An Experiential Lesson on the UAPA
Despite the claim that the Act came into force to prevent unlawful activities that challenge sovereignty and integrity of the country, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act is mostly used to incarcerate people with different and alternative viewpoints on state and society. Here is a first person account that raises questions on who the real perpetrators of the unlawful behaviour are, in the context of multiple acts of unlawfulness in the process of illegal detention, legal implication in different cases, charge framing, trial and even judicial procedure.
It sounds silly to ask, “Whose activities attract the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA)?”, since the name of the Act is self-explanatory. But, as a person charged under the Act, my own experience is something different and has quite often compelled me to wonder, “After all, who should be arrested under this Act?” Let me explain.
Hailing from Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh (AP), I am a women’s rights activist and have spent over 20 years fighting not only for the implementation of existing laws, but also for formulation of gender-sensitive and egalitarian laws towards a socialist transformation of society, which I believe can be brought about by a political transformation of society. I stayed briefly in Patna (Bihar) during 2009, and I was “picked up” from Patna on 11 October 2009.
On that fateful day, I woke up with a start when I heard unusual banging on my door in the wee hours. I had hardly opened the door when three men barged into the room and surrounded me. One of them held my hand so tightly that my bangles broke. And, quite unconsciously, I let out a scream, which brought the houseowner’s family running to my room, located on the first floor. Two women had also entered the room and pushed me into a chair. Nobody was wearing uniforms. So, my houseowner came and demanded to know what was going on in her house. They replied that they were the police. She was quite surprised, but did not leave it at that and asked a very natural question that any citizen would ask: “But then why are you not in uniform?”
“Okay, then where are your ID cards? How can I believe you?” I could not help but appreciate her bravery. No wonder. She is not an educated woman. She used to work as a sweeper in a government hospital and had retired. My experience has always proved that working-class women face the police more courageously than middle-class women. But, the police has an altogether different language to speak with citizens. One person, who claimed to be from the Jharkhand police force, responded to her queries in his characteristic style: “Come with me. I’ll tell you who we are”, he said in a sarcastic tone and took her away. The men turned my room upside down. After half an hour I was taken outside. I found more men in plain clothes spread all over the street. I was pushed into a waiting Bolero. There was another vehicle and more men at the end of the street.
There was no arrest warrant, no search warrant, no uniforms, and, more significantly, there was not a single police personnel from Bihar, the jurisdiction under which this so-called arrest took place. As soon as I was pushed into the vehicle, the men started talking to me in Telugu and I realised they were from AP. Can anyone call this a lawful apprehension? If not, what was it? Obviously, this would be called “unlawful activity”.
I was taken to the Hazaribag SP (superintendent of police) Kothi, straight from Patna. After 24 hours of rigorous interrogation in illegal custody, I was blindfolded, chained, and taken to another place on the evening of 12 October 2009. I was left alone in a room the whole night, tied to a cot with heavy chains, blindfolded. I was shivering with the biting cold and nothing was given to me to shield myself from it. There was no trace of the women constables who had accompanied me. Suddenly, a male voice said, “You can lie down on that cot.” A strange tremor ran through my spine when I felt a male presence in the vicinity. That night was hell for me. The next day, I was allowed to remove the blindfolds only in the toilet. When I refused to take my breakfast with my blindfold on, it was removed for five minutes. Then, I saw the carving on the steel plate and realised I was in a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Camp in Ranchi. I was kept there for one day, and spent another two days in a small cell-like room in the Hazaribag SP’s bungalow.
Altogether, I was kept in illegal custody for almost four days (86 hours, to be precise) before I was produced in front of a magistrate. According to the story cooked up by the police, I was getting down from a private bus at Ichak, a village in Hazaribag district, and my husband, Ravi Sharma, who had already been arrested a few hours earlier, was present there with the police and identified me as Anuradha, his wife, and, with the help of women constables, they apprehended me.
A case was filed under sections of the Arms Act, Section 17 of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, Sections 420 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code, and several others. A false case, a false date, and false allegations! And, the funniest part of this was that the case was booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act!
