Lawyers, child rights activists and many residents of Bengaluru showed up outside the office of Director-General and Inspector General of Police Praveen Sood on Thursday and held a silent protest condemning the police interrogation of minors in the Bidar school play case.
The protesters held posters with twenty different questions printed on it, all of them addressed to the police regarding the investigation into the sedition case filed against the school in Bidar.
The protesters held up several posters questioning the legality in the way the students, aged between 9 and 12, were interrogated at the Shaheen Primary and High School in Bidar. The students were questioned after a play against the Citizenship Amendment Act and NRC was staged at the school on January 21. Based on a complaint filed by an ABVP activist, the police had registered a sedition case against the school administration and the mother of an 11-year-old student who took part in the play. The mother and a school teacher were arrested on January 30.
Protesters pose 20 questions to DG and IGP
â€śIs the Karnataka Police so afraid of children questioning the system that they arrested a parent and a teacher in Bidar for a play performed by children?â€ť, â€śWill mothers now be prone to arrest for words spoken by their children in a play?â€ť, â€śHas any communication been sent from the DGPâ€™s office to the Bidar SP in this matter? Should your office not be sending instructions when your subordinates are committing illegal acts?â€ť were some of the important questions raised by the protesters.
They also questioned the legality of the police questioning the children and said, â€śAre the police aware that the right to criticize the government can only be curtailed if the speech of such grave nature as to threaten public order? How does a play performed by the young threaten public order?â€ť the protesters questioned. They also questioned the police and â€śremindedâ€ť them of section 154 of the IPC, where a police officer is mandated to see if the information they have received in a complaint relates to the commission of a cognizable offense before an FIR was registered.
The protesters were referring to the policeâ€™s ability to judge whether staging a play criticizing governmental policy actually amounts to sedition before section 124A was slapped in the FIR.
We are parents too
Condemning this, Mujahid Ahsan, a parent at the protest, said that the interrogation amounts to police excess.
â€śI am the father of a nine-year-old girl. The children in that school in Bidar have been put through hell with the police repeatedly questioning them. We want the police to answer questions about why they did this and why they did not exercise restraint as they did in the school belonging to Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat,â€ť he said.
Delegation seeks answers
A delegation of lawyers and child rights activists met DG and IGP Praveen Sood and submitted a letter detailing their queries and demands.
â€śThe interrogation of children some as young as nine years old about the play that they enacted goes against one of the closely held tenets of a democratic order, which is that children should be able to access the right to education without fear and favour. By the police intruding into the school and repeatedly questioning children they are violating the childâ€™s right to dignity, non-discrimination and equality,â€ť the letter submitted to Praveen Sood states.
A delegation of lawyers and activists met @Copsview and demanded that the sedition case be withdrawn against the school and mother of a child in Bidar. They questioned violation of JJ Act by police and also the indiscriminate usage of sedition to clamp down on free speech. pic.twitter.com/5b0VtxvmdYâ€” Theja Ram (@thejaram92) February 6, 2020
The members of the delegation said that invocation of sedition charges in the context of a school play marks a new low in our democracy. They demanded that the sedition case be withdrawn against the school and the mother.
Praveen Sood responds
DG and IGP Praveen Sood told the lawyers and activists that though he would not defend the actions of Bidar police, the interrogation of children took place before he took charge as the DG and IGP.
â€śHe assured us that the children would no longer be interrogated and that what had occurred in the school was not an interrogation. He stated that it was only a police interaction and the police were only speaking and asking questions,â€ť Maitree, a lawyer with Alternative Law Forum said.
Praveen Sood assured the delegation that the police would be sympathetic to the accused in the case and would not oppose the bail application in court.
â€śHe also agreed to our demand that the police need certain guidelines which have to be followed in terms of when a sedition can and cannot be registered. He also agreed that these guidelines must be in compliance of the Kedar Nath judgment of 1962,â€ť Vinay Sreenivasa, a lawyer who was a part of the delegation, said.
The delegation also demanded that a probe must be conducted regarding the behaviour of the police officer who was involved in the case. "Praveen Sood did not give us any assurances in this regard but he said that legal opinion would be sought before proceeding further," Vinay said.