What kind of long-term effects can four hours of ‘questioning’ by the police — repeatedly — of children as young as 9-years-old, have on their lives, with ominous words like ‘sedition’, ‘anti-national’ being bandied about?
One can only imagine what impact the arrest of a mother, teacher and school management on charges of sedition can have on children.
Following closely on General Bipin Rawat’s statement on the need for ‘radicalised children to be sent to de-radicalisation camps’, the message seems clear enough. While the ‘leaders’ and the followers of the ‘ruling party’ can use violent language with impunity, others dare not contest or dissent. And if they do, there will be consequences.
Human rights and child rights activists from across the country have released a statement expressing their anguish about the recent incident which caught the public imagination.
What ‘Crime’ Had the Children & Their Guardians Committed?
Their ‘crime’ was that they took part in a school play enacted in the Shaheen Primary and Secondary School, Bidar on 21 January, in which they are alleged to have recited lines against the CAA-NRC-NPR.
A video of this play of course went viral on social media, and soon, an ABVP member filed a complaint in the New Town Police Station in Bidar. In the complaint, the school and someone who shared the video on Facebook, were accused of ‘spreading lies’ about CAA, NRC and NPR, encouraging ‘seditious’ thoughts, and making students say that they would ‘beat the PM with chappals’. A normally lethargic police, who under normal circumstances, takes hours to file an FIR even for the gravest of issues, took prompt action!
The point is, each of these statements is false, even going by the video recording of the play that went viral on social media.
But in an environment of heightened ‘nationalism’ based on exclusion, othering and post-truth, who cares about that.
The FIR has been lodged by the police under sections of the Indian Penal Code for ‘Insult intended to provoke breach of the peace’, ‘Statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between Classes’, ‘Sedition’, and ’Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion’. The Police have invoked Section 124A of the IPC which is the sedition law, to arrest a teacher and a parent who they say were involved with the staging of the play.
Sedition: A Colonial Era Law Which Has Rightfully Drawn Flak
Who would have imagined that the colonial sedition law that was used against the freedom fighters in India, including Gandhi ji, would one day be used by policemen in independent India, against those who staged a school play, which expressed an opinion at odds with the central government’s position.
It may be recalled that Gandhi ji had referred to the sedition law as ‘the prince among the political sections of the IPC’ and seen it as a tool which was used by the British to stifle dissenting voices which sought to expose the inequity of British colonialism.
The ‘Statement By Child Rights Groups, Teachers And Educationists Against The Illegal And Inhumane Actions Of The Bidar Police Affecting Children’ points out that this action by the police violates the law on many counts.
It breaches the Constitution of India (Article 19(1)(a) and its interpretation by the Supreme Court in a constitutional bench decision in Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar ; is in contravention of domestic laws (such as the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2019) and international conventions that India has ratified, which provide for a system that seeks to engage even with an offending child in a non-punitive manner. Its guiding principles stress on non-discrimination, the best interest of the child, dignity — all of which have been violated in this case.
‘Anti-National’ Child: Why Hasn’t Even the PM Appealed for Cooler Heads to Prevail?
And what about all those commitments towards the rights of children to express themselves and be heard in all matters concerning them, enshrined in the Constitution of India as a fundamental right and complemented by the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), as well as the National Policy for Children and others. As has been pointed out in the statement by child rights groups and others (referred to above), “if we don’t see our schools as training grounds for democracy in which children learn to ask questions and express themselves without being subjected to police interrogation, we are sowing the seeds of a conformist society, at odds with a Constitution which promises the freedom of speech and expression to all its citizens including its children.”
While different versions of what the child may have said is floating around, isn’t it amazing that no one, not even the prime minister, against whom the child is said to have raised the slogan, find it in their heart the empathy and largeness to let it go —to allow the child to exercise their right to free speech? Instead they allow the State machinery to undertake measures that will leave them all scarred for life.
Aim to Make Children Feel Secure & Empowered
Clearly, child/ren who may have ‘dared’ to ‘express’, along with their parents and teachers, are being made examples of so that the message goes out loud and clear. If this is not meant to create fear, what is?
And while the National Commission for Protection of Rights of the Child (NCPCR) was quick to send out orders about the ‘misuse of children’ in protests, it has not shown similar alacrity on the illegal detentions and interrogation of children. What is more, there is support and approbation for children who march to support the CAA. This is not seen as ‘influencing’ children but instead applauded as ‘informed choice’.
Different strokes for different people may be good in most situations — but in this case, it violates all principles of human rights for children.
And surely it cannot be in the ‘best interest’ of children to be detained and interrogated by the police?
As a statutory body set up for protecting children, they cannot be selective in what they take notice of. It is their duty to protect children from even the State if its violating their rights. They have to uphold the values of non-discrimination, and children’s right to be heard. The remedy lies in creating just conditions, where children are treated with love and respect, by creating an atmosphere of safety and security and making them feel secure and empowered.
(Enakshi Ganguly is a human rights activist. She tweets @enakshihaq. This is a personal blog and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)