An overview over previously amended UAPA, aimed to counter terrorists, has resulted in terrorised dissidents instead.

Free speech, political dissention, and even mild criticism, might get anyone designated as ‘terrorist’ by the Centre, ever since Home Minister Amit Shah, in a sovereign state, proposed the amended version of an already ‘draconian law’ called, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), and it somewhat suits the ‘rishta vohi soch nayi’ narrative with its uncanny resemblance to the Rowlatt Act of 1919 set by the colonisers to criminalise protests.

What is UAPA?

In 1967, UAPA was passed for the first time in the parliament, and it gave the entitlement to the government to designate any ‘organisation’ as ‘unlawful.’ It further defined and criminalised what it seemed as unlawful. However in 2004, Manmohan Singh led Congress further amended it without getting it scrutinised by the special committee. The government was disposed with more power, defined terrorism, and could declare any organisation as ‘terrorist.’ It also empowered the police with enhanced power of interrogation, which was often abused as a harassment tool.

What does the 2019 amendment say?
The recent changes proposed by the Home Minister Amit Shah, which were passed in the Lok Sabha owning to heavy NDA majority and smooth relations in Rajya Sabha, allowed the interference of National Investigation Agency (NIA) to mess with the federal system, and most importantly declare any ‘individual’ as opposed to what was ‘organisation’ as ‘terrorist.’ This too was passed sans the scrutiny of the select committee.

Who are the categorically individual terrorists?

The Home Minister made it very clear that individuals who participate, fund, or engage in raising funds for terrorist activities, shall be treated along the lines of this act.

Most importantly he said, “those are terorists who attempt to plant terrorist literature and terorist theory in the minds of the young, guns do not give rise to terrorism, the root of it is the propaganda that is done to spread it.”

The Problematic Aspects

At no point does the law define what is terrorist literature and theory, for all one may have a copy of The Communist Manifesto and the Centre can use that as evidence.

Also what is the urgent need of the government to go after individuals specifically, when under chapter four of the same act provides for the accused to be prosecuted and punished if found guilty by the courts? Perhaps it’s that ‘if’ they want to win over, by curtailing a person’s right to get bail, or proper redressal. On average 75% cases under UAPA ended in acquittal over three years ending 2016 as per Business Standards’ analysis of NCRB data. It only raises skepticism if the Centre is trying to overstep this trend by removing the redressal system all and for once.

Who all are booked under this so far?
Jaish-e-Mohammad founder Masoor Azhar, Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed, Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and underworld don Dawood Ibrahim. However, individuals with no organisation backing who were arrested post the amendment included Kashmiri photojournalist Masrat Jahan, Kashmiri journalist Gowhar Geelani, peasant leader Akhil Gogoi, student leaders, Meeran Haider, Safoora Zargar and Umar Kahlid.


There’s scope of some appeal in this contentious law which would take minimum 100 days and maximum uncertain days, for the heeding to go through the Home Ministry which itself labelled the accused as terrorist in the first place, and review committee, until then, one is a terrorist until proven otherwise, without grant to bail, or lawyer, and it’s all because the State with enhanced centralised power in a democracy simply believed so without any evidence.

Featured Image Credits: The Quint

Umaima Khanam

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From struggling for the country’s freedom to being free in a democracy, the ideology of nationalism and movements may have changed since 1947, but the quest for justice remains alive. Read on to find out how a student’s approach towards the terms  ‘sedition’ (S), ‘nationalism’ (N) and ‘struggle’ (S) change the course of how a nation grows.


In Bangladesh, the government had fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse around 20 protesters who had gathered to agitate against the deaths of two students, reportedly killed by a speeding bus on 29th July. Allegedly, the social media outreach by the masses there, voicing their concerns against the actions, has been strategically curbed.

This comes as a stark reminder of 2016, when students from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) were abused, threatened with death and rape, were thrown into jail without charges and without concrete evidence. What came to be popularly known as the JNU Sedition Row reflects a prominent question- “Is dissent the first step towards anti-nationalism?” “The universities encourage ideas of liberalism and provide a platform for engagement. If a thinking individual cannot think out loud, question, or criticise the establishment, then the idea of a university is of no use,” says Akanksha Rao, a student at Jesus and Mary College. But we have been fed the textbook-sentiment of patriotism for so long that it seems nearly blasphemous to ask the ‘what, why and how’ of patriotism.

