Does India need a Prevention of Terrorism Act?
The Jaipur blasts where 80 people died and many more were injured is a terrible blow to the nation… and all of us have only one question on our minds:
What is the government doing about terrorism?
I had discussed 11 reasons why India finds it tough to tackle terrorism…reasons ranging from poor intelligence and lack of stringent law enforcement to the rampant corruption in the system and the politician-terrorist nexus.
However, the general consensus in the opposition (BJP) seems to be that the central government is adopting “soft attitude” towards terrorism.. Examples put forward are inability to curb the activities of banned organisations like Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), the failure to go ahead with the executing the death sentence of convicted terrorist Afzal Guru and repealing laws like POTA (Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act) which allowed the police to detain terror suspects without the filing of charges, amongst other things.
The BJP wants POTA
Immediately after the Jaipur blasts, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje (of the opposition ruled government in Rajasthan) said that “we are in the middle of a war” and “we require a strong law to tackle these people” clearly hinting that POTA should be brought back.
Expectedly Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh the previous Wednesday said that:
The existing law of POTA has been repealed without making adequate provisions to deal with terrorist threats. States have been rendered helpless without proper legal backing to deal with such situations. While many nations world over strengthened their anti-terror laws after the 9/11 incident, our country has taken retrograde steps by abolishing POTA…
Sushma Swaraj has also said that POTA was anti-criminal and not against the minorities…
Well, the BJP is clamoring to bring back POTA, which they feel will help nab terrorists. So is this the solution India needs?
Some countries have similar laws
The USA and Britain, which face terrorist threats, have similar laws. For example, the United Kingdom has had such laws for the last 30 years, initially to deal with trouble in Ireland. The terrorism laws were modified as time went on and now the United Kingdom has a fairly stringent anti-terrorism legislation which it went ahead with despite criticism from human rights groups. In fact there are those in the British establishment who want to strengthen the law by allowing terror suspects to be detained without charge for 42 days, not just 28 days as is the case now.
The United States, passed the Patriot Act after the 9/11 blasts in New York and even though some harsh provisions in the Act were to expire after some years, they mostly didn’t. This act allows indefinite detentions of immigrants and searches without the owner’s or the occupant’s permission or knowledge.
Australia not only allows police to detain suspects for up to two weeks without charge, it has a “shoot to kill” clause in its anti-terrorism law.
So it seems logical that India should have one too…or does it?
Well, India certainly faces a greater terrorist threat, if one goes by the number of terrorism incidents and for the length of time that we are suffering. So that is a good case for the introduction of POTA….however not many Muslims will agree, and frankly if I were a Muslim I would not agree either. I have heard of too many horror stories of the misuse of these laws, in both India and abroad.
In principle, a law like POTA seems fine, but unfortunately in execution it can be horrific. It’s easy for us in the majority community to say that POTA should be reintroduced but what if you were a Muslim? What would you feel if a close relative whom you knew to be innocent…or wait, why take an example of a close relative? Let us imagine for a second that you yourself are picked up for questioning and held for days without charge. I have tried to put myself in this position, and at the same time have tried to think of the importance of protecting our country from terrorist threats which leads to the death of innocent lives.
The problems with anti-terrorism laws
1. I am okay with a harsh law to protect this nation, but only if the state machinery did its job properly. If I was mostly sure that my innocence would be proved within say a month or two, if I was sure that the police did not hold any racist hatred towards my community, then I could say yes to a law like POTA. Sure, mistakes do happen, but one is not talking of mistakes, because if 10 wrong people are caught, harassed and tortured for every one who is found guilty, then I would certainly fear POTA. In fact even if one innocent person amongst ten guilty was convicted wrongly, I would fear POTA…
2. While laws like POTA are often misused all over the world, I feel the situation is worse in India. Here the police routinely use torture to extract confessions. Plus, there is no transparency in police or government functioning in India. I mean, just look at the way Australia reacted when it was discovered that Haneef was innocent…why even the courts favoured him and today there is an inquiry to find out why he was framed. Its very difficult for such a thing to happen in India even though we have many Haneefs here!
3. Harsh anti-terrorism laws can be counterproductive if they are misused. They often give a feeling of invincibility to the police who might tend to overreact, particularly immediately after a terrorist attack, arresting people indiscriminately and torturing innocent people. The police also might indulge in revenge attacks if they harbor racist feelings towards the community. This can only alienate the population of the minority community…and that is exactly what the terrorists want! They want to create a divide between different groups. In fact what they like best is an immediate revenge attack and the massacre of their own people by the majority community. If this doesn’t happen, they look forward to police excesses as it gives their cause more nobility and alas…more recruits.
We need to win the people over…that is one way to ensure that the terrorist get no recruits. More important, if the locals find such recruits (in the form of sleeper cells), they should feel confident that they can turn them over without they themselves being harassed or suspected. Or they should have the confidence that if they simply suspect someone and make a complaint, that person will not be needlessly tortured and/or framed. What we need is the support of the public, without which I don’t think terrorism can ever be contained.
So, if I were to answer the question raised in the title of this post, I would that yes, India does need an anti-terrorism law, but first it needs to strengthen its law enforcement machinery, overhaul a system which allows just about anyone with money to purchase a passport, a ration card and other papers which help create a fake identity, bring more transparency to the system and prove that errant policemen are severely punished for misusing the law. Another group of people who need to face severe punishment are those who provide fake passports.
(Photo credits: The first photo is from mynews.in and the second one is a clip of a man being tortured in the film Khuda ke Liye)
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