Note: An updated version of story, originally published on January 29, is being republished with the update that two persons have been arrested.
New Delhi: An attempt by a school in Karnataka to allow students a deeper understanding into the countrywide unrest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has led to a sedition charge against the authorities and the parent of a student. The Bidar New Town police station on January 30 arrested two persons: Fareeda, the in-charge of the school’s primary section and Nagma, the mother of a Class 6 student.
Teachers of the Shaheen Group of Institutions, a school in Bidar, in the north-eastern part of the state, had decided to engage with its students and parents and help them dispel misunderstandings around the recently passed law.
Children were asked to read up on the CAA, and two other impending countrywide exercises, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR) and bring out their own artistic presentations on the topic before an audience on January 21.
A group of children, all from the Muslim community, from classes 4, 5 and 6 performed a play which highlighted the sense of insecurity of the community as a whole. Five days later, a right-wing activist from Bidar has registered a case of sedition against the school authorities and a parent of one of the participating children.
Tauseef Madikeri, chief executive officer (CEO) of the school told The Wire that the play had focused largely on the community and its concerns around the law.
The school authorities have confirmed that the police, who had detained the two women since the afternoon under the pretext of questioning them have formally arrested them around 7.30 pm on Thursday, January 30.
Tauseef Madikeri, chief executive officer (CEO) of the school told The Wire that the police had called the school up and had asked them to present all those students who participated in the play to the police station. But the school denied them access, Madikeri says.
“We plainly told them we won’t allow any child to be taken to the police station. It is against the Juvenile Justice Act. Our children and their families have gone through enough already and we are trying our best to protect them from the police’s wrath,” Madikeri said. Within some time, the police had reached the school and began interrogating those students, their parents and school teachers.
“They left the children behind and took their parents and the primary school head with them around noon,” Madikeri added.
He also said that the police action was sudden and unexpected and that they would be seeking legal help to ensure the two women were released soon.
However, it was one particular line in the play that landed them in trouble. “A girl, as part of the play’s dialogue, spoke of beating anyone who would ever dare ask her for her documents with a chappal. This line was a generic one and was not intended to target anyone. But it has been wrongly interpreted,” Madikeri said.
Clips of the play were put up on social media platforms on January 21. Among those who uploaded clips to Facebook was Yusuf Rahim, a parent of one of the children participating in the play. Rahim too has been named in the FIR now.
The complainant Nilesh Rakshala, who identifies himself as a ‘social activist,’ is based in Bidar and moved the Bidar New Town police station with the complaint. According to his statement mentioned in the FIR, the children were allegedly used to “cause enmity between two communities and also to provoke young minds against the nation and its social fabric.” The complainant has accused the school management and students’ parents for using their children “to further their agenda against Prime Minister Narendra Modi”.
Soon after the complaint was registered, the policemen — two in uniform and one in plain clothes — visited the school and questioned students who had participated in the play. The youngest of them is nine years old.
The class 6 girl whose dialogue led to the filing of the case has released a video where she is seen saying that she regrets having said that line and that it was due to her “colloquial conversation style” that she used those words. “Humari bhasha gaon ke taraf ki hain. Jo maine kaha who galat ho gaya, aur video viral ho gaya (‘We speak a rural dialect and what I tried to say ended becoming a mistake and the video ended up going viral’),” the girl is seen saying in the video.
She further says that she regrets having said it and she doesn’t like the fact that the issue has gone out of control.
In the play, a clip of which is in The Wire’s possession, the children are heard mouthing some satirical lines in Hindi and speaking about the poor who would be the worst affected because of the law. One child, a class 6 student, is then heard saying, “Where will I get my papers from. If I am asked for it, I would beat the person with my slippers.”
It is noteworthy that no one utters a word against the prime minister or any individual at all. The FIR, however, claims that the child had targeted the prime minister and made use of “foul language” against him.
Parents have shared that they are afraid that they and their children will be targeted by the police. The police have, however, not initiated any action against the girl student or her parents.
Some parents told The Wire that the police have been hovering around the school premises, reportedly in an effort to exert mental pressure on them. “Policemen in their uniforms are seen moving around the school. We are scared to let our children attend school in such an atmosphere,” a parent told The Wire.
Rakshala, who is known to have close association with the right-wing organisations in the district could not be contacted for his response. The Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) has meanwhile staged a protest against the school and have demanded prompt action against them and the students.
A 31-year-old education group, the Shaheen Group of Institutions are well known across Karnataka. The school has over 50 centres across 13 states in India and over 20,000 students study here from pre-primary to class 12. Madikeri says that the group had received Karnataka state’s most prestigious Rajyotsava Prashasti award in 2014 for its contribution in the field of education.