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POTO - RAJYA SABHA

28 Mar 2002

POTO - RAJYA SABHA


Sir I rise to express my stiff resistance and total opposition to the Prevention Of Terror Ordinance. There is no denying of the fact that India has been a victim of terrorism, including cross - border terrorism by Pakistan for the post decade or so and all of us speak in one voice that terrorism needs to be rooted out nevertheless. I am convinced that POTO is a draconian measure, impinging on civil liberties and our secular polity. We fear that it will be misused as its predecessor, TADA, was misused. Thousands of examples exist of how it was used against human rights activists, agitating farmers etc. After the 92, 93 Bombay riots, victims of a systematic pogrom against Muslims, instead of being given justice, were instead booked under TADA on the flimsiest excuse. The conviction rate of TADA arrests is a shocking 1.8%. Out of the 77, 571 people arrested over 72,000 were let off without trial because no evidence was found against them. Surely, our fears that POTO will be similarly misused should be addressed and allayed. Instead, we have the Home Minister of the Country saying that those who oppose POTO favour terrorism!"  This is a shocking statement to say the least. It is like George Bush announcing in cow - boy like fashion, post September 11th attack, "Either you are with us or you are with them   ( i.e. with the terrorists)."  WE ARE WITH NEITHER - Let this be quite clear we oppose POTO but that doesn't entitle anybody to cast a doubt on our patriotism or question our nationalism.

It has been argued that POTO is necessary to curb terrorism. How do you then explain the 13th December terrorist attack on Parliament, in spite of POTO being in existence then? How do you explain the Godhra carnage? POTO hasn't helped in strengthening intelligence functioning.

What then will it be used for? We fear that it will be used selectively against the minorities. Less than 48 hours after POTO was passed in the other house, came reports that the ordinance has been selectively & widely used against Muslims in Gujarat, specifically, those involved in the Godhra incident. 62 people, ALL MUSLIMS, have been booked under POTO  - NOT ONE of the over 800 arrested for violence in Ahmedabad & other areas of Gujarat, have been booked under POTO - It is obvious that for Narendra Modi's Government, crimes by the minority community are considered more heinous that those committed by the majority and therefore more deserving of more stringent punishment. For the CM of Gujarat, the systematic targetting of families and putting entire neighbourhoods on fire, is evidently not an act of terror. The Indian Express today points out that in the Naroda - Patia massacre  --- in which 91 people were killed, or the Gulmarg Society massacre,  in which 43 people, including former M.P. Ehsan Jafri, were killed,----  no one named in the FIR has even been arrested - The 13 arrested do not figure in the FIR's. Our worst fears have already been proved to be true in Gujarat what further proof do we need to see that POTO is ineffective against terrorism but will be misused instead against minorities? I would like to remind my friend Hon'ble Shri. Ram Jethmalani Ji that on May 22nd 1995, whilst speaking on The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 1995, in the Rajya Sabha, he said and I quote " I wish there were some educated people to advise the Home Minister, some persons who had knowledge of the theory of legislation, and the theory of penal legislation at that. They would have realized that terrorism is one of those rare and peculiar offences, which does not lend itself to treatment of law, to treatment by more law, and to treatment by more and more strict law. You have created a law, of which any decent person should be ashamed" Unqote. His change of heart on POTO is therefore very disheartening indeed.

Undoubtedly, national security is of paramount importance. Without protecting the safety and security of the nation, individual rights cannot be protected. However, the worth of a nation is the worth of the individuals constituting it. "The right to fair trail, the right to liberty and security of person, the right to freedom of expression, the right to redress and the right not to be tortured, would all be at risk under POTO", is a fear expressed by Amnesty International. The National Human Rights Commission is of the considered view that there is no need for POTO, and that the needed solution can be found under the existing Laws, if properly enforced and implemented, and amended, if necessary.

Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer has raised the concern "who will police the police?" This is a question that must be answered, particularly in the light of the partisan role played by the Police in the Gujarat carnage - which was not a communal riot but a pogrom against Muslims. We fear that confessions made to the Police will be misused. We fear that the strict rules for bail will help those in power to subvert the rule of law. Hon'ble Law Minister Shri. Arun Jaitley, says that POTO will, in fact, clearly lay out for the Police, the framework in which they can operate, thus they will not be able to misuse it, I DISAGREE ENTIRELY. Similar repressive laws in the past have been used by the Police to bypass the hard work of policing it is used to hide the lack of meticulous evidence gathered through painstaking investigation. Of course I do not blame the Police force in its entirety. I know that many a Police officer has worked against all odds to ensure law and order is maintained. S.S.P., Saurabh Srivasta in Ajmer, single - handedly prevented a riots from erupting in Ajmer in the wake of the Ahmedabad carnage. Instead of appreciating him, BJP members are reportedly sitting in protest strike demanding that he be removed from his post! What on earth is happening to our society? Members of the ruling party are protesting because the police officer prevented a major communal riot from erupting whereas in Gujarat the BJP is obviously satisfied with the partisan role played by the police in abdicating its duty to maintain law and order! Narendra Modi boasts that the situation was brought under control in 72 hours.- In 72 hours life and property was destroyed with such military precision that 98% of all Muslim Commercial establishments big and small were destroyed and more than 2000 people killed according to unofficial estimates. These are bizarre times we are living in. While severe laws like POTO are a matter of worry for citizens, in the hands of any regime- in the hands of a Government that is perceived to the partisan (there is little likelihood that the marauders of the Gujarat carnage will be booked under POTO) POTO will only fuel grater insecurity amongst those brutalized. The Home Minister says that peace and trust need to be restored between the communities in Gujarat - my submission is that POTO will ensure just the opposite an lead to a greater sense of injustice and anger - and anger is the most potent weapon of them all.

How then should we deal with terrorism? The National Human Rights Commission says "What is needed is the proper strengthening of the crime investigation and prosecution machinery and criminal justice system". If there are a large number of acquittals today, it is not for lack of laws, but for lack of proper utilization of these laws, lack of proper investigation and  prosecution, and lack of adequate number of courts to try the offences. Unless this root problem is reddressed, adopting draconian laws will only lead to their grave misuse.

The question that needs to be answered is why POTO, to be used against whom, and how fairly? Let us reject POTO in TOTO.

Shabana Azmi

Member of Parliament - Rajya Sabha


The Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia was formed in 1993 to combat rising religious intolerance in South Asia and to campaign for peace and justice in the region. We are committed to working towards a just, non-violent resolution of the crisis we are currently living through. If you are interested in joining us in this work, please call 617-983-3934 or e-mail info@alliancesouthasia.org

20 May 2006

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