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Bidar 'Sedition' Case: Police Admits Interrogation of Students Was Against Rules

The Karnataka Police said that its officers erred while questioning students in the school multiple times.

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More than 18 months after the mother of a student and a teacher from Shaheen School were jailed for two weeks on sedition charges, following a play staged in the school, the Karnataka Police has admitted that its officers erred while questioning students in the school multiple times.

In an affidavit filed in the Karnataka High Court, Nagesh DL, the current Superintendent of Police of Bidar district, stated that the officers were uniformed with armed weapons while questioning students in February 2020 and this was against the rules.

The SP also informed the court that in a report on 31 August 2021 to the Director General and Inspector General of Police (DG-IGP), he had recommended disciplinary action against the investigating officers in the case.

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"I state that it is the responsibility of the investigating officer (the then Deputy Superintendent of Police Basaveshwara Hira) to ensure that strict compliance of sub rule (5) of Rule 86 of the Juvenile Justice Model Rules 2016 and in view of the same and keeping in mind the order dated 16 August 2021 passed by the Honourable Court, I have sent a report dated 31 August 2021 to the Director General and Inspector General of Police (DG-IGP) to take appropriate disciplinary action against the concerned persons (sic)," read the affidavit submitted in court.

The affidavit noted that while Basaveshwara Hira was not in uniform while conversing with the students during the questioning, his subordinate officers were uniformed with armed weapons, thus violating 86 (5) of the Juvenile Justice Model Rules 2016. The Bidar SP also noted that oral enquiries with the cops involved in the case suggested that the subordinate officers did not interact with the students.

The affidavit was filed two weeks after the Karnataka High Court pulled up the state police over its interrogation of schoolchildren.

Basaveshwara Hira has since been transferred to the post of DSP of Chincholi sub-division in Kalaburagi district. He was earlier the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) of Bidar district. On 26 January 2020, the Bidar New Town police station received a complaint from a right wing activist Nilesh Rakshala about a play staged in Shaheen Primary and High School five days earlier. Based on the complaint, police personnel led by Hira arrested Nazbunissa, the mother of a student, and Fareeda Begum, a teacher at the school.

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Cops in uniform, led by Hira, turned up at the school five times to question the students who were in the play. The police asked questions about who scripted the play and chose the dialogues. In particular, the police repeatedly questioned Ayesha*, Nazbunissa's daughter and one of the students involved in the play, for the dialogues delivered. The seemingly innocuous play, performed in Dakkani language, questioned the need for CAA and NRC. It had a line that was allegedly derogatory to the prime minister.

Nazbunissa and Fareeda Begum remained in jail for two weeks as the police actively pursued sedition charges. A series of delays – involving absence of the judge and missing prosecutors – postponed the bail hearing for more than two weeks after the arrests were made.

On 14 February 2020, the district court granted bail to the duo and stated that there was nothing to show that the offence of sedition was committed. "The dialogue in my opinion does not go to bring in hatred or contempt or excite disaffection towards the government," district judge Managoli Premavathi said.

Though the women were released from jail, no action was taken against the police officers for their lapse during investigation. In August 2021, a Karnataka High Court bench of former Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice NS Sanjay Gowda heard a petition filed by Nayana Jyothi Jhawar and South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring.

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The bench stated that the police action was a serious violation under the Juvenile Justice Act. The court noted that the Special Juvenile Police Unit for Children sub-rule 5 stated that police officers shall wear plain clothes when interacting with children and for dealing with a girl child, women police personnel will be engaged.

(This article was first published in The News Minute and republished here with permission.)

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