Here, let me explain the facts of my husband’s arrest, which took place exactly a day before mine. We had been in Patna for a week, and he left around 4:30 am on 10 October 2009 to catch a train to Kolkata. As soon as he got down from the auto near Patna railway station, he was nabbed by the AP Special Intelligence Branch (APSIB) police and whisked away in a Bolero. He was blindfolded while they were passing through Jharkhand, when activists of the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) (JVM(P)) stopped the vehicle, as the party was observing a bandh on that day. Ravi realised the presence of a large number of people and raised an alarm for help. The people, assuming the police to be kidnappers, pulled them out of the vehicle and started beating them up. Finally, the police had to admit that they were the police, but claimed that Ravi was a thief. So, Ravi asked the people to call the local police to establish whether their claim was true. That is how the Jharkhand police came into the picture, and they took him to the Hazaribag SP. The next day, i e, 11 October, they came to pick me up in Patna. Finally, the Jharkhand police connived with the AP Police and cooked up a story: Ravi was travelling in a four wheeler along with some other leaders of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). When the JVM(P) activists tried to stop the vehicle, Ravi got down to argue with them. Meanwhile, the rest of them fled and Ravi was caught, but he ran away and disappeared in a nearby forest. When the CRPF troops did a combing operation, he was caught on the afternoon of 13 October.
Ravi was tortured for 18 hours continuously. I was threatened for two days that Ravi would be killed. On the morning of 13 October, I was told that he had been killed. Finally, at night I was taken to the SP’s room at around 11:30 pm for interrogation. After half an hour, Ravi was brought there and he was in very bad shape. He was hardly able to walk. It took a lot of effort for me to stay composed.
The Telegraph (Ranchi edition) published a news item on 11 October itself about Ravi’s arrest. Different newspapers published news about our arrest as having taken place on 12 October. Many television channels reported the news on the evening of 11 October in AP. My parents-in-law filed a habeas corpus petition on 12 October. Even then, our arrest was shown as having happened on the evening of 13 October.
Initially I was implicated in three other cases. Not even in a single case had I been accused earlier. There was no mention of any woman participating in the first information reports (FIRs) of the alleged crimes. The description given by the petitioners did not have even a remote resemblance to me.
However, after more than one year, I was granted bail in three cases by the high court. Bail was rejected in the Ichak case, where they have shown my arrest. But, while rejecting my bail the high court gave an order on 5 December 2010 to complete the case within four months. So, it should have been closed by 5 April 2011. But it did not happen!
The trial began immediately and four witnesses were produced on the first day. Before entering the court hall, I was kept in the female custody cell in the court premises. I was reading a newspaper and heard somebody enquiring about Ravi Sharma. By the time I could find out, they all left and the other prisoners told me that four persons came asking about Ravi Sharma. After 15 minutes, two persons came again, and this time I saw a young man enquiring with the constable who was sitting just outside the custody in the verandah. So, immediately, I went to the grilled door and asked him why he was enquiring about Ravi Sharma. At that time, Ravi was in the Hyderabad jail. In fact, nobody else other than the security personnel is allowed in the premises. So, I was wondering who he was! I politely asked him: “Are you enquiring about Ravi Sharma? What’s the matter?” He shot back in anger, “Are you questioning me?” It was as if he was saying, “How dare you question me!”
I replied with a puzzled “Yes!” He lost his temper and shouted at me, “I am a police officer! Do you know? I am a police officer investigating Ravi Sharma’s case. Do you have any problem?”
I was surprised at his behaviour. The constable told him that Ravi Sharma had not come as he was in AP. Then, he left. When I was taken to the court, I saw the same person seated along with the sub-inspector (SI) of Ichak. He was the witness and also the investigating officer. As soon as he saw me, he covered his face and whispered something into the SI’s ear. The SI told him something and I clearly saw this fellow biting his tongue, a gesture indicative of having made a mistake, and quickly left the courtroom. But, he had to come back as he was the second witness. He deposed in front of the magistrate and introduced himself as Munna Singh, a private bus booking agent. He claimed that he was at the bus stand on 13 October 2009 and saw me getting down the bus near Ichak, followed by the rest of the concocted story. I gestured to my lawyer to come near me and whispered in his ear of what had happened in the custody cell. My lawyer tried to present the matter to the magistrate, but the public prosecutor (PP) objected saying that he should only cross-examine him and nothing else should be asked. The magistrate too agreed and, hence, it was dropped. However, this same Munna Singh came again after two years to depose in the same case against Ravi, this time not as the bus booking agent, but as constable Munna Singh, whose real profession seems to have been deposing in the courts only, for which he was rewarded with a permanent job with the police. Keeping dummy witnesses! Sending them to the custody cell beforehand to identify the accused! What is this called anyway? “Lawful activity?”
With several halts and breaks the case went on till September 2011. Whoever heard the arguments of my lawyer felt it was a clear case of acquittal. There were many technical lapses too, and one of them was that there was no sanction order from the government for the UAPA. Finally, the date for the judgment was fixed for 26 September 2011. My family members came from Hyderabad and stayed on around Hazaribag court to furnish the sureties, etc, with the hope of taking me home along with them after two years of incarceration. Then, the PP came with the sanction orders from the government on the judgment day. The law says that the sanction orders should be obtained within seven days of filing the charge sheet. So, the magistrate could have refused to entertain him. But, he did not. He allowed it and said the PP can argue with that. He placed his arguments and my lawyer gave his counterarguments immediately and the case was closed. But, the judgment was postponed further for a future date.
