People’s Union for Democratic Rights condemns the attempts being made by the Uttar Pradesh government towards securing a national level ban on the Popular Front of India (PFI) and also trying to contemptuously target rights-based organization Rihai Manch through accusations of them having planned and instigated violence in the wake of mass anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protests in the state. In a press conference held on 31st December 2019, the Director General of Police, UP said that the state government has sent a report to the Ministry of Home Affairs recommending a ban on the PFI. According to the police, the organization is liable for proscription as 25 of its members have been arrested on charges of instigating violence in the anti-CAA protests in the month of December. In the most uncorroborated form, the DGP made claims about the PFI being an ‘incarnation’ of the banned organization the Student’s Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). Subsequently, in a statement made to the press, the DGP on 3rd January 2020 added that the members of PFI had together planned these protests with Rihai Manch in a meeting at Kaifi Academy in Nishatganj. He however, refused to disclose the specifics of the meeting.
PUDR sees these accusations made by the UP police as desperate attempts to create a plot to criminalize dissenting voices through mere claims in the absence of any substantiated charge. Jumping on to the bandwagon, the Assam chief minister has also demanded a ban on PFI for its role in the anti-CAA protests. There have been nation-wide anti-CAA protests resulting in mass detentions and arrests as part of the state’s clamp down on the protesters. It remains unexplained how the involvement of members of PFI in the same protests begs a demand for the banning of the entire organization. PFI had previously been banned by the Jharkhand government in 2018 under the Criminal Law Amendment Act (1908) which gives state government the powers to impose ban within its jurisdiction. The ban was revoked on the Jharkhand High court’s order on technical grounds but the Jharkhand government in February 2019 banned it under CLA yet again. In both cases PFI’s links with the terror outfit ISIS was cited as the ground for banning without verified reports. This time around when the UP government is demanding a central ban, it is citing PFI’s association with SIMI which has been banned under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). It is another fact to mention that while UAPA tribunals have repeatedly upheld the ban on SIMI, the trial courts have ordered acquittal for many SIMI activists for the want of corroborated charges and evidences. PFI itself has been actively campaigning for the repeal of UAPA and has led a national movement towards its repeal.
It doesn’t leave much to guess why in a prima-facie case of anti-CAA violence, reference to ‘PFI’s SIMI connections’ are being repeatedly invoked. In doing so, it is also being secured that if PFI is banned, the references to its links with democratic rights organizations like Rihai Manch would be used to target the latter, further. Rihai Manch was formed in 2012 as a platform bringing together lawyers, journalists and social activists to campaign for the release of youths, mostly Muslims, languishing in jails on the fake charges of terror. Mhd. Shoaib, a lawyer and long standing activist, once jailed during emergency in 1970s, is its founder. Rihai Manch has been taking up issues such as deaths in police custody, communal incitement, caste discrimination, and the use of draconian laws in the state. Of late, it has particularly taken on the UP government on fake police encounters and use of NSA on Muslims and Dalits. Much like rights based organizations all over the country, Rihai Manch has actively protested against the CAA which is now being made a ground to target it. Many of the Rihai Manch activists have been brutally assaulted by UP police and have been put under custody including Mhd. Shoaib whose bail application is pending before court. Targeting of the protesters not only attempts to delegitimize the upsurge against the communal and the unconstitutional CAA but also deflects attentions from the arbitrary and illegal police action against the protesters.
Politics of proscription has no place in a democracy. Fair investigations and charges backed by evidence in cases of commission of illegal acts serve the interest of justice but bans imposed on people’s associations only abridge constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and allow state to wield unbridled power over people. Investigations conducted squarely into crimes reported is the mandate under rule of law, not proscription of organizations that hold non-conformist opinions.
- Recommendation to impose a ban on PFI should be withdrawn
- Charges against anti-CAA protesters must be withdrawn and all arrested including Mhd. Shoaib and other Rihai Manch activists must be immediately released
- Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 must be repealed
- Laws such as UAPA and CLA providing for provisions to ban organizations must be repealed
- Right to protest must be upheld as a legitimate constitutional right
Radhika Chitkara and Vikas Kumar