While patriotism simply implies devotion towards and vigorous support for one’s country, nationalism is defined as the ‘identification with one’s own nation, and the support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations’. However today, the lines between patriotism and nationalism have become extremely blurry.

As a 20-year-old student, Vishal Ranka disagrees with the approach of sedition in the present-day and stated “It’s a blatant slap to my Freedom of Speech. If one doesn’t question, how far can my pride go?”

Sedition laws were first imposed upon the Indians by the British to curb any dissent against authority or power. Regrettably, what constitutes as sedition today lies in a comparative on how tolerant the state is.

Niharika Dabral, a student at the University of Delhi (DU), put her ideology of what doesn’t constitute nationalism in an article, writing, “The notion that there can be only one concept of what constitutes a nation, and that every other view is anti-national, is intellectually void at best and authoritarian at worst.”

With constant discourse in society, the phrase ‘anti-national’ has become frivolous to the extent of forming a binary between blind nationalism and sedition. These restrictions, stemming from stringent emotions in society, impact the students the most, as their primary interaction with liberalism isn’t liberal in itself.

There may be a thousand perspectives on nationalism today, but informed student movements today fight against those rationales which demand one to put a litmus paper to the tongue, scream “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, and the minute the paper turns saffron, pat oneself on the back, and get labelled a ‘patriot’.

Feature Image Credits: Eyes on Europe

Feature Image Caption:  Nationalism is defined as the ‘identification with one’s own nation, and the support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations’.

Anushree Joshi

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Muskan Sethi

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For most people, February 9th will be just another day in the calendar. But, in the history of student movements, this day will be known for the beginning of a remarkable battle between the sedition-professing state and the students, who advocated absolute freedom of expression. This row erupted after a public event organized by a few students corroborating the judicial killing of Afzal Guru and demanding the right to self-determination of Kashmir dominated the public discourse for months and in the process raised many plausible questions pertaining to nationalism, dissent, activism, politics, and policies. Yes, we’re talking about the famous (or infamous) JNU Sedition Row.

Here is a look at the sequence of events:

• A program organized by a few students, including Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya ,against the execution of Afzal Guru and for Kashmir’s right to ‘self-determination’ takes place on the evening of 9th February, 2016. Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) protests against this event and a scuffle takes place. Meanwhile, a few media channels (mainly Zee News) that were present at the ground report that anti-India slogans such as “Bharat ki barbara di tak jung rahegi” and “Bharat tere turkey hongay” were raised and contested videos of the same are widely circulated.

• On February 12th, Kanhyaiya Kumar, then JNU Students Union(JNUSU) president is arrested by Delhi Police for sedition and criminal conspiracy. Many JNU students are booked for the same; five of them go into hiding. Protests in support of Kanhiya Kumar, Umar Khalid, and Anirban Bhattacharya erupt.

• On February 15th and 16th, there is mob violence outside Patiala House Court during the hearing of Kanhiya Kumar. Journalist, JNU teachers, Kanhaiya Kumar himself, and activists are assaulted by a group of lawyers.

• On February 17th, JNU faculty members start open lecture series on Nationalism and 133 eminent professors from prestigious universities, including Noam Chomsky, writes a letter condemning the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, and expresses solidarity with the students and faculty.

• On February 18t,h three office-bearers of JNU unit of ABVP resigned by stating disagreement over the Centre’s crass handling of the matter.

• On February 21st, all the absconding students return to the campus and offer themselves for surrender.

• On February 24th, Delhi Police arrests Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya.

• On March 24th Kanhyaiya Kumar returns to JNU amidst much media attention.

• On March 19, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya are released on bail and subsequently address the huge gathering at JNU’s administrative block.

• On April 26th, varsity’s inquiry committee found 21 students guilty of breaking disciplinary norms, the Student’s Union and Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers’ Association (JNUTA) rejects the punishments.

• On 10th and 12th May, rusticated students move to the Delhi High Court against their rustication.

• On May 13th, High Court stays the disciplinary action against the students.

