Laws that leave scars

Many laws enacted in the last decade have conditioned police, bureaucrats and judiciary to think of our society in a certain way

Representative image
Representative image

Aakar Patel

The primary function of Parliament is to legislate. When we elect members to the Lok Sabha, we are choosing who will write and pass our laws. In India, laws are now passed without debate, both at the Union and the state levels. This means that parties that have a majority and an ideology can legislate what they want, without pushback.

As we elect a government for the next five years, let us look at many of the laws and amendments that we have been given in the previous decade.

1. Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019: This amendment gives the Union the powers to set the salaries and service conditions of information commissioners at Union as well as state levels. Instead of fixed terms, commissioners can be appointed on arbitrary conditions and salaries. India fell from second place in global RTI ratings in 2014 to ninth place currently.

2. The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2019: Before this amendment, UAPA only allowed organisations to be categorised as ‘terrorist’. The State can now categorise any individual as a ‘terrorist’. These individuals need not even have any affiliation with any of the 36 terrorist organisations mentioned in the law to be classified as terrorists, and then jailed.

3. The Karnataka Education Act (1983) Order of 2022: In 2022, Karnataka banned Muslim women and girls from covering their heads in schools and colleges that had uniforms. Even in colleges which did not have a prescribed uniform, the covering of heads by Muslims was prohibited because ‘clothes which disturb equality, integrity and public law and order should not be worn’. Sikhs were excluded from the order.

4. Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act, 2015: After the prime minister’s speeches against what he called the ‘pink revolution’, states began to criminalise the possession of beef. This began a series of violent attacks the media called 'beef lynchings'. Someone accused of having a beef sandwich can be jailed for five years. This first law began a series of copycat laws in other BJP-ruled states.

5. The Haryana Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Gausamvardhan Act, 2015: Possession of beef is punishable by up to five years in jail. The burden of proof is on the accused.

6. The Gujarat Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act, 2017: This law extended the punishment for cow slaughter to life in prison. No other economic crime attracts life. Minister of state for home Pradipsinh Jadeja said the logic was to equal cow slaughter with murder.

7. Uttar Pradesh Recovery of Damage to Public and Private Property Act, 2020: Enacted after Uttar Pradesh Police shot dead 21 people protesting against CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), this law gives the government the power to set up tribunals to decide damage to any public or private property owing to riots, hartals, bandhs, protests or public processions. All orders passed by the tribunals will be final and cannot be appealed before any court, under the law’s section 22.

8. Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018: This is the first of seven state laws introduced and legislated by the BJP after the conspiracy theory of ‘love jihad’ began to be circulated. It criminalises marriages between Hindus and Muslims if conversion is involved. However, "if any person comes back to his ancestral religion" then this shall not be deemed conversion. Those who change their faith without applying to the government "in the prescribed pro-forma" and without the consent of the government after the police inquiry, face jail.

9. Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019: Similar to Uttarakhand’s Act, under this law, the punishment for propagation (a fundamental right under Article 25 of the Constitution) is seven years in jail.

10. Uttar Pradesh Vidhi Viruddh Dharma Samparivartan Pratishedh Adhyadesh, 2020: Similar to the previous laws, this one prohibits conversion except with government permission and 60 days’ notice. Similar laws were passed by BJP governments in MP (Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021), Gujarat (Gujarat Freedom of Religion [Amendment] Act, 2021), Karnataka (The Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Act, 2022) and Haryana (The Haryana Prevention of Unlawful Conversion of Religious Act, 2022).

11. Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017: This gives the Union and state governments the power to suspend, for any reason, mobile and internet services. India is the world’s leader in internet shutdowns. Of 213 total global shutdowns in 2019, India accounted for 56 per cent (12 times more than the next nation, Venezuela). Of 155 global shutdowns in 2020, India accounted for 70 per cent.

12. The Gujarat Prohibition of Transfer of Immovable Property and Provision for Protection of Tenants from Eviction from Premises in Disturbed Areas Act, 2019 Amendment: This law bans Hindus and Muslims from buying or renting properties from each other without the government's permission. The government will determine if the sale of a property may lead to the likelihood of ‘polarisation’ or ‘improper clustering’ of people from a particular religion. It also gives the government the power to undo transactions, even if the buyer and seller make no appeal. In effect, even foreigners can lease and buy property in those parts of Gujarat’s cities where Indian Muslims cannot.

It should be noted that some of these laws have remained even after the party that has legislated them in a state has been unseated. These laws have a long-term effect and have conditioned the police, bureaucrats and judiciary to think of our society in a particular way.

They are a reflection of the sort of nation India has become, and give us a glimpse into what more we can expect in the years to come once this election ends.

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