Bidar school sedition arrests: Parents Collective demands immediate withdrawal of all cases

Shaheen Primary and Secondary School in Karnataka’s Bidar, and the management of Shaheen education group that runs it, have been booked in a case of sedition and breach of peace based on a complaint from a right-wing Hindu activist, which said that the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was tarnished in a play staged by children against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. Karnataka police have held Najumunissa, a single parent and the school headmistress Fareeda Begum, on sedition charges. Parents for Peace, Justice and Plurality. a collective based in Bengaluru condemns the illegal and inhumane actions of the Bidar police and demands an immediate withdrawal of all criminal cases against the accused, and the release of the arrested women.

Read their statement:

A play was enacted in the Shaheen Primary and Secondary School, Bidar on 21st January. As part of the play, lines were recited against the recently enacted CAA and the NRC – NPR programs of the Govt. of India. A video of this play went viral on social media. On the basis of this video, a complaint was filed by an ABVP activist in the New Town Police Station in Bidar. In the complaint, the school, and a person who shared the video on Facebook have been accused of spreading lies about CAA, NRC, and NPR; encouraging seditious thoughts; and making students say that they would ‘beat the PM with chappals’. Each of these statements is false, even going by the video recording of the play that went viral on social media. The FIR has been lodged 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’. All these for a play by primary school children. If there was any doubt that the police department is being used as an instrument of those in power, this incident should put it to rest.

In blatant violation of the Juvenile Justice Act (2015), the New Town station police have repeatedly interrogated the school children, some as young as 9, without allowing their parents to be present, for hours at a stretch. The Head Teacher of the primary section and the widowed mother of a child who took part in the play were arrested on 30th January. The arrested parent has not even been named as an accused in the FIR, and it is still not clear on what basis she has been arrested. With the Judge in the District and Sessions court in Bidar on leave till February 4, there was no possibility to secure bail for the accused. What security threat did these two women pose that they had to be arrested immediately and without the possibility of bail? 

We condemn these actions of the Bidar police department in the strongest possible words. The police are clearly acting under the dictates of the State Govt trying to use the archaic sedition law to target individuals and institutions expressing their dissent against CAA-NPR-NRC.

Why is the State apparatus threatened by a play enacted in a primary school? Why have those in power, and those who implement their machinations, targeted a widow who works as a domestic help to ensure a good future for her daughter?!? Why are young children being interrogated for having put up a play?

It is for well-established reasons that the JJA (2015) mandates that a parent or guardian be present when a juvenile suspect is being questioned by the police. Repeated questioning by police in schools is not just intimidation but harassment of children. We do not want our children to grow under the fear of terror– inflicted by non-state operatives or by those in power.

As parents looking to nurture the ideas of rights, freedoms, responsibilities, and duties in our next generation we find these actions of the police officials, and the apparent inaction of those who should be protecting the rights of children, extremely problematic. This situation where children who performed a play are being repeatedly questioned by senior police officers concerns all of us as parents, any of whose children would be subject to such interrogation for expressing their thoughts in a creative manner. Would such action not effectively make children afraid to even express themselves? Is this the world in which we want our children to grow up? 

The country did not attain freedom or become a constitutional democracy by following orders and diktats; we are seeing such abuses of power because officials who have been given constitutional duties have become rubber stamps that follow orders and diktats, unmindful of the consequences of their actions. 

We demand an immediate withdrawal of all criminal cases against the accused, and the release of the arrested women. We also demand a review of the procedure followed by the Bidar police department, especially their violations of child rights, and that stringent action be taken to ensure this does not happen again anywhere in the country.

We also demand that the Karnataka Child Rights Commission, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, the State Human Rights Commission and the National Human Rights Commission immediately enquire into the blatant violation of children’s rights and take appropriate action against those who have committed such violations.

Let us not reduce our children to subjects who will be interrogated for expressing their thoughts but as the future leaders of our country, whose questioning minds have to be developed and encouraged. 

Parents for Peace, Justice and Plurality is a non-profit collective based in Bengaluru

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