No Respect for the Law
By the time we came back to the jail, warrants were waiting for me in a fresh murder case. While my family members were trying to furnish sureties, the judge insisted that the two sureties should be locals. So, two local bailers agreed to stand as sureties. Accompanied by a friend, they were on their way, when all three of them were kidnapped and tortured for eight days by the SP. The two guarantors were let off and the person who was accompanying them was sent to jail for “cooperating with the Maoists”, of course, with another fabricated case of arms recovery. Is there any law that says no person should stand as a guarantor to a “Maoist” who is yet to be proven as one? I am afraid not! What lawful activity is this kidnapping and torture?
Ravi, who is a co-accused in all my cases, had filed a Right to Information (RTI) application with the deputy inspector general (DIG) of Jharkhand police in May 2011 to know how many cases were pending against him. An order was issued in the month of June 2011 by the director general of police (DGP) to all the SPs to furnish the information within seven days to the applicant. Nobody responded except the SPs of two districts. After three months of the order, a fresh case was filed against us in Mandu Police Station of Ramgarh district. The very people who are supposed to be protecting the law show no respect in implementing it.
However, this was not all. After a week or so, I got a copy of the order from the deputy commissioner-cum-district magistrate imposing one year’s detention on me under the Crime Control Act (CC Act), which is equivalent of the Preventive Detention Act, the Goonda Act, etc. Again, all false allegations were made. One of the allegations was that I prepared a map of the jail and passed it on to the Maoist organisation secretly. This supposedly secret information was noted down in the diary of an Ichak inspector. How did he know that I had sent it? First of all, nobody was arrested in this regard and, hence, there was no confession statement. No map was recovered from anyone. Except the entry in the SI’s diary, there was no evidence whatsoever to prove the charge. All the allegations were similarly baseless. Yet, the district commissioner approved the SP’s allegations and issued the detention order. I gave a reply. Before my reply reached the home department, it too confirmed the orders. Again, I filed my reply. It was rejected and I was asked to present myself before the advisory board in Ranchi. I gave my arguments of defence in front of the board chaired by a high court judge.
Meanwhile, the Ichak case, in which the judgment was to be delivered, was transferred to another magistrate’s court, as there was an order from the high court to reallocate the cases on the basis of police stations. There is a general direction of the Supreme Court that transfers should be avoided in the cases in which the arguments have been heard. But, bypassing this, my case was transferred. Now, the arguments are to be heard afresh from the beginning. We gave a petition to avoid such a situation and requested a transfer back to the previous magistrate, but the district judge pressured the lawyer to take back the petition! Our lawyer succumbed to the pressure and we lost the chance to challenge it in the high court. So, even judges can indulge in unlawful activities!
This went on and on for years, and I spent almost four years in jail. In the course of time, new cases were framed. Though I obtained bail in all the cases, I had to be in jail awaiting judgment in my arrest case. Meanwhile, that arrest case moved from magistrate to magistrate. Finally, a magistrate, who was the sixth person to hear the case afresh, delivered the judgment. He gave me six months’ conviction. By that time I had already spent three and half years in jail.
Let me cite a few lines from the judgment to show on what basis the judgment was delivered:1
When the accused was examined u/s 313 CrPC she has denied of having in possession of Maoist literature. Other material which was found from the possession of this accused do not contain any incriminating material.
From the material exhibits placed before the court, particularly literature concerning CPI (Maoist) organisation which are in English and Hindi language indicate that the accused is associated with Maoist Organisation, however, except this there is no other evidence for any assistance or promotion of the organisation by the accused. Several terminology used in EXT.18 clearly indicate that it were related to outfit organisation. The prosecution submitted that words Comred, Buorjuwa and other words used by outfit organisation particularly by left wing. … The material evidence shows association of the accused with Maoist Organisation and same is punishable u/s 17 (1).
Here, I would like to mention that the Hindi and English books shown as evidence were Dafna Hua Betian, a book published by Mahila Jagrithi of Karnataka on the discrimination suffered by girl child, and a political economy textbook.
Now, I leave it to the wisdom of the readers to define what constitutes lawful or unlawful activity, and who should be arrested and punished under the UAPA!
1 In the court of the chief judicial magistrate, Hazaribag, Rajendra Bahadur Pal, Judgment dated the 26th day of February 2013, Case No GR 4296/2009 TR 592/13 (Arising out of Ichak PS Case no 164/09).