government’s move to use UAPA when students Thaha and Alan were arrested. But on November 18 Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan rejected such a reaction from the polit bureau. When questioned by the opposition, he said that there was enough evidence to charge Thaha and Alan under UAPA and that Maoists were attempting to create unrest in the state.

Sreekanth says that this case reveals the party’s ideological pauperism. “They have retracted from some basic values. It is this very party that claims to be resisting the BJP’s use of the same tools of the fascist Brahmin government to crush the voice of Muslims, Adivasis, Dalits, Maoists and other dissenting voices. But Kerala is where a large number of UAPA cases have been registered,” he says.

“CPI(M) is not against UAPA. They are saying they are against it, but that is a lie,” says Rasheed, pointing to the RTI reply to advocate Thushar’s query about the re-examination of UAPA cases which the government claims is ‘on process’.

“The government said it would re-examine 42 UAPA cases, including these recent ones. No re-examination has been done. No committee has been formed. They say they have re-examined six cases but there is no clarity on that. (Leftist group Porattam activists) Shanto Lal and Ajithan’s UAPA trial has begun. The court itself cleared three UAPA cases charged against Maoist leader Rupesh. The first UAPA case in Kerala was filed on Govindankutty from Thrippunithura. That happened during VS Achyuthanandan’s Left government. The Justice Gopinathan committee is supposed to examine whether the case is apt for a trial, and the committee must provide sanction for the trial. That is a clause in UAPA. This committee has allowed sanction for trial even in the discharged UAPA cases against Rupesh. An excuse the government makes is ‘UAPA is Centre’s act and we can’t do anything about using it.’ TADA too was such a law, but politicians in Kerala and the government had decided not to use it,” Rasheed says.

Advocate Madhusudanan says, quoting the judgment from the Kerala High Court on the Manchakkandi extrajudicial killings says, “What people demanded after Jaleel’s murder is a fair and independent investigation, which did not happen. The enquiry is only portraying those murdered as accused. In Manivasakam and Karthi’s case, Justice Narayana Pisharody gave a ruling within the limitations of the PUCL case judgment. The court pointed out that an independent and fair trial is needed in this case and that it should be beyond the arguments in the FIR. This judgment was given last week. The High Court has demanded that all the firearms used in the killings be submitted before the investigating officer. There should be evidence. The fingerprints of those slain must be recorded too, and only then the guns the state alleges were owned by those killed can be tested to determine if they were really used by those killed. No fingerprints were recorded.”

“After fact finding visits in Manchakkandi, an MLA, an MP, members of PUCL, other human rights organisations, CPI, etc said that this was a fake encounter. But the Chief Minister is speaking in the language of the police. It is very clear that the police acted because they got orders to do so. They are filing cases against anyone protesting the murders. People protested against the Nilambur fake encounter, and rights activist Rajeesh Kollakkandi was charged under UAPA. After the Manchakkandi fake encounter, the crime branch has already started an enquiry against those who have protested,” Rasheed says.

“These murders and UAPA are not two distinct things, they are closely connected. These are two methods of the same repressive treatment. They demand Maoists to come over to democratic lines, aren’t poster campaigns and pamphlet distribution democratic methods?” asks Rasheed.

Slamming the state’s stark discriminatory approach to certain communities, Nahas of Purogamana Yuvajana Prasthanam says it is very difficult in Kerala to protest against anything without being labelled as Maoist or Islamist. “If Dalits rise up, they are termed Maoists; if Muslims rise up, they are termed Islamists. When Muslims protested against the GAIL project in Malappuram they were called Islamic terrorists, and the movement was repressed with brutal police force,” he says.

Several recent incidents – like the arrest of journalism student Thaha Fasal and law student Alan Shuhaib charged under UAPA for alleged Maoist links, acquittal of the accused in the Walayar Dalit girls’ rape and murder case, the Ayodhya verdict – has created a strong disdain against the state, says Nahas. 

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