The Guardian should not sideline the fact that peace and development have started returning to Kashmir

The Guardian in an article published on December 10, under headline, “How a terrorism law in India is being used to silence Modi’s critics,” said dissent is being stifled under the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi

The British daily has written this in the context of Khurram Parvez, a Kashmiri who was arrested by the National Investigation Agency not because of any activism but on account of his involvement in seditious activities. He was arrested for waging a war against the government, raising funds for terrorists and recruiting people for terrorist act. In 2016, Parvez was booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA) for his involvement in protests following the killing of Burhan Wani, the top commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, a terrorist outfit.

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The Guardian maintained that the law under which Parvez was detained, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), stands accused of being unconstitutional and undemocratic. UAPA, ostensibly a terrorism prevention law, has instead routinely been used by the Modi government to detain those deemed critical of the government, from lawyers and activists to journalists, priests, poets, academics, civil society members, and Kashmiri civilians.

First of all, the British daily should know about the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), 1967 which is the primary counter-terror law in India. The Act provides special procedures to deal with terrorist activities, among other things. Under the Act, the central government may designate an organisation as a terrorist organisation if it: (i) commits or participates in acts of terrorism, (ii) prepares for terrorism, (iii) promotes terrorism, or (iv) is otherwise involved in terrorism. The Bill additionally empowers the government to designate individuals as terrorists on the same grounds.

Under the Act, an investigating officer is required to obtain the prior approval of the Director General of Police to seize properties that may be connected with terrorism. The Bill adds that if the investigation is conducted by an officer of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the approval of the Director General of NIA would be required for seizure of such property. Under the Act, investigation of cases may be conducted by officers of the rank of Deputy Superintendent or Assistant Commissioner of Police or above. The Bill additionally empowers the officers of the NIA, of the rank of Inspector or above, to investigate cases. Insertion to schedule of treaties: The Act defines terrorist acts to include acts committed within the scope of any of the treaties listed in a schedule to the Act. The Schedule lists nine treaties, including the Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (1997), and the Convention against Taking of Hostages (1979). The Bill adds another treaty to the list. This is the International Convention for Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005).

As for Kashmir, the UT which shares close border with Pakistan, not a single day passed when terrorists from across the border not attacked common people, targeted security forces and annihilated those who stood in their way. According to the Home Minister, 40,000 people, including civilians and security forces lost their lives due to cross-border terrorism. After Article 370 was abrogated and UAPA was implemented in Kashmir, the number of deaths has declined drastically. From 2004 to 2014, as many as 2,081 people were killed in Kashmir. On an average 208 people were killed in the valley every year between 2004 and 2014. But on the contrary from 2014 to 2021, 30 people have been killed on an average per year.

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The Guardian said use of UAPA has risen steeply since 2019 when the government gave authorities the power to designate an individual as a “terrorist”.

The fact on the ground is that there has been a 32.18 percent decline in the number of people arrested across India under UAPA between 2019 and 2020, while the number of those acquitted under the law has shot up by 26 percent, Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai told the Upper House on December 1, 2021. Giving details, he said 1,948 people were arrested under UAPA in 2019, while 1321 arrests could take place in 2020.

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The Guardian said the deployment of UAPA has been particularly apparent in Kashmir, a region that has been disputed between India and Pakistan since Indian independence. Kashmir has been home to a long-running violent insurgency fighting Indian rule and as a result has become the world’s most heavily militarised zone.

The government’s argument is that UAPA has been unveiled to end terrorism in the country. “We are bringing in laws that will end terrorism in the country and we promise that the government will never misuse it. Terrorism has to be dealt with, with strict laws,” Home Minister Amit Shah told the Lower House of Parliament while introducing anti-terror law on July 24, 2019. In 2008, the Congress-led UPA brought a bill to amend UAPA in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. It was further amended in 2013 and 2019---all this to counter terrorism in Kashmir. Since its implementation, the number of terrorist incidents has reduced during 2020 by 59 percent as compared to 32 percent up to June 2021 in comparison with the corresponding period up to June 2020.

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