Black laws should go



Amnesty International has indeed come out with significant findings on the Jammu and Kashmir government’s record on Public Safety Detentions, even though it is something that has caught nobody by surprise


. The sweeping powers that the police and the government enjoy with the application of the Public Safety Act alone are already too well known. For years, the law has been blatantly misused and highly overused due to its ambiguous definition and its consequent interpretation. It has been used as an act of political vendetta and it has been used in the name of maintaining law and order and security reasons to harass civilians. The application of this law has seen its worst form in the last couple of years particularly during and after 2010 summer protests. Massivearrests were effected, especially of youth, mostly on random pick and choose basis, without an iota of evidence and many of these arrests were under Public Safety Act which allows the police to detain them for a period of upto 2 years.

. PSA has also been liberally used to stifle any voice of dissent in the case of separatists leaders or any other political adversary. Prominent is the case of Kashmir Bar Association President Mian Abdul Qayoom and some of his aides. In many cases, even as the PSA detention was quashed by the courts, the police have failed to release them. The usual pattern adopted is to re-arrest a person after his PSA detention period expires or when it is quashed by the court. Several people have been languishing in jails for more than 10 years simply under PSA with no cases against them and no evidence available. Many detenues are thus trapped in a vicious cycle of detentions that never end. The Amnesty International has rightly observed that PSA is used as a tool to hold hundreds of people each year without charge or trial in order to keep them ‘out of circulation’ to break their resistance. 

And even as the human rights watch dog has expressed its concern, calling for revoking of the draconian law with unconstitutional powers, the state government is busy endorsing arrests under PSA being made by the police almost on a daily basis. The police has drawn up massive lists of youth and teenagers. Crackdowns and raids have become routine across the valley and many of those arrested arbitrarily are detained under PSA. Hundreds of those detained under PSA, languishing in jails without evidence, without cases and trials, are exposed to high degrees of torture and other forms of ill-treatment. While the law itself is unjustified allowing arrests of minors upto 16 years of age, boys younger than 16 have also found their way to the jails and are detained under PSA. Recently when some such cases were brought tolight, the government failed to respond. Chief minister Omar Abdullah simply tweeted asking for evidence about the age. Such a highly insensitive attitude further stonewalls any hope for justice against a law that is highly undemocratic, unconstitutional and inhuman. Strangely, while the chief minister makes quite a hullabaloo, only for the sake of lip sympathy, about the centrally imposed Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which give sweeping and unbridled powers to the central security agencies, he maintains a cryptic silence over the state government’s invoked Public Safety Act which allows a systemic mechanism of illegal detentions. Injustice cannot be legitimised by invoking laws and further amending them to suit the political convenience of those in power.

The State has a duty to protect and defend the lives and rights of its citizens, not to violate them by blatant use of laws like PSA. If the law enforcing agencies need to deal with miscreants, they should produce evidence and chargesheet the suspects so that they can be tried in the courts of law under the normal criminal justice system for conviction. When a criminal justice system exists, there is need to strengthen that and totally repeal all black laws like the PSA which is often used as a tool of vendetta against political adversaries or innocent civilians. Besides, its liberal use also leads to criminalization of the police force and these are not good and healthy signs for any democracy. The voices of sanity like Amnesty International’s must be heeded.