The Contrasting Police Responses to a Play Against CAA and Reenactment of Babri Demolition

The Karnataka police's investigations into two plays by schools in Bidar and Kalladka raise a question: are Muslim children policed differently?

Mumbai: Even as the Bidar district police went on an overdrive, subjecting children as young as six years of age to sustained “interrogation” and charging their parents and teachers with sedition, in another case, police in Dakshina Kannada have been dragging their feet and have made no apparent progress in the investigation into a group of children reenacting the demolition of Babri Masjid.

In mid-December 2019, a group of over 100 minor students had re-enacted the demolition of the masjid for the annual day event at the Sri Rama Vidyakendra High School in Kalladka at Dakshina Karnataka. Young students, dressed in a white and saffron combination costume, rushed towards a poster of Babri Masjid and fell it down as the narrator of the script announced, “Bolo Shri Ramchandra Ki… Jai. Bolo Bharat Mata ki… Jai.”

On the basis of a complaint filed by a Popular Front of India (PFI) leader, Aboobacker Siddique, the Dakshina Kannada police were pushed to register a case against the school’s owner, RSS’s south-central region executive committee member Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat. Cases were also registered against several others from the school’s governing body, for allowing the communally-loaded ‘drama’ to be staged on their school premises.

The investigation, however, has barely made any progress.

The contrasting treatment of these two cases can be better understood when the background of the two schools is considered. The school in Bidar, Shaheen Group of Institutions, is run by Muslim management and almost all students here are from the minority community.

Also Read: ‘Sedition’ for School Play on CAA: Student’s Dialogue ‘Insult to PM’; Parent, Official Arrested

Sri Rama Vidyakendra High School, in Dakshina Kannada, on the other hand, is owned and run by Bhat, a very influential RSS functionary. The school children had enacted the drama amid huge cheers and among the chief guests were Union minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda, Puducherry governor Kiran Bedu and several ministers from Karnataka.

The police did not only respond differently to investigating the two matters but also in the application of charges. In Bidar, the children performed a play that looked at the anxieties and concerns of the minority community and the possible impact that the newly passed Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and imminent countrywide exercises, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR), would have on them.

One right-wing activist in the district objected to the play and filed a complaint with the police. The latter acted promptly, charging school authorities and the children’s parents with sedition. Punishment under Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which defines sedition, can be three years or extend to life. Other sections include 153A, 504, 505(2) and 34 of the IPC—punishment ranging between two to five years.

Police show ‘restraint’ in Kalladka case

On the other hand, in the Kalladka case, the police showed restraint and only invoked charges under section 295A and 298 of the IPC for committing a ‘deliberate and malicious act, and intended to outrage reli­gious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or reli­gious beliefs’ and ‘uttering, words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person’. These are both bailable sections and the maximum punishment under them is three and one years respectively.

Siddiqui, the complaint in the case, told The Wire that the police have gone quiet after the complaint. They have not approached him for his statement nor to inquire about more evidence, he said. “The video that went viral clearly showed the participation of school authorities. These are all influential Hindutva leaders and had made use of children to stage something so violent and hurtful to religious sentiments. But the police have not bothered to proceed with the investigation,” Siddiqui says.

Police officials who spoke to The Wire said they are trying to ascertain the veracity of the viral video clip. “We are awaiting the forensic laboratory’s report,” one official, who chose to stay anonymous, told The Wire. Another expressed concern over the sensitive nature of the allegations, the presence of political leaders at the function and also the involvement of young children in the case.

Bhat and the four others named in the FIR have not been summoned to the police station for their statements yet, a police official said.

This, however, did not appear to be a concern for the Bidar police, who violated several rules under the Juvenile Justice Act while dealing with the complaint. It was only after the school approached the Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (KSPCR), which intervened, that the police finally stopped the harassment of minor students.

Two persons – Najibunissa, mother of the nine-year-old girl student who had allegedly mouthed ‘objectionable dialogue’, and Fareeda, the school’s primary section-in-charge – have been in jail since January 30. Tauseef Madikeri, chief executive officer (CEO) of the school, told The Wire their bail plea would be heard on February 11. Meanwhile, Najibunissa, a widow and single parent, was forced to leave her daughter with their neighbour, which the child rights commission said violates the child’s rights.

‘Violation of rights’

Advocate Mohamed Tahir, who helped Siddiqui register the FIR against the Kalladka school, says in both cases the use of children was unacceptable. “But much worse was the Bidar police’s response to the incident. If they were to find out more, they could have gone to the school authorities. Subjecting children to repeated harassment is a violation of their rights,” Tahir says.

Tahir is presently preparing to move the Karnataka high court, seeking a clear procedure to be followed when a complaint is made to the police. “The police have been mindlessly applying charges of sedition and have made knee-jerk reactions. Even though the Supreme Court has laid down clear guidelines on procedures that need to be followed by the police when they receive complaints, they are seldom followed. Hence, we are in the process of moving the high court with more specific instructions,” Tahir said.

Besides the Bidar and Kalladka cases, the Karnataka police have responded harshly against every dissenting voice, more particularly against those registering their protest against the CAA, NRC and NPR. In Mysore, a student was booked for sedition for carrying a “Free Kashmir” placard during a protest against the violence unleashed on JNU students by the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad  (ABVP) activists. In another incident, poet Siraj Bisaralli is facing sedition charges for using the podium of Anegundi Utsav, organised by the Koppal district administration, to recite his poem against the CAA and NRC.

Outside Assam, Karnataka is one of the first states to build detention camps for “illegal immigrants”. Contrary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim that no detention centres exist in India, the in Bangalore is already functional.

In several places in the state, police have already begun lining migrant workers up and demanding their papers, very similar to what has been happening in Assam.