Two families – living three km apart – have been counting days ever since their sons were picked up by the police during riots and anti-CAA protests in northeast Delhi on February 25 and 26.
“Aaj 22 din ho jayenge mere bacche ko jail mein (It’s been 22 days since my son was jailed),” said the mother of a teenager who was arrested from Chandbagh and lodged in Madoli jail.
The police have booked him under IPC sections for rioting, assault on police, arson, unlawful assembly and vandalism. Sections of the Arms Act are also invoked against him.
Another teenager from Khureji Khas was also arrested under identical charges.
Both families said their sons were below 18.
The Aadhaar card of the Chandbagh teenager, a Class 5 dropout, which the family showed, has his date of birth as November 26, 2006. His mother said his son was arrested when he had gone to look for his younger brother on February 25 evening when the riots were raging in the locality. “We could not search for him due to restrictions on movement during riots… He is not even 13. How can the police arrest him?” the mother, a domestic help, asked. Three days later, the family received a call, saying he was lodged in Madoli jail.
The family of six lives in a rented one-room house with its wall paint flaking off. A 90s TV, the sole modern-day possession in the house, has remained silent since the arrest. A rickshaw puller, the teenager’s father has not been keeping well since three months.
Khajoori Khas police, which registered the FIR against the teenager, said the boy himself told them that he was an adult.
“He told us that he was 18. We could not verify his birth certificates immediately because the situation at that time was tense,” said investigating officer Vipin Kumar Teotia. The teenager’s mother said her son was scared and told police that he was 18 by mistake.
Another police officer from Khajoori Khas said the court had ordered for a bone ossification test at GTB Hospital to determine the age.
However, child right activists said it was mandatory for police to immediately verify the age.
“Legally speaking, if a youth is on the verge of being an adult, the benefit of doubt is given to him. Police are duty-bound to check his age through municipal or school certificates. If these documents are not available, police can get the medical check-up done,” said Amod Kant, former director general of police and general secretary of Delhi-based NGO Prayas. If police have violated the Juvenile Justice Act, a departmental inquiry against the guilty can be ordered, he said.
Abdul Gaffar, a lawyer who is representing both the teenagers pro bono, argued that the police are required to establish the identity and age of an arrested person. “They did not do this in the Chandbagh case and relied on what the child told them,” he said.
Three km from Chandbagh, another family in Khureji Khas has been anxiously waiting for the return of their son, who works as a snacks supplier.
After being lodged in Mandoli jail for 20 days, a Juvenile Justice Board on Tuesday sent him to a correction home. This was preceded by a Delhi court order declaring him a juvenile after considering his ‘school leaving certificate’ which shows his date of birth as August 30, 2002.
Recalling the circumstances under which he was arrested, his sister said, “Bhai stepped out in the evening to pay Rs 8,000 to a supplier. At the time, he was rounded up. He was never part of any protest. Bas apna kam se ka rakhta tha.” The anti-CAA sit-in protest at Khureji Khas started on January 14 before the site was dismantled by police on February 26.
Jagatpuri police, who registered the FIR against him, contradicted the family version. They claimed he was one of anti-CAA protesters who were involved in the violence in Khureji Khas on February 26.
On being asked whether he was a minor, Jagatpuri Station House Officer Sunil Kumar told The Indian Express, “He is definitely above 18. Look at his physique and a scraggly moustache, you will know that he is an adult.”
The teenager’s family of seven lives in a rented house. “We were dependent on his income for education expenses of my other children and rent,” said the mother as she hoped that her son would soon be released from the correction home. She said she would welcome him with his favourite fish curry.
While in Chandbagh, the jailed teenager’s younger brother isn’t buying noodles from a street corner stall. “How can I have noodles when bhai is in jail?” said the brother.
He said he is going to resume his culinary trip to the stall only when his brother would walk free.
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