On Thursday, former Congress leader Urmila Matondkar had compared the humanitarian Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) to the contentious Rowlatt Act of 1919 at Gandhi Bhavan memorial in Pune. The former Congress politician made those remarks during an event held on the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s death anniversary.
#WATCH Urmila Matondkar:After end of WW II in 1919, British knew unrest was spreading in India&that may rise after war was over. So, they brought a law commonly known as Rowlatt Act. That 1919 law&Citizenship (Amendment)Act of 2019 will be recorded as black laws in history(30.1) https://t.co/tIoLS2HTh7 pic.twitter.com/rmmnb52Kk4
— ANI (@ANI) January 31, 2020
She said, “After the end of the Second World War in 1919, the British knew that unrest was spreading in India and that may arise after the Second World War was over. So, they brought a law commonly known as the Rowlatt Act. That 1919 law and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019 will be recorded as black laws in history.” Besides refusing to accept the law, she alleged that CAA is against the poor and the idea of “Bhartiyatva.”
Essentially, Urmila Matondkar compared the CAA with the Rowlatt Act in her ignorance and to deride the Modi government.
Here is why she is wrong
The Rowlatt Act of 1919 (also called Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919) was enacted by the colonial British government to detain political leaders whom they perceived as “threats”, for an indefinite period. It empowered the government to arrest individuals without a warrant and incarcerate them for up to 2 years without trial.
The accused were to not receive any evidence used against them in the trial or know the identity of the accusers. People were restricted from participating in religious and political activities. The said Act was designed to curb revolutionary nationalist movements that had started gaining momentum in India and could undermine the Imperial Government.
Mahatma Gandhi organised a non-violent Satyagraha movement against the black Act that led up to the infamous Jalliwana Bagh Massacre and the Non-Cooperation Movement. The Act was repealed in March 1922.
CAA, on the contrary, is a humanitarian Act designed to fast-track the citizenship of minorities belonging to 6 religions who have been persecuted on religious grounds in the 3 neighbouring countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The cut-off date for the said Act is Dec 31, 2014.
CAA does not have provisions to withdraw or annulate someone’s existing nationality. It can neither be used to detain someone indefinitely or arrest without warrant. At this point, it becomes clear that the “Black Act” has no similarity with CAA and the comparison, therefore, is absurd and intellectually dishonest.
Here is the law that came close to the Rowlatt Act
The Rowlatt Act saw its resurgence in 1971 when Indira Gandhi passed the contentious Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA). Through the 39th Amendment to the Constitution, the said Act was placed under the 9th Schedule.and thus kept it beyond the purview of a judicial review. The move was well-thought-out.
Due to the broad nature of the law, individuals could be kept under preventive detention, private properties could be searched and seized without any warrant by law enforcement. This law was subsequently misused during the dark days of Indian Emergency (1975-1977) to put the opposition leaders behind bars.
By implementing this law, Indira Gandhi assumed extra-judicial powers. People were tortured, coerced and arrested using MISA. The law infringed upon the Fundamental Rights of people and was hence repealed in 1977 by the Morarji Desai led Janta-Party government.
It is evident now that the law that closely mirrored the Rowlatt Act was, in fact, MISA and not CAA. Having said that, it is ironical that in 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Urmila Matondkar contested from the ticket of the Indian National Congress, the same party that once reminded India of the Black Act.