Taking suo motu cognizance of the death of a four-month-old infant, allegedly because of exposure to the cold at the Shaheen Bagh protest, the Supreme Court — responding to the counsel who contended that children too have a right to protest — asked if the infant had gone for the protest.
“A four-month-old child had gone there to protest? Did the four-month-old child go there to protest?”Chief Justice of India S A Bobde exclaimed as advocate Nandita Rao, appearing for rights activist John Dayal, said that the United Nations Charter on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by India, guarantees a child’s right to protest.
The bench, also comprising Justice B R Gavai and Justice Surya Kant, cut short advocate Shahrukh Alam, who was representing some mothers from Shaheen Bagh and had sought to submit that their children were being called Pakistani and gaddar in school.
“Don’t bring in issues. We will not hear… We don’t want people to use this platform to further create a problem. Whether in school somebody called a child Pakistani is not the subject matter of this,” remarked the CJI.
As the counsel kept up their objections, the CJI added: “We are not considering CAA, NRC or rude behaviour in school. We are not considering use of words like Pakistani… so don’t make such submissions… We have the highest respect for motherhood. We have the highest respect for social peace. We want those children to be at peace…”
“We are not stifling any voice. We know what we are doing. This is a properly constituted proceeding, so don’t make irrelevant arguments,” the CJI added.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, termed the death of the infant “really unfortunate”.
Intervening, Rao cited the case of youth activist Greta Thunberg leading the fight against climate change, and said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had applauded her and exhorted children to take the lead on issues of global warming. The court, however, said this was not relevant to the proceedings.
Rao said the child had not died in Shaheen Bagh, but in the shanty behind Jamia where the family lived, and added that the condition of children living in poverty should be looked into. She said children are taken to fairs and jagratas too, where too they are susceptible to cold, and that no one can be blamed for this.
The bench said it will look into their prayer for impleadment.
The court also said it will look into the request of 12-year-old National Bravery Award winner Zen Gunratan Sadavarte, seeking permission to submit arguments in the matter.
Following the death of the infant, Sadavarte had written to the CJI’s office, urging the court to intervene to protect the rights of children, saying that making them attend protest demonstrations “amounts to cruelty”.
Sadavarte, recipient of the 2019 Indian Council for Child Welfare (ICCW) National Bravery Award, said in her letter that the infant’s parents and organisers of protests at Shaheen Bagh had “failed” to protect the rights of the child, resulting in his death.
Subsequently, the SC registered suo motu proceedings under the title: ‘In Re to stop involvement of children and infants in demonstrations and agitations in view of death of an infant on 30.01.2020 at Shaheen Bagh, New Delhi.’
The bench issued notices to the Centre and Delhi government on the issue.
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