The following is an extract from Analytical Monthly Review’s Editorial (Published in Kharagpur, West Bengal) appeared on its February 2009 issue.
We have lost twice over from the late November terror attacks in Mumbai. We must add to the anguish of the loved ones of the poor people who were murdered as they waited for trains at VT [Victoria Terminus] — and who received but a tiny fraction of the media’s attention — the anguish of innocent poor people yet unknown who shall fall prey to the lawless arrests and police torture that shall with certainty follow from the “anti-terror” legislation of December 17th.
Why do we say “with certainty”? The legislation follows two earlier models, the Prevention of Terrorism Act and its predecessor, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act. These acts gave rise to frightful abuse; they offered impunity to the police for unlawful arrests and torture in custody. Official review of the use of TADA, under which close to 70,000 were arrested (and but 725 convicted), found the provisions of the Act inapplicable in over 90% of the cases. POTA was, if anything, yet more abused.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act, establishing a new national secret police, and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment (UAPA) Act, radically diminishing legal protections for those accused of terrorism by the police, were passed by both houses of Parliament the day after the bills were introduced, with minimal attention to, or discussion of, their text. Provisions of UAPA, provided certain words (“terrorism”) are said by the police, abolish rights to bail before trial, extend the period a suspect can be held without charges to 180 days, terminate the right to remain silent, and — provided certain additional words are said — reverse the burden of proof.
In short, we have returned in an instant to the police state legislation of TADA and POTA, whose injustice and futility were finally understood by the civilized and democratic public only after an extended campaign of education. Of course the Hindutva fascists never ceased their demand for such legislation, and the spectacle of Chidambaram and Advani arm-in-arm united as they trample on human rights was ominous. There is reason to fear we have not seen the last of that combination engaged in that activity.
The moral of the story is the overarching importance of the struggle to educate about, and resist, the police state practices that are an everyday reality for members of minority communities and those targeted for expropriation and displacement. For this struggle to even be possible, the first line of resistance must be the defence of those subject to police persecution for speaking out. It is for this reason that the struggle to free Dr. Binayak Sen is the most crucial front in the fight.