India’s bovine fixation reached absurd levels with National Security Act (NSA) being invoked against people accused of slaughtering cows in Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh. The accused, identified as Shakeel, Nadeem and Azam, were remanded to judicial custody by a local court on February 4.
The police had conducted a raid at Karkali village in Kandhwa on February 1 to nab the men, but they escaped. However, they were picked up the following day from different locations in Khandwa itself.
The New Lotus Blooming in Madhya Pradesh
But what came as a bigger surprise is that it was Madhya Pradesh, now a Congress ruled state under the Chief Ministership of Kamal Nath, that invoked the NSA against three men for cow slaughter. This leads one to wonder if this controversial move was an exercise to placate a slice of the electoral pie wrested out of the BJP’s control with much difficulty.
Chief Minister Kamal Nath's predecessor Shivraj Singh Chouhan had used NSA against at least 22 people accused of cow slaughter. Keen to reap rich electoral rewards in the assembly elections held in December 2018, the Congress had promised, in its manifesto, to do more for cow protection. Now that it is finally in power, it is delivering on this promise.
In January, the new Congress administration announced that 1000 new government run cow shelters will come up across the state over the next four months... a time frame that mirrors the time left before the upcoming general elections!
However, building cow shelters is one thing and booking people under the provisions of NSA, an act that has attracted scathing criticism from various civil society voices and human rights groups for its use against dissenters as well as members of historically oppressed communities, is quite another!
Here is why the Congress should do everything in its power to steer clear of such a controversial legislation, if it wants the electorate to be able to differentiate between it and its opponents.
The Genesis of the NSA
The seeds of this draconian law were sown by Indira Gandhi replacing the National Security Ordinance in 1980. The act (through section 3) gives power to the Central Government, State Government or even Commissioner of Police or a District Magistrate to detain any citizen or a foreigner, to prevent him from acting in a prejudicial manner against the ‘security of the State’, ‘maintenance of public order’ or ‘maintenance of supplies and services which are essential to the community.’ It allows for the arbitrary exercise of power, giving the government the power to take preemptive measures, and does not set boundaries to the extent of applicability of these provisions.
The act not only fails to define ‘public order’ and ‘state security’ but also fails to define what may amount to an action deemed to be prejudicial.
Under the provisions of NSA, people can be detained for as long as the state wants and authorities are not even required to disclose grounds for detention!
Experts have pointed out how, the structure of this Act is similar to the British Raj’s Rowlatt Act  which denied access to courts or lawyers to those who were detained leading to the coining of the phrase “No Vakil, No Appeal, No Daleel“.
Key Drawbacks of NSA
Human Rights Abuse
The Indian security laws do not comply with the international human rights laws. They restrict freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, impose restrictions on the rights to a fair trial which is guaranteed by the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party. Women have faced sexual violence, families of detainees lose an earning member and detainees are victims to assault, torture and mental abuse.
Discriminatory use of law
The empowered governments often misuse or outright abuse the power bestowed upon them. Due to religious and ethnic discrimination, politicians have targeted members of a certain communities. Individuals who belong to minority communities have been detained, disproportionately investigated and prosecuted under these security laws.
Punitive rather than Preventive measure
Preventing a crime would mean discouraging a criminal from committing a crime without taking any severe action on the criminals. Rehabilitation would be more effective than punishing and making them suffer. The NSA proves to be punitive as it strips away the basic rights of the detainee and creates a difficult environment for the detainee in the prisons.
A detailed analysis of how NSA can be misused may be read here.