CAA Protest: 2 Azamgarh Minors Free After 4 Months in Adult Jail

In February, local women in Azamgarh had staged an anti-CAA protest, inspired by Shaheen Bagh. 

Updated27 Jun 2020, 10:35 AM IST
India
6 min read

'Around 6 AM on 5 February, I was walking down to the restaurant where I work when the police arrested me and accused me of inciting violence and raising anti-India slogans at the nearby anti-CAA protest site in Azamgarh’.

16-year-old Sulaiman* (name changed) finally came home on bail after spending four months in prison. He was among the 19 people who were arrested on 5 February for sedition, rioting, attempt to murder and 16 other charges during an anti-CAA protest at Jauhar Ali Park in Azamgarh’s Bilariyaganj town. All the 19 accused have been granted bail by Allahabad High Court in the last one month.

Local women at the Azamgarh anti-CAA protest.
Local women at the Azamgarh anti-CAA protest.
(Photo: Arranged by The Quint)

The FIR, which was filed by a policeman, names 35 men, who have been accused of putting up “women and kids at the forefront”. It further alleges, “The protesters carried sticks, rods and stones and were found chanting anti-government and anti-national slogans. They raised disgusting slogans against Hindu religion, and abused Prime Minister and Chief Minister, while while blocking roads,” the FIR adds. The claims are repeated in the charge sheet.

Snapshot
  • On the morning of 4 February, local women in Bilariyaganj - 15 kms from Azamgarh had- staged a Shaheen Bagh-style sit-in to protest against the Modi government’s Citizenship Amendment Act
  • However, the Police had already imposed Section 144 in the area and refused to give permission for the sit-in. The women had decided to continue with the protest saying “it was their democratic right to raise their voice against injustice”
  • On the day of the event, the police had repeatedly tried to persuade the protesters to vacate the place. They had even sought the help of local leaders.
  • But the women refused to move and continued their protest all day. By 3 AM on 5 February, the police allegedly resorted to lathi charging the protesters
  • By 5 February noon, several Muslim men were picked up from the spot and the nearby areas and arrested on various charges of IPC

According to Juvenile Justice laws in India, no child (anyone who is under the age of 18 years) who is in conflict with the law can be placed in an adult jail and has to be taken to a juvenile justice home. However, Sulaiman’s elder brother told The Quint that the police had ignored his repeated appeals to treat Sulaiman as a minor.

“When I got to know the police has arrested my brother, I had rushed to the police station. I told them my brother was innocent. They were not ready to listen to anything. I showed them documents that my brother was a minor. The police officer present at the station had threatened me that if I talk too much, they will imprison me as well.”
Sulaiman’s elder brother

Naval Kishor, Station Officer at Raumapur police station, who is handling the case, said, “I have taken over the charge very recently. But the police did not have any information on the age of the accused.”

However, an Indian Express report dated 7 February quotes Manoj Kumar Singh, Station Officer of Bilariyaganj, where the FIR was initially registered, as saying, “For us, he is a rioter. He was arrested from the spot and was sent to jail. It is up to the court to decide whether he is a minor or an adult,”

But, Sulaiman wasn’t the only minor among the 19 who was lodged in an adult jail in Azamgarh for four months. 17-year-old Aijaz* (Name changed) said he missed his board exams this year. “One year of my life gone to waste,” he told The Quint.

Unlike Sulaiman, Aijaz was at the site of the protest on 4 February. “I was just standing on the side, the protest was led mainly by women. I was arrested by police and taken away even before stone-pelting or any violence. Later, I was told I have been arrested for raising anti-India slogans.”

The Quint has seen copies of available documents of both the boys - Sulaiman’s school report card and Aijaz’s CBSE admit card - to confirm that their age is below 18. The families say they don’t have any other documents to prove their age apart from the school certificates.

The lawyer who represented the two minors in the court told The Quint, “If the boy who openly fired a gun near Delhi’s Jamia Milia Islamia University could be treated as a minor and presented to the juvenile justice board, why not those boys accused in the Azamgarh case be given the same treatment?”

The lawyer said, “We wanted to rush the process of bail. The juvenile court in Azamgarh was non-functional at that time, so we decided to not wait to complete the documentation and go ahead with the bail application at the High Court.”

A Sedition Charge For Chanting ‘Azaadi’?

According to the FIR and the charge sheet, the “anti-national slogans”, for which the police invoked a sedition charge on the accused, are as follows:

  • Azaadi chheen ke lenge/ Hum lekar rahenge Azaadi (We will snatch away our freedom/ We will ensure that we get our freedom back). [The ‘Azaadi’ chant became popular across the country at various anti-CAA protests during December-January.]
  • Allegedly raising hateful slogans against Hindu religion
  • Allegedly abusing followers of Hindu religion by taking the name of Prime Minister and Chief Minister
  • Raising anti-CAA, anti-NRC slogans

The law dealing with sedition or Section 124A IPC states: “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which a fine may be added; or, with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which a fine may be added; or, with fine.”

From the charge sheet or the FIR, it isn’t clear what is the speech made against “the Government established by law in India” that led the police to invoke the sedition charge in the case. When asked, Station Officer Naval Kishore said, “It is now up to the court to decide whether this charge holds right or not.”

Police Sought Maulana’s Help to Remove Protesters, Later Arrested Him as ‘Main Accused’

Among the 19 arrested, was also 62-year-old Tahir Madni, a teacher at the nearby Madrasa and general secretary of Rashtriya Ulema Council. He says he was called by the police and the District Magistrate to pacify the protesters and persuade them to withdraw the agitation, but was later arrested for “being the mastermind of the protests”.

Speaking to The Quint, Madni said, “On 4 February evening, police asked me to talk to the protesters and ask them to clear the site. They thought I am a reputed resident of the area so the protesters will listen to me. But the women said it was a peaceful protest that does not block any road or cause any inconvenience. I came back and informed the police the same.”

Madni adds, “The police requested me to try a couple of more times. And, I did. Even the local MLA accompanied me one time. But the women refused to relent.”

Soon, Madni and two other youngsters who were helping him have a dialogue with the women were detained but around 3 AM, the District Magistrate allegedly asked him to take a last shot at convincing the protesting women. “This time, when I told the women that the police has detained me and my health was not doing too well, they understood and told me that they would leave the spot in 2 hours after reading the morning namaaz.”

But when he returned and told the administration that it was just a matter of 2 hours, the police decided to arrest him. Madni says when he asked the police officer what his crime was, the cop told him, “How come you are so well reputed in this area and still the women aren’t listening to you? According to our intelligence sources, we have found out that you are the mastermind behind the protest and you had already tutored the women to not cave in to police requests.”

Madni said, “When the police tried to quell the protest by force, there were many protesters who were injured including a woman.”

However, SO Naval Kishore denied Madni’s versions and said, “The police did not ask any Maulana to help. This is a false allegation, nothing like this has happened.” He added, “You should also ask about the policemen who were injured during the clashes at the protest. They were throwing stones at us. We have enough evidence against each of the accused.”

One of the women who was injured during police lathi-charging at the Azamgarh anti-CAA protest.
One of the women who was injured during police lathi-charging at the Azamgarh anti-CAA protest.
(Photo: Arranged by The Quint)

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Published: 27 Jun 2020, 09:56 AM IST

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