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Narsinghanand Arrested, but Why Was He Held Above the Law?

If draconian charges are routine when Muslims are involved, why was Narsinghanand spared?

Updated
Opinion
6 min read
Narsinghanand Arrested, but Why Was He Held Above the Law?
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Yati Narsinghanand has been arrested, finally, and sent to judicial custody. His arrest was preceded by that of Jitendra Nath Tyagi, formerly Wasim Rizwi, a prized trophy for the Hindu ‘swamis’ such as Yati, who flaunt him to show that they have ‘purified’ at least one Muslim and thus ‘enhanced’ the demographic strength of Hindus. The arrests took place after national and international outrage over genocidal calls to finish off Muslims made by these and other swamis at the Dharam Sansad held at Haridwar on 17, 18 and 19 December.

Not that such exhortations were made for the first time.

As journalist Alishan Jafri and others have been telling us, this has been happening in India for quite some time. In Haryana, Delhi, Raipur and elsewhere, calls to eliminate Muslims have been heard repeatedly.

After Haridwar, more such gatherings have been announced. Narsinghanand and his co-saints have been speaking to the press and public and are heard repeating what they had said at the Dharam Sansad.

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This Goes Beyond 'Hate Speech'

We need to understand that these speeches belong to a category different from that of hate speeches. The so-called swamis are asking their followers to exterminate Muslims and also Christians. This is not merely spreading hate. These are calls for violence and bloodshed against citizens of India. It is a crime much graver than spreading enmity between sections of society. So, why is Narsinghanand not facing charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) or the National Security Act (NSA)? Also, why did the police not ask for his custody in the first place? Why did it request only judicial custody?

These are the questions being asked not only by Muslims but also by people who have been observing the behaviour of the police force across states. We need not cite examples to show how the police use UAPA and NSA wantonly when Muslims are to be targeted. Siddique Kappan, the Kerala journalist arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police on his way to cover the Hathras rape atrocity, comes to mind as an example of the way Muslims can be targeted even when they have not spoken or written even a word. The police claim that it arrested him in anticipation of the violence that his yet-to-be-uttered words could have caused.

So, if this is routine when Muslims are involved, why was Narsinghanand spared? Why was he not arrested immediately after the videos of his speeches became public?

Why did the police not think that his and his fellow saints’ speeches constituted a crime against the integrity of the country as they sought to provoke Hindus to spread mass violence against Muslims – a crime serious enough to warrant their immediate arrest? Why such delay in their arrest and then no eagerness to have them in police custody?

These questions naturally come to our mind when we see the police treating Narsinghanand and his gang with deference.

Why UAPA Is Inherently 'Exceptional' Use of Law

Hearing these concerns, a lawyer friend gently responded, “Don’t you think this is exactly how the police should proceed in all matters, including this one? Not go for an immediate arrest and then seek police custody to do an investigation but the other way round? As they have done in this case? Do a thorough investigation, and then, if the need arises, arrest the accused. Not what has been done to hundreds of Muslims, activists and journalists included? In no case should you deprive a person of their liberty even for a day unless there are sufficient reasons and a sound basis for doing so. Arrest must not be the first thing.”

She went further, “Judicial custody is also the most proper thing to do in such cases. The police felt after watching their videos that it was important for public peace and order that the accused are deprived of liberty to remain free and do their hate and murder propaganda. So, it is a preventive measure and appropriate. But then, this is what is needed to be done in all cases.”

Her reasoning is that laws such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the National Security Act (NSA) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) are exceptional use of the law.

They are exceptional in many senses, but the most serious and damaging is their misapplication and misuse. In fact, there can be no other way of using such laws. Anybody touched by them is a victim of these laws.

For instance, people living in Jammu and Kashmir and most parts of Northeast India perpetually live under the shadow of AFSPA. The law has resulted in scores of human rights violations in these parts of India. The recent killings in Nagaland by Indian security forces have brought this issue back to a much sharper political focus.

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UAPA Must Go, But Its Use Must Not be Biased

Even criminals have the right to have rights. If exceptions are made for them to be punished using such violent means available to the state, it not only justifies such use of the law but, at the same time, these sentiments of punishment are then be applied to innocent lives as well. This should be a space to speak up against UAPA, not call or ruminate its potential use in selective criminal cases, with or without Yati. By doing so, we only lend our solidarity to the state and its use of such violent legal tools on its citizens. Laws like the AFSPA and the UAPA must go, in all forms.

But my lawyer friend agreed that when the police weaponise UAPA to silence, prosecute and blunt any kind of dissent, but do not even think about using it in a case as extreme as open calls for genocide, then we know that the police is not acting in good faith. What it’s betraying is gross discrimination. The state has to answer: if it can use UAPA in other cases, why aren’t Yati or others subscribing to genocide and anti-women violence not prosecuted under UAPA. Or will they be?

The state’s reluctance to use this law shows that it does not treat his crime as a threat to national security. It has only one mind, and that is not a mind concerned about human rights.

For the Indian state, people like Narsinghanand should be treated with indulgence. Have you ever seen the police pleading with a criminal to let them do their duty, as they did with Narsinghanand? Have you ever seen the police swallow the kind of insult they were subjected to by Narsinghanand when they wanted to arrest Waseem Rizwi?

Police Must Act Impartially

Interestingly, Narsinghanand himself was using the same arguments when asked why UAPA should not be applied to his case. “Did I have arms on my body, did my speech lead to violence anywhere? Am I not entitled to my opinion?”

But a call for murder is not an ‘opinion’. It is spreading terror. There is a distinct possibility of the followers of such swamis amassing arms and preparing for the mass murder of Muslims. How can one be sure that the attacks on Muslims in recent years were not instigated by such speeches and calls?

Even if there is no immediate violent fallout, it remains a terror act, as NC Asthana has explained in a recent article, “The design of the terrorist is to manipulate the target’s psychological perceptions to induce it to act in the way it is predisposed to act by instinct. This was the design behind the fulminations made in the Haridwar Dharam Sansad, too. In that case, one of the objectives, as I had pointed out in an earlier article, was to provoke some Muslims into making an irresponsible statement that could be misconstrued to mean as if they were threatening revenge on the Hindus.”

When the police approach a crime such as this in the manner that the government of Uttarakhand has done, questions are bound to arise. Even if we insist – due to our belief in the principle – that the UAPA must not be used under any circumstances, the same argument cannot be used by the police, who are not averse to the use of UAPA. So, here is an opportunity for the police, offered to it by the brazenness of Narsinghanand and his co-swamis, to prove that it is impartial. And the same applies to the judiciary, too.

(Apoorvanand teaches at Delhi University. He tweets @Apoorvanand. Suraj Gogoi is a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at the National University of Singapore. He tweets @char_chapori.This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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