The Patna High Court on Tuesday said that the state government cannot take any “coercive action” against either students or teachers for not participating in the proposed human chain against dowry and child marriage on January 21. The court said it would be solely up to the students’ parents to decide if their wards should take part in the programme.
The state government had issued an order seeking participation of teachers and students in the human chain. The human resource department’s January 11 order says: “A human chain is being formed on January 21, 2018, to spread the message of putting an end to child marriage and dowry… This is a big occasion to encourage education among girls and spread the message of putting an end to social evils. Schoolchildren and teachers should participate in the human chain, hence it is necessary to give them such opportunity.”
Hearing a PIL filed by social activist Shiv Prakash Rai, a division bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice A K Upadhyay made it clear that the state government cannot take any coercive action against schoolchildren or teachers for not taking part in the human chain. The petitioner had pleaded that teachers should not be involved in any non-teaching activities as stipulated by provisions of the Right to Education Act. Advocate General Lalit Kishore told the court that the government order seeking participation of teachers and students in the human chain was “obligatory and not compulsory”. The court asked the government to file a counter affidavit in four weeks on compliance of its order. The petitioner lawyers, Dinu Kumar and Ritika Rani, said they had sought quashing of the government order, but the court did not need to quash it as the government said its order was not compulsory.
Dinu Kumar told The Indian Express: “We argued that the state government calling a human chain against child marriage and dowry amounted to violation of children’s rights on their freedom and protection. Calling a human chain and involving teachers and students is nothing more than part of a political agenda. After all, what purpose did a human chain on prohibition serve last year when thousands of cases have been filed…?” He said they also told the court that the state government had not done its primary job of providing free textbooks to most children between 6 and 14 years for 2017-18 academic session.
The petitioner said that there was already adequate legislation to prohibit child marriage and dowry, and wondered what else the state government wanted to convey through the human chain.