Lucknow: On November 6, 16-year-old Hussain* had a full, home-cooked meal for the first time in 11 months. His house in Thakurganj was rippling with excitement – his parents, two brothers and three sisters surrounded him on all sides.
“My son is home after months,” his mother says.
The circumstances of his return tell a story different from the usual experiences of others in his age group.
Hussain was arrested on December 25 from a friend’s house. His last 10 months were spent at a juvenile correction centre. He was arrested for having been a part of the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Except, Hussain says, he never attended even one protest against the CAA.
“We are a poor family, with not many resources. Our father is a plumber who somehow manages to pay our school fees and buy us books,” Hussain says.
People in various districts of Uttar Pradesh had been vocal and had joined in during the countrywide protests against the CAA and National Register of Citizens. Police detained and arrested several people wherever protests turned violent. In many situations, those arrested or their families narrated horrific experiences that The Wire reported on here and here.
Hussain was no exception. One of the 25 accused named in FIR 947/2019 which was filed on December 19, 2019, Hussain was picked up at noon, taken to Thakurganj police station, and sent off to a juvenile correction centre within a matter of hours.
“I was not allowed to call my parents. They were not even informed of my arrest,” he says.
Filed in Thakurganj police station by sub-inspector Kailash Narayan Trivedi, the FIR charged him under 14 sections of the Indian Penal Code that cover a range of charges from rioting to voluntary hurt of public servant to criminal conspiracy. He was also charged under section 7 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1932.
Hussain was given bail on November 13, 2020 by a sessions court.
The first bail application in the case was filed in the juvenile justice court on September 15 but was dismissed on the grounds that if released, the minor could be a “threat” to the society. This order came after he had already been in jail for eight months.
Aashma Izzat, a Lucknow-based advocate who secured Hussain’s bail, said that the order was arbitrary as it is in the best interest of minors to stay with parents instead of in jail. The next bail application was filed in the court of the district and sessions judge on September 29, 2020. The bail order came on November 13.
Izzat has been working on several such cases pro bono. She said that the UP police had arbitrarily targeted and arrested Muslim youth for violence during the anti-CAA protest in December last year. “There was huge pressure on police to make arrests. To satisfy the state government, the police made random arrests. For five days, there were continuous arrests of Muslims in Lucknow,” said Izzat.
She added that because it was a random arrest, police struggled to substantiate the chargesheet as no evidence could be found against Hussain.
“The state, instead of protecting children, is acting against them. It has severely affected their mental health,” she said, citing the case of another accused, a young boy, who broke down in court. She added that some minors have also been illegally sent to district jails.
Hussain is among many who have been sent to jail for absolutely no offence, she says.
In the process, the teenager lost a precious academic year. “They said that I will not be admitted now, as I have missed the registration date,” he says.
Hussain passed his matriculation exams this year from Rajkiya Hussainabad Inter College in Lucknow. He was in the facility when his results came out.
Even though he has lost a year, he hopes to join the Navy someday.
‘Illegal detention and torture of juveniles’
A report titled, ‘Brutalising Innocence – Detention, Torture and Criminalization of Minors by UP police to Quell Anti-CAA protests’, was first published by HAQ Centre for Child Rights on January 31 this year. The report alleged that several minors were illegally detained and tortured by police across the state, including in Lucknow. The report also mentioned Muzaffarnagar, Bijnor and Sambhal.
On the basis of this fact-finding report, a petition was filed by HAQ. It read:
“The perusal of the aforesaid fact finding reports of the Petitioner highlights the actions of the UP police in illegally detaining minors and torturing them is in grave breach of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015; the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment, and the Constitutional rights guaranteed to children under Articles 14, 15, 19 and 21.”
Last Tuesday, November 17, the Allahabad high court sought a reply from the Uttar Pradesh government while hearing the PIL alleging illegal detention and torture of juveniles during anti-CAA protests in the state in December last year. The NGO was represented by advocates Vrinda Grover, Soutik Banerjee and Tanmay Sadh.
Chief Justice Govind Mathur and Justice Siddhartha Varma have asked the state to file all details relating to each and every district of the state with regard to the application of the provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. The matter will now be heard on December 14.
*Name withheld to protect the identity of the minor.