The Return of the TADA

Mayavati of the Uttar Pradesh must be smacking her lips in anticipation. Jayalalitha must already be waiting outside the Parliament like a child gone to a sweet stall with her father. These two leaders have a reason to celebrate. A new anti-terror law is being introduced in the country by the government. After months of obtuse slumber, evasive statements and shallow brandishing, the government at last decided to play heed to the opposition party’s long standing call for tougher anti-terror bill by coming out with UAPA. Never mind the abbreviation. On second thoughts, here’s the abbreviation, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment bill. Still, never mind the abbreviation because whether TADA, POTA or UAPA, it really makes no difference on how it is implemented.

BJP would stand vindicated; Advani would cheerfully ready his poll campaign theme (‘We Told You So’); the likes of Jayalalitha and Mayavati, who made most use of the previous terror law (POTA) to contain their political opponents, may rejoice at the arrival of the next weapon; the communists may decry the new law in their own banal logic. In the net effect the person who genuinely wishes to see the end of terrorism, and the group who desperately want to hold onto the last bit of freedom of expression in India would actually fear as they stand to lose something precious.

When the right wing advocates scoffed at the statement ‘India does not require stronger laws’ by the pseudo-secular advocates, and when the same right wing openly declared their support for the reluctant quote unquote anti-terror law from the pseudo-secular front, both the parties missed the point. We do not require new laws.

We are the country that is a democratically governed police state. The police have the power which often the politicians don’t wield openly. There are check points for every pillar of our society. Politicians fear elections, media; media fear law and loss of face or business; businesses fear law and unions, and the civilians fear all these institutions. The police have no fear. They arrest people at will, fabricate cases and evidences, beat up and torture people in custody without the fear of amnesty or international covenants, and even kill in the lockup without accountability. They collect bribes by coercion, arrest political opponents, selectively encourage rowdyism, use their police stations as mini-courts to hand self-styled judgments, and talk, act and conduct themselves abrasively. An ordinary citizen dreads walking into a police station even in urban India. Try walking into a station: You’ll feel a strong, intimidating, and humiliating air hovering around. They don’t need another law to get stronger. As a matter of fact, they can’t practically get any stronger.

In Tamil Nadu for instance, we have seen police demonstrating that they can contain pirated VCD if they willed. When the grand child of the present chief minister decided to get into film production, the police helped him by ensuring that not a single pirated VCD of the film (Kuruvi) was sold in the market. When the previous ruling party (Jayalallitha) wished, they could arrest journalists at will under the Goonda Act and place them under custody without any possibility of bail. If the police could fire at the farmers when they protested against mighty corporations, uproot millions of rural people en masse when the government wanted to build highly unviable, ecologically disastrous dams, eliminate hundreds of anti-socials at stage-managed encounters at their own convenience, then they can very well fight against the terrorists too. If the existing laws permit apprehending and holding a person in custody for six months for peddling pirated VCDs, the same laws can be used against the terror.

What is needed urgently is training in social responsibility for our policemen, making them independent of political parties, arming them with appropriate, modern gadgets, stopping the misuse of police force for political means, and seriously, seriously tightening our intelligence. Besides all these, we need to take the victimised minority community into confidence, help and work with them to combat anti-social elements within their communities, and actively strategise to reduce the dangerous trend of ghettoisation.

Just another law is just another lame attempt, not reluctant quote unquote, as BJP put it. Dangerously, these laws can be gleefully used by anti-social political leaders who want to settle scores and by untrained, ill-mannered, and ill-intended police force ever hungry for power. Finally, what urgently needed are a new, improved political will and the intelligence force that feels accountable to society.