On Thursday, officials at the Shaheen Primary and High School in Bidar district of Karnataka were prepared for the sight of police personnel in plain clothes walking into the school premises. The police had called up earlier and asked the school authorities to present all students who participated in a play staged on January 21 about the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) to the police station. However, when the school authorities refused to send students to the station, the police came to the school instead, this time for a second round of questioning.
While they had anticipated as much, the school authorities were not prepared for what came next. The police not only questioned students in the school but also arrested a head-teacher of the schoolâ€™s primary section â€“ Fareeda Begum (52) â€“ for overseeing the play, and the mother of a child who took part in the play â€“ Nazbunnisa (26). The school management is also facing charges of sedition for allowing the play to be conducted. On Friday, though the school authorities applied for bail for the two women who were arrested, it did not come up for hearing. The lawyer who is representing the two women told TNM that the judge in the District and Sessions court in Bidar was on leave till February 4 and it will most likely not be possible to secure bail.
"The students were questioned for over two hours. All the students are from classes 4, 5 and 6 and the youngest among them was aged 9," says Tauseef Madikeri, the CEO of the school.
Bidar SP T Shreedhara told TNM that the mother has been arrested for telling her daughter to say a dialogue that anyone who asks for documents should be hit with a chappal (slipper), and including abusive words which were not part of the script of the play. â€śThe head-teacher was arrested because she was overseeing the play," the SP added. He said that while the school management is facing charges of sedition, the parent and the teacher arrested will be "charged to the extent of their involvement." The police are unwilling to disclose if there is a separate FIR against the parent and the head teacher, and the only FIR that the media has accessed till now is a case based on sedition law.
"At this point we cannot reveal what charges have they been booked under. Only an investigation will reveal their role," Bidar DSP Basaveshwara Hira, who is investigating the case, told TNM.
In a video reportedly of the play which has now been taken down from social media, a child is heard telling another child, â€śThe government is telling Muslims to leave India and go away.â€ť The other child responds, â€śAmma, Modi is saying show documents of your father and grandfather otherwise he is telling us to leave the country.â€ť At this point, another child is heard saying, â€śHit them with slippers if anybody asks for documents.â€ť
Tauseef says the dialogue uttered by the child was generic. "It has been wrongly interpreted. It was not used to target anyone and the girl spoke of hitting anyone who would ever dare ask her for her documents with a chappal. She has picked up this part from watching videos and listening to conversations at home," Tauseef adds.
Speaking in an interview with India Today before her arrest, Nazmunnisa apologised for the incident and took responsibility for it in the hope that her daughter is not targeted for her part in the play. "We did not intend to portray the Prime Minister in a bad light. We were thinking about how we can do the play; saw something on YouTube and thought of doing it," Nazmunnissa says.
Complaint says play was 'insulting PMâ€™
Police officials from New Town Police Station acted on a complaint made by Nilesh Rakshala, an activist of the Akhila Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), in which he stated that dialogues in the play "insulted the Prime Minister". Police first visited the school on January 28. On this occasion, there were police personnel in uniform as well as those in plain clothes, who questioned students involved in the play.
Police officials, in plainclothes, made a second visit to the school on Thursday, and once again questioned students. The police further asked parents of the children involved in the play and the head-teacher Fareeda to visit the police station for questioning.
The police justified their actions stating that the children were witnesses in a complaint of sedition. "We have followed protocol in examining juvenile witnesses. A child rights activist was present and police officials visited the school in plain clothes. We have a system of Special Juvenile Police Units in each police station and they have acted based on the complaint," Bidar SP T Shreedhara said.
School says police didnâ€™t follow child-friendly procedure
But people connected to the school say that the questioning by the police was not conducted in a child-friendly manner, and that some of the police officials who visited the school were in uniform. "Police officials who visited on Thursday were in plain clothes. However, on January 28, there were policemen who were in uniform at the school," says Tauseef. Photographs, which have been shared widely, also show police officers in uniform questioning students.
Members of the Shaheen Alumni Association wrote to the Chairperson of the Karnataka State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights on the issue.
In the letter, it was pointed out that under the section 107 of Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015, only a Child Welfare Police Officer (CWPO) can deal with children. The letter points out another rule which states that parents of the child may be present during the interrogation, however, this was not followed.
"Photos that are going viral on the social media prove the fact that rules of child-friendly procedures have been completely breached by the concerned police officers, as the police officer interviewing is wearing a coloured shirt, however, the other two officers accompanying him are in complete uniform and are carrying weapon which is visible. The impact of such a sight is traumatising for the children (sic)," reads a letter written by Irfan Ahmed, Coordinator of the Shaheen Alumni Association.
Police officials say that they will continue their investigation into the incident even as school authorities are scrambling to ensure bail for the teacher and the parent arrested.