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On 6 August, seven days after communal violence broke out in Haryana's Nuh, a Rohingya refugee, living in a camp in Nuh, was eagerly waiting for his 17-year-old son and their 14-year-old neighbour to return from the nearby kirana shop. They had left the camp just a few minutes ago to buy mrichi powder and other groceries for that afternoon's meal.
Around 1 pm, bystanders near the grocery shop came to the camp and informed the Rohingya refugee that the police had apprehended his son and his neighbour's son, while they were "playing games on their phone."
The families of both the minor boys rushed to the Sadar Nuh police station immediately, only to be told by the police officers that their sons weren't there, they alleged to The Quint.
After three days spent helpless and clueless, on 9 August, the families claimed they received a call from the police, who said that their sons were arrested on suspicion of being involved in the 31 July communal violence. At least six people, including two police officers, were killed in the clashes that followed.
"They have arrested our innocent sons in an illegal manner. They have no role in the violence,” the 14-year-old's father told The Quint.
According to the First Information Reports (FIR) accessed by The Quint, the 17-year-old and 14-year-old have been apprehended in two separate cases under Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections 148 (rioting), 149 (unlawful assembly), 332 (voluntarily causing harm), 353 (assault), 186 (voluntarily obstructs any public servant), 307 (attempt to murder), 295 (deliberate, malicious harm) and section 25 of Arms Act.
As of 18 August, the Haryana police said that 60 FIRs have been lodged and 245 people arrested in connection with the incident. Of these, lawyers The Quint spoke to in Nuh district claim at least five are minors, including two Rohingya, have been “illegally detained, and not in accordance with the law."
The Nuh Police, however, refuted claims made by the lawyers and told The Quint that the minors were arrested after verifying their age proof-related documents and “sufficient evidence."
While the FIR says that Minor 1 and Minor 2 were arrested on 10 August, families claim that it happened four days before the FIR's claims. The families' allegations are contrary to what the police claims.
The Quint visited three families in Nuh on 10 August who insisted that their sons who were apprehended are minors, relying on purported United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Aadhaar cards.
‘Son Arrested for Violence but He Was at Home’
The Rohingya camp in Nuh, which is the only Muslim-majority district in Haryana houses at least 85 refugee families who fled from Myanmar in 2012, due to religious prosecution. While the 17-year-old was six years old, the 14-year-old was about three when they took refuge in Haryana, their parents told The Quint.
Since 31 July, when the violence broke out, the refugees claimed that they were asked by the camp head not to step to avoid any police action.
“To ensure that the violence did not enter this area (Rohingya camp), our camp leader made sure that none of us stepped outside our houses. This is because we are outsiders and going out would lead to danger at such a tense moment,” the 17-year-old's 59-year-old father told The Quint.
“How was my son apprehended when all of us, including him, did not step out of the camp that night?” the father added.
The 17-year-old was employed at a store in Nuh and was the sole earning member of the family earning Rs 7,000 a month.
“He used to study at a government school nearby but was forced to take up a job to support us because I fell sick,” the father told The Quint.
“We (adults) did not step out because we knew we would be detained for no reason except that we are Muslims. That is why we sent out children to buy vegetables and provisions for the house. Little did we know they would also be caught,” the 14-year-old's father, told The Quint, as he consoled his distraught wife. He is a daily-wage labourer, and the sole breadwinner who earns Rs 500 a day.
The 14-year-old's family said that he was studying at a madrassa before he was arrested.
What Does the FIR Say?
Filed after a complaint was received by Gurugram Police Inspector Pankaj Kumar on 1 August, the first FIR against the minors states:
“A crowd of about 600-700 fierce anti-social elements were shouting slogans and started pelting stones towards the police force deployed in Nuh… They also used weapons to attack us, during which one of the bullets fired hit one of our officers.”
The incident took place on 31 July.
The second FIR, related to the mob who allegedly vandalised the Nuh Cyber Crime Police Station, claimed that they were a part of the mob that allegedly shouted slogans such as “burn them (police) alive.”
“The rioters engaged in acts of violence, including pelting stones, firing shots at the police, and setting ablaze several vehicles belonging to the police staff,” the FIR said.
While the FIR stated that the minors were arrested on 10 August, the families, and their lawyer claim that the boys were picked up on 6 August.
Nuh Superintendent of Police (SP) Narender Bijarniya, however, said:
“Documents pertaining to age proof have been checked before making the arrests of the minors. Some people are claiming they are minors to evade the serious penalty of the law. We have followed due procedure as per the Juvenile Justice Act and the minors have been sent to an observation home.”
‘Arrested While Returning from Work’
Four kilometers from the Rohingya camp is the Palri village in Nuh, where another 17-year-old minor, who works as a labourer, was apprehended on 1 August. His father told The Quint that on 31 July, when violence broke out in Nuh, the 17-year-old left work at 6.30 pm.
"He, along with two of his friends who he works with, went to Muradbas village because they were afraid of being caught by the police. The police conducted raids at 4 am on 1 August and apprehended my son,” the father said.
The 17-year-old is one of the 25 accused arrested in the murder of Panipat resident Abishek, during the 31 July communal clashes. The Quint accessed the FIR, which was lodged under IPC sections for rioting, unlawful assembly, deliberate and malicious acts, attempt to murder along with 25 of the Arms Act.
‘No Information from Police After Arrest’
Advocate Tahir Hussain Ruparya, who represents the three minors told The Quint, “The FIRs connect the three minors with different incidents that broke out during the violence... Till date, there has been no evidence to prove the same”.
As per the Juvenile Justice Act, a Special Juvenile Unit should detain a minor suspect or be given custody in case the arrest is made by a regular Police unit. The Act states that a minor accused must be kept in observation home before being produced before the Juvenile Justice Board (JJ Board) within 24 hours of arrest.
Ruparya claimed that the police "did not follow the procedures" in detaining the 17-year-old and 14-year-old boys from the refuge camp.
“The boys have been arrested between 4 August-6 August. But arrest has been shown as 10 August. They were produced in the court today (11 August). For 3-4 days, they were kept in illegal detention and no details were given to the parents on where the boys are, how they are or for what case they have been arrested,” Ruparya claimed to The Quint.
Nuh SP Bijarniya told The Quint that the accused have arrested after due verification of their government identity card.
“We have thoroughly checked CCTV footages and spoke to witnesses. The accused’s families are trying to defend their sons, that’s natural. The minors have been produced to the JJ Board,” he said.
All the three minors are now at an observational home.
“I am feeling very scared, all of us in the camp are. We are afraid that when we step out for work, the police will catch us. We can’t sleep peacefully at night,” the 17-year-old's father told The Quint.
“We fled from Burma to save our lives and have come here to work. We are not able to tolerate what’s happening to us. We want to live peacefully, it’s our right,” the 14-year-old's father told The Quint.