When I was in school in British-ruled colonial India, many of my relations, who were non-violently agitating for India’s independence (inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and other champions of freedom), were in British jails under what was described as ‘preventive detention’, allegedly to stop them from doing anything violent, even though they had not done any such thing. After India’s independence, preventive detention as a form of incarceration was halted, but then it was reintroduced, initially by the Congress.
That was bad enough, but under the Hindutva-oriented BJP-government, now in office, preventive detention has acquired a much bigger role, allowing easy arrests and imprisonment of opposition politicians without trial. Indeed, from last year, under the provision of a freshly devised ‘Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act’ (UAPA, for short), the state can unilaterally declare someone to be a ‘terrorist’, which allows them to send this alleged terrorist to prison, without trial.
A number of human rights activists have been designated as terrorists and are in jail already under this governmental arrangement, and many others have been warned that the UAPA would be applied to them unless they obey the authorities and stop being anti-government.
When someone is described as being ‘anti-national’, this is, of course, a big philosophical denunciation, but in today’s India it may mean nothing more than the person has made some critical remarks about the government in office. There is a confusion here between ‘anti-government’ and ‘anti-national’. The courts have sometimes been able to stop some of these abusive practices, but given the slow movements of the courts, and the differences of opinion within India’s large Supreme Court, this has not always been an effective remedy.
Human rights of individuals have been restricted in India in many different ways. Organisations – national and international – that fight hard in favour of individual rights have been put increasingly under pressure. One of the most prominent defenders of human rights in the world, Amnesty International, has been forced to leave India as a result of governmental intervention, including the closing of its bank account.
When someone is described as being ‘anti-national’, this is, of course, a big philosophical denunciation, but in today’s India it may mean nothing more than the person has made some critical remarks about the government in office.