ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Criminalising Dissent

Consequences of UAPA

The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act not only criminalises the fundamental right to association but also dilutes the distinction between political dissent and criminal activity by criminalising dissident voices and acts. In the process, political dissent suffers major delegitimisation since particular ideologies, groups and beliefs are rendered criminal. This engenders a culture of political witch-hunts where selected organisations that question the legitimacy of the State and the ruling classes are outlawed.

The Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations’ report, The Terror of Law: UAPA and the Myth of National Security, which is summarised over here, can be accessed at

The current state of affairs in the largest democracy in the world is characterised by an outright violation of democratic rights of people through obtrusive state violence sanctioned by national security legislations. The Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations (CDRO) report, The Terror of Law: UAPA and the Myth of National Security is an attempt to unravel the same through a nuanced study of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). It seeks to understand and ­expose how laws such as the UAPA represent the same colonial mindset and strategy of banning and criminalising dissent.

The UAPA is an extraordinary law that criminalises the fundamental freedom to associate and assemble by allowing the government to simply ban political organisations that question the status quo. It allows the executive to wield excessive power to restrict the democratic rights of citizens to organise and agitate democratically. The course of Indian ­democracy provides glaring examples of how the UAPA facilitates the executive to violate the democratic rights of citizens and implicate them for being proactive members of society. Soni Sori’s arrest and detention under UAPA and other sections of the Indian Penal Code such as 124A (sedition), 120B (criminal cons­piracy), etc, embodies such an attempt. The Communist Party of India (Maoist) polit­buro member Amitabh Bagchi’s arrest under the UAPA represents the same ­effort of the executive to ban critical thinking where he was detained under the Act despite the absence of retrieval of any firearms from him. The literature that was recovered from him and the fact that he belonged to a banned organisation were enough reasons for him to be indicted. While the invocation of UAPA against left-wing extremism passes in the name of national security, the Hindu right wing terror does not face any persecution under the Act as its activities are not considered “organised” and detrimental to “national security” by the government. The attempt to maintain the status quo through legislations such as these cannot be more obvious.

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