The Karnataka High Court has directed the state government to file a report on whether children at a private school in Bidar district were interrogated by policemen in uniform as part of the investigation into a sedition case registered against the school and its authorities over a play staged to oppose the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
A division bench of Karnataka HC issued the directive on Friday following a petition filed by Congress worker Nayana Jyothi Jwahar and the South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM), stating that children between nine and 12 years of age were questioned by the police in a hostile environment, in violation of the law.
The division bench headed by Chief Justice Abhay Sreenivas Oka directed the state advocate general’s office to “take instructions whether school-going children are being interrogated by the police in uniform’’ in connection with the Shaheen Primary School sedition case registered on January 26.
The petition filed in HC has stated that the police questioned 85 students of Shaheen Primary School in violation of procedure laid down under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, and its model rules, the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, and Article 21 of the Constitution. It points out that the state child rights protection panel has issued notices to Bidar police over violation of JJ Act. The KSPCR also said its inquiry found that officials in Bidar violated norms by sending the child to be looked after by a neighbour without informing the local child welfare committee.
The petition has sought compensation for the children, who were randomly selected and questioned by the police, and sought HC’s directives to police on rules of conducting investigations in cases involving children.
Following an inquiry into the questioning of children by the police, and the arrest of the widowed mother of a Class V student, in the sedition case, the Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (KSCPCR) pulled up the Bidar police. The Commission’s chairman, Dr Antony Sebastian, sent a letter to Bidar district officials on February 6, with copies marked to the Karnataka DGP, stating that rights of children were violated and an “atmosphere of fear’’ was created at the school by the police investigation.
“After interactions with parents, school officials, children and the police, and after studying photographs and CCTV footage, it is clear that the police violated rights of children at the school,’’ Sebastian, a qualified juvenile justice advocate, said. “We have seen from pictures of the questioning of children that some policemen were present in uniform in violation of the law while some policemen were in civil clothes. When the children were being questioned their parents or guardians should have been present. There have been violations of child rights,’’ he said.
The child rights official said that many children had stopped going to school after the police began questioning children.
School headmistress Fareeda Begum and Najumnissa, mother of a Class V student, were arrested on January 30 as part of police investigations into a complaint filed on January 26 by a local ABVP activist Nilesh Rakshyal against the play staged in the school.