How India weaponizes the law against Muslims

One of the most important chapters in the authoritarian playbook is weaponizing the law. It allows the regime to further consolidate power by cracking down on its opponents. The first people targeted are often minority groups who are out of favor with the ruling elite. These laws are draconian because they are oppressive, one-sided, and impose large prison terms for minor infractions.

This month we will examine some of the draconian laws India imposes upon the people of Kashmir.

Casting a wide net with UAPA

The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act was created as an anti-terrorism law. The law is intentionally written vaguely to allow for as many people as possible to be arrested. To be sure, this law is not applied to the Hindu nationalists who spout hate speech and call for the extermination of Muslims. Rather, the UAPA only targets those who speak out against what India is doing in its illegal occupation of Kashmir.

Numerous human rights leaders and journalists have been arrested under it.  In examining the numbers, between 2016 and 2019 , 5,922 people were arrested and booked under UAPA, with 15% originating from Kashmir. The numbers have only continued to climb since the occupation as they began implementing laws to repeal Kashmir’s semi-autonomy in late 2019, with a further 2,300 being arrested. Tracking the data, it is clear that India is escalating arrests under this law.

(Source: National Crime Records Bureau.)

Among those who have been arrested and charged under UAPA is human rights leader  Khurram Parvez who was arrested last year after attempting to shed light on those that have disappeared under the Indian crackdown. Also charged were journalists Aasif Sultan and Fahad Shah among many others who were held under vague charges of disseminating anti-Indian sentiments.

Convictions are rare – but that’s not the point

Because the UAPA is nominally an ‘anti-terror’ law, it allows the government to hold an individual without trial or bail. Those arrested do not have access to an advocate. Due process is delayed intentionally, and the individual is at mercy of the state and its agents.

India uses this time to brutalize its captives into silence. Those who are arrested carry with them long-lasting trauma and are terrorized into silence.

In December,  we wrote about some of the victims who were arrested, held in prison, and later released without charge. While in prison, those detained were being subjected to inhumane treatment. Rafiq (his last name not given, due to fear of reprisal) recounts how he was physically abused, intimidated, and subjected to sleep deprivation techniques.

He left prison a broken man. “It was hard to imagine that I would come out alive.”

You can be arrested for literally anything

The application of UAPA is so wide that it is applied to a variety of everyday behaviors that would be otherwise considered free speech activities.

We have documented many such arrests under UAPA in the Kashmir Dispatch, our monthly  news roundup . Activities such as making social media posts against the occupation, cheering for the Pakistani Cricket teams, engaging in photojournalism, posting slogans, and singing about freedom have led to many being arrested and booked under UAPA.

The Public Safety Act facilitates unlawful detention

Also known as the Jammu and Kashmir Act of 1978, the Public Safety Act allows for preemptive detention of individuals that the occupying state may consider a threat to the public. As its name implies, the act principally targets the residents of Jammu and Kashmir, although it was amended in 2018 to allow for application throughout India.

As of April 2022 –  over 500 people  are currently detained under this act. Over 150 were arrested during March and April alone.

The abuse of this act strains local prisons and the administration has been forced to look for prisons outside of Jammu and Kashmir to house detainees.

Many of those arrested this year have been charged with stone-pelting.

Those booked under the PSA can be held without trial for two years.

The worst aspect of the law remains that it allows the state to hold someone it deems as a threat,
even though they have committed no crime. It is enough for the state to merely think someone is a criminal for them to arrest them.

Assaulting Muslim culture by legislating it out of existence

Last month, our blog focused on the violence  committed against Muslim Women . One of the most onerous laws passed recently is the ban on wearing the hijab at Indian universities.

Unfortunately, an Indian court upheld the ban in March.

This ban strikes at the heart of Muslim cultural identity as it forces Muslim women to choose between their faith and education, potentially forcing many out of school and curtailing their dreams, access to employment, and diminished earnings for years to come.

This is what the law’s authors had in mind when they wrote it, to deny essential government services and the right to an education for millions of Muslim women.

It is another way of telling Muslims that they are not welcome in India. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be the last law targeting our faith.

When the law becomes a tool of injustice

Just because it is law does not mean it is just. Laws written targeting minorities’ human rights cannot and should not be considered valid. Unfortunately, the laws we examined are only a few that India uses to maximize its oppression. Other acts such as the Terrorist and Disruptive Acts, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, and the Prevention of Terrorism Act, all act in concert with the laws above to further target Muslims throughout India.

Changing and reversing these laws creates a long and hard road for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. When the courts are stacked with judges loyal to the ruling party and elections under autocrats bring predictable results, it makes change far more difficult. When justice is denied the only options are awareness and civil disobedience.

It is a long road ahead but one we must walk.