A slew of confrontations and protests between students, teachers, and administration regarding multiple issues continued throughout the year.

The best and worst of media coverage
The reason why a seemingly small public meeting, which is typical of a politically charged campus like JNU, became a subject of prime time after prime time was not because the media was interested in discussing the controversial trial of Afzal Guru, the Kashmir problem or student politics, but because an incident was blown of out proportion to suit another agenda altogether. The narratives that many sections of media weaved reduced many complex issues into simplistic binaries and the dangerous Bush discourse of “you’re either with us, or against us” was created. The media trial that was run against students and against JNU as an institution itself incited violence towards the accused and jeopardized their safety. Multiple false claims such as: Umar Khalid visited Pakistan (except that he doesn’t hold a passport) and that he made 800 calls to Gulf countries in 4 days (which means 8.9 calls per hour) were callously thrown around. Mainstream media houses like News X quoted an unverified Intelligence Bureau document and announced Umar Khalid a Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist, but conveniently forgot to add a correction disclaimer when Intelligence Bureau denied any such findings. Even Home Minister Rajnath Singh made an unsusceptible statement saying that “The incident at JNU has received support from Hafiz Saeed. With an enthusiastic circulation of morphed videos and jingoistic shooting matches, JNU row could be seen as a perfect example where certain section of media lost its credibility to some vested interests.

However, while it was the worst of times, it was also the best of times. Independent and alternative portals like Newslaundy, The Wire, ScoopWhoop, Catch News, National Dastak and India Resists provided the much needed unbiased coverage of the whole fiasco. Taking a stand against Zee News’s propaganda laced documentation of JNU issue journalist Vishwa Deepak openly resigned from Zee Media. Somewhere in the media frenzy, we also saw journalist Ravish Kumar’s Black Screen prime time episode which was an epitome of fair reportage.

Current status of cases
The sedition cases which were to be investigated by Delhi Police’s anti-terrorism unit, the Special Cell, are presently at halt. No charge sheet has been filed. Delhi Police has seen two police commissioners in the past year and it appears that except for BS Bassi (commissioner during February 2016 who filed suo moto cases against the students) no one is interested in further pursuing the cases. This indifference is understandable since the grounds on which the charges were filed are fragile.

What changed for the anti-nationals?
Kanhaiya Kumar reached instant fame after his arrest and the much broadcasted ‘Azaadi’ speech. He bagged a book deal with publishing house Juggernaut Books and subsequently released ‘Bihar to Tihar: My Political Journey’ on 1st July 2016. Kanhaiya Kumar has addressed multiple rallies across the country in past one year.

Umar Khalid is currently working on final semester of his Ph.D which is centered on the tribals of Singhbhum district in Jharkhand. Because his face was continuously splashed across the television screen for weeks, Umar became a familiar face and unfortunately still has a fair share of haters (both online and offline). Even though the Umar is a popular activist and has been invited as a speaker to several conferences and demonstrations, he still faces security issues as a result of the vilification.

Shehla Rashid Shora, Vice President of JNUSU 2015-16 spearheaded the stand with JNU movement and represented the university in all major forums. She has signed a book deal with Penguin Random House. Her book titled ‘I, Student’ is expected to hit the stands this year.

A year on, five of those six students at the heart of the controversy are still studying at the university except for Anirban Bhattacharya, who left after submitting his Ph.D. thesis. Currently, he works as a researcher with a Delhi-based think tank.

Questions that remain unanswered
It’s been one year since the arrests were made and an esteemed institution was equated as ‘the den of terrorists’. However, unlike last year, T.V studios are now busy covering the Uttar Pradesh elections, those self-righteous anchor-students who were baying for the blood of so-called ‘anti-nationals’ are today silent on the police and state inaction. The question arises: Should the media be held accountable for the victimization of students? Should Delhi Police, which actively raided hostels and made arrests be asked about the developments of the case? It is still unclear who were the people who raised the anti-India slogans or if at all there was any sloganeering.

However, what is clear is that Jawaharlal Nehru University students are stronger than ever: They are still dissenting despite the grills that are installed at the administrative block. Yes, their protests are not being televised but they sure are alive.

Niharika Dabral
[email protected]

Image Credits: Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters