The Allahabad high court, while ordering the release of Dr Kafeel Khan, who spent seven months in jail after he was slapped with the National Security Act (NSA) by the Uttar Pradesh police, had said his detention under the Act was “unsustainable in the eyes of the law”. The high court had also indicted authorities for slapping NSA on Khan “on a whim”.
But Khan, charged under NSA for a speech against the CAA and the NRC outside Aligarh Muslim University last December, isn’t alone. The Act has been used across the country to book people for various ‘offences’ that are considered a threat to peace — from dumping the carcass of cow progeny in a field to criticising the ‘lackadaisical’ approach of authorities in dealing with the Covid threat at airports to organising a Muharram procession.
As some of them were later found to be not guilty while many continue to languish in jails, a large section of the legal fraternity has condemned the “indiscriminate use” of the Act, saying it has been misused over the years and states should refrain from invoking it unless it has reasonable material to justify its use.
NSA slapped on 142 this year in UP, 76 in cow slaughter cases
Legal experts say statutes like the NSA, with its preventive detention power, often become a tool that authorities resort to, not for prevention of any crime but as a method to punish.
At least 142 people have been slapped with the NSA in Uttar Pradesh since January 1 this year. The NSA has been invoked against 76 in cow slaughter cases, nine others in cases of crime against girl children, 37 against those accused in heinous crimes and 20 others in miscellaneous cases. Khan’s case is the first this year where a court has intervened.
Sample this. UP police slapped the NSA against Peace Party president and former MLA Mohammed Ayub, who was arrested on July 31 for releasing an advertisement in Urdu dailies raising questions on the Constitution. Ayub was arrested from Gorakhpur after a case was registered against him for writing a piece to stoke communal passion in Lucknow.
While Lucknow police claimed that Ayub had written an objectionable piece on July 30 which could have led to communal tension ahead of festivals, Ayub’s counsel IB Singh said there was no basis for the state to charge Ayub under the Act as he talked about integration of religions and spreading amity in those advertisements.
Mohammed Noor, a gram pradhan, was booked under the NSA after he was found to be dumping the carcass of bovine progeny in an open field in UP’s Jaunpur district. Police said that the recovery led to communal tension in the area and Mohammed was arrested and the NSA was invoked later.
In Ahmedabad, police booked an NRI, Abhimanyu Acharya, under the NSA on March 21 for allegedly “spreading lies about the lackadaisical approach” of city airport management in dealing with the Covid-19 threat. Acharya, who reached Ahmedabad from Canada via Abu Dhabi, had said that he was not made to go through even a thermal temperature scan at the airport and was only made to fill a self-declaration form. Police claimed in the FIR that he had disrespected the country by spreading lies about it.
At least six people, all habitual offenders, were booked under the NSA in Odisha this year for heinous offences, including murder and dacoity. All of them are in jail. The NSA was slapped against them to prevent their immediate release to “maintain peace”.
In Madhya Pradesh, a former BJP corporator and five others were held under the NSA on September 1 for allegedly organising a procession in Indore’s Khajrana area on Muharram. The corporator was arrested for violating the collector’s orders against taking out a Tazia procession.
Khajrana police station in charge Dinesh Verma said Patel, who had quit BJP in February over the CAA, was trying to incite others against the police. He was sent to jail. MP police recommended the NSA on 478 people till July in the state.
In Tamil Nadu, folk singer Kovan was arrested in 2015 and activist Thiru Murugan Gandhi in 2018 under the NSA. While Kovan had prepared a song criticising former chief minister J Jayalalithaa, Gandhi held protests against the government. They were later released.
(With inputs from Indore, Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Bhubaneswar and Chennai)