UAPA & Triple Talaq Bills Show How Alone Minorities Really Are

The Congress spoke against the UAPA Amendment Bill but voted in favour of it in the Rajya Sabha.

Published
Opinion
4 min read
For Ali Mohammad Bhatt (48), a former carpet seller, the acquittal is hardly a cause for happiness as his parents died while he was in jail.
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Two crucial Bills passed in Parliament this week – the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights Over Marriage) Act 2019 and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill – are important both in the manner in which they were cleared as well as the implications they are likely to have.

A New Law to Jail Muslims?

The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights Over Marriage) Act 2019 – better know as the Triple Talaq Act – imposes a criminal punishment (three years in prison) to any Muslim man who tries to divorce his wife through Talaq-e-Biddat – that is giving divorce in an instant, either verbally or on phone.

Now, this practice was already declared null and void by the Supreme Court in 2017. Therefore the Bill is criminalising a civil offence. In effect what this does is create one more law by which Muslim men can be put in jail and labeled as criminals.

The Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha by a margin of 99 votes to 84, despite the numbers not being in its favour initially.

Several Opposition parties which claimed to oppose the Bill, abstained instead of voting against it while many other ‘secular’ parties opposing it couldn’t ensure the presence of all their MPs in the House.

Congress’ U-Turn on UAPA Amendment

Another law passed this week – the UAPA (Amendment) Bill – also makes it easier for the government to jail people.

The introduction of Bill comes just a week after Latif Ahmed, Ali Mohammad Bhatt, Mirza Nisar, Abdul Goni and Rayees Beg were released from jail. They were acquitted after having spent 23 years in prison, without bail or parole in connection with the Samleti Blast case.

They lost over two decades of their lives. Many of them lost their loved ones in this period but couldn’t meet them as they weren’t allowed to leave the jail. The first thing that 48-year-old Ali Mohammad Bhat did after reaching Kashmir was to prostrate at his parents’ grave and weep.

Bhat’s video went viral on social media. Surely this tragic case should have warned our lawmakers about the draconian nature of our anti-terror laws and the dangers of labelling someone as a terrorist.

But no, the Rajya Sabha on Friday passed the UAPA Amendment Bill, which enables the government to declare an individual as a “terrorist” even without evidence. Earlier, only organisations could be designated as terrorist in this manner, an individual could be declared a terrorist only after being convicted by a court.

Several MPs who spoke in the discussion on the Amendment, warned against the possibilities of its misuse.

Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party MP Mir Mohammad Fayaz emotively narrated the plight of Bhat and others who were acquitted in the Samleti Blast case but it failed to move the House.

Communist Party of India leader Binoy Viswam explained how Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis often face the brunt of such laws but the chairman of the House silence him by ordering him “not to bring in religion.”

Aam Aadmi Party leader Sanjay Singh argued that given how many terror cases eventually fall after the accused spent many years in prison, the law should be more careful in labelling people as terrorists.

“Only 4 percent of TADA cases saw convictions and under POTA only 13 out of 4349 cases saw convictions. Speaking of POTA, in the Akshardham case, Mohammad Saleem, Abdul Mian, Altaf Malik, Adam Bhai Ajmeri and Abdul Qayoom were acquitted after 11 years in prison. The Supreme Court said they are innocent and were framed,” he said.

The AAP MP further cited TADA cases in which Muslims, Sikhs, Adivasis were wrongly incarcerated and stressed that it was particularly misused against minors.

Congress leader P Chidambaram made a forceful speech against the clause giving the authorities the right to declare an individual as a terrorist while his party colleague Digvijaya Singh also warned how the law could be used to harass Muslims.

But none of these arguments had any effect on the House and the Bill was passed with three-fourths of the House voting in its favour.

Particularly shocking is the fact that the Congress party, with over 40 MPs in the House, actually voted in favour of the Bill despite the strong speeches given by its leaders like Kapil Sibal, P Chidambaram and Digvijaya Singh.

This was only marginally better than what had happened in the Lok Sabha. Only eight MPs voted against the UAPA Amendment Bill in the Lower House, most of them being Muslim MPs like AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi and Imtiyaz Jaleel, IUML’s PK Kunhalikutty, ET Muhammad Basheer and Navaskani, BSP’s Haji Fazlur Rehman, NC leader Hasnain Masoodi and AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal.

Even when it came to the Bill expanding the power of the National Investigation Agency, six MPs voted against it in the Lok Sabha, out of which four are Muslims: Owaisi, Jaleel, Masoodi and CPM’s AM Ariff. The other two MPs who voted against it are K Subbarayan of CPI and PR Natarajan of CPM.

The manner in which the UAPA Amendment and NIA Bills were passed showed that only MPs belonging to minorities or from smaller parties are willing to take a stand when it comes to protecting minorities from draconian laws passed in the name of national security. On such legislations, the Congress’ positions are seldom different from that of the BJP.

However, the Triple Talaq Act showed that a larger number of parties want to pay lip-service to minorities on identity-related issues like personal law – with even BJP’s allies like AIADMK and JD(U) claiming to oppose the Bill. But even on this, not many parties showed the willingness to effectively take on the government.

These legislations and the manner in which they were passed have an important message: It has become easier to label people belonging to minorities as well as political opponents as criminals. What’s worse is very few in the Opposition are willing to stand by those who are being victimised.

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