The Bidar police on Tuesday questioned minor students of the Shaheen Primary School for the fifth time in connection with the sedition case registered against the school’s management and one parent. The sedition case was slapped after students staged a play, which was against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) on January 21.
On January 26, the sedition case was registered. Ever since the police have questioned the children multiple times. This has raised several questions over why investigators have not shown restraint while handling the case; and also whether the government is influencing the police in clamping down on the rights of the minority community.
Allegations of religious-based profiling
Over a month ago, a school in Karnataka’s Dakshina Kannada district, owned by RSS leader Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat was in the spotlight after students staged a play regarding the demolition of the Babri Masjid. A video of the play shows at least a hundred children on stage rushed towards a huge poster of the Babri Masjid, as a narrator said on a loudspeaker: “They start demolishing the structure with anything they can get their hands on. With enthusiasm, Hanuman bhaktas with Hanuman’s anger, they bring down Babri structure. Bolo Shri Ramachandra ki, Jai!” As the proclamation of Ram’s name came on the loudspeaker, the poster of Babri Masjid was brought down by the students, and the children on stage cheered and jumped in excitement.
The video went viral on December 15, 2019. A case was registered against Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat, the RSS leader who owns the school under sections 295A (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings) and 298 (Uttering, words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person) of the Indian Penal Code. A sedition case (rightly) was not registered. So far, the police have not made any arrests in the case. Several politicians including Puducherry Governor Kiran Bedi had lauded the performance as well.
However, in the case of Shaheen Primary and High School, the management and parent of one little girl were booked for sedition. While the police showed restraint and did not subject children to interrogation in the school in Dakshina Kannada, the same restraint was not offered to the students of Shaheen Primary and High School.
“This is clearly profiling on religious grounds. Just because the school is run by members of the Muslim community, a sedition case has been slapped against them. The police did not question the children in the Dakshina Kannada school case, as should be. Children are not to be subjected to such interrogation as it can have a huge impact on their mental health. Questioning school management is different from subjecting small children to interrogation and intimidation,” alleges Professor Rajendra, a member of Peoples Union for Civil Liberties.
Professor Rajendra alleges that the ruling BJP, whose leaders have repeatedly made Islamophobic statements were trying to clamp down on dissent and intimidate the minority community.
“Only children at the school in Bidar are being subjected to this and just because they criticised the Prime Minister. Our Constitution allows us to criticise our leaders and government policy. Even when there was no cause to file a sedition case it is being done to intimidate the minorities into voicing their dissent against CAA and NRC. The BJP is pressurising the police into doing their bidding. The police must exercise restraint and be unbiased,” he further alleges.
Police investigation flawed?
Bidar SP Nagesh says that the investigating officer Basavehwar submitted a report of his investigation to him on Tuesday. He says he has followed due process.
“I took charge as SP two days ago and I asked the IO (Investigating Officer) to submit a report. In it, he has said that he had ensured the presence of women police officers and also the presence of the child protection officer. He said he took the help of the Special Juvenile Protection Unit in questioning the children but the SJPU did not do the questioning itself,” Bidar SP tells TNM.
He says that as the interrogation was not conducted within the premises of the police station, there was no requirement of the SJPU to directly question the children.
Speaking to TNM, Arvind Narrain, a lawyer practicing with the Karnataka High Court and specialises in cases falling under the Juvenile Justice Act, says that the Bidar Police’s investigation into the case has raised certain questions about the investigation procedure they followed.
Arvind says that under the Juvenile Justice Act, the police must set up a Special Juvenile Police Unit, whose officers must be trained in questioning children, if they have to interrogate minors. He maintains that the repeated questioning of the children in Shaheen Primary and High School is not the right procedure of interrogation.
“The first question is why are they being questioned repeatedly. Secondly, they have not followed due procedure and ensured that those qualified for interrogating the children are doing so. Are these officials even equipped to handle this case in a sensitive manner? The biggest question is whether the police themselves are not following the law,” he says.
KSCPCR issues notice to police
As the Karnataka government and the police came under the spotlight and have been accused of harassing the children in the school, the Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights has issued a notice to the Bidar SP, the officials of the Department of Public Instruction in Bidar and also the Disctrict Child Protection Officer regarding the repeated questioning of the children.
“We have issued a notice and asked for a response from each of these entities as to what was the need to question the children so many times and whether due process was followed and they adhered to the laws prescribed under the Juvenile Justice Act. We have asked them whether the interrogation was necessary at all since the play criticised government policy and no actual violence took place,” an official with the KSCPCR tells TNM.
He also said that the KSCPCR will form a committee by the end of Tuesday, which will also probe the matter and submit a report in the coming weeks.