CAA play in school: 'The students got so scared, they started crying,' says teacher

Updated: Feb 09, 2020, 07:42 IST | Arita Sarkar | Mumbai

A play that was aimed at spreading awareness about the CAA, has come to haunt the students and teachers of a school in Bidar, Karnataka. Endless interrogations and arrests have made kids dread school. But cops say, that's law.

A CCTV grab of cops in uniform, questioning students. Wearing uniform during interrogation is prohibited under the Juvenile Justice Act
A CCTV grab of cops in uniform, questioning students. Wearing uniform during interrogation is prohibited under the Juvenile Justice Act

It has been over a fortnight since life turned on its head for seven school students of Shaheen School in Bidar, Karnataka, after their "social awareness" play landed them in the trouble with the law. The sleepy town, just across the border from Shiv Sena-ruled Maharashtra, has become the centre of controversy, after the police arrested the headmistress, Fareeda Begum, and a parent, slapping a case of sedition against them.

What was supposed to be a harmless classroom exercise, has now snowballed into a terrifying experience for the school.

The four boys were among the seven kids from Shaheen School in Bidar, who were interrogated by the police
The four boys were among the seven kids from Shaheen School in Bidar, who were interrogated by the police

On January 21, seven students—four boys and three girls—from Classes VI and VII, had staged a play on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the growing panic over documents. A video of the play was later shared on Facebook by one of the parents. A social worker, Neelesh Rakshyala, found the video offensive—particularly the part where an 11-year old girl voiced her objection about CAA-NRC and said the Prime Minister Narendra Modi should be hit with a slipper—and filed a complained with the New Town Police on January 26. The very next day, police officials descended on the school and questioned the students as well as 15 teachers.

According to school authorities, a male police officer in civil clothes, accompanied by two male officials and a female cop in uniform, had first questioned the children on January 28. The team later returned with Child Welfare Committee officials, and questioned the students until February 4. The continuous questioning and arrests have attracted a lot of criticism on social media and from the Child Rights Commission in Karnataka.

The room where the kids and staff were questioned between January 28 and February 4. Pics/Balaji Pichare
The room where the kids and staff were questioned between January 28 and February 4. Pics/Balaji Pichare

'Cops are overreacting'
The events of the last few weeks have cast a pall of gloom over the school. While classes continue normally, both students and teachers are growing anxious by the day.

Fortunately, the school administration has stood by them and defended their right to express themselves.

Shaheen School in Bidar, Karnataka, was established 31 years ago. The educational institute currently has 9,000 students
Shaheen School in Bidar, Karnataka, was established 31 years ago. The educational institute currently has 9,000 students

Thouseef Madikeri, CEO of Shaheen Group of Institutions, said the police had even asked the school to send the students to the police station for questioning. "We had an argument after we refused. The police have a right to do their job and we have always cooperated with them, but we can't allow them to violate the rights of children," he said.

Madikeri also feels that the police "overreacted". "The idea behind asking students to stage a play was to spread awareness about a social cause. The students came up with their own interpretation of the topic. They may have used words that were improper, but this is not the way to handle the issue," he said.

Shaheen School in Bidar, Karnataka, was established 31 years ago. The educational institute currently has 9,000 students

According to the police, Nazbunnisa Parvin, a parent who has been arrested in the case, had taught her daughter Aria (name changed) to use offensive words against the PM. However, Mohammed Barkat Ali, the father of another student, said the children had simply copied the lines from a video shared by a TikTok star.

Despite all that has happened, Ali is proud of his daughter, Firdouz. "I didn't know anything about the play until the police came to question my daughter about it. I told my daughter that she had done the right thing and she doesn't need to be scared of anyone," he said.

Mohammed Barkat Ali
Mohammed Barkat Ali

He added that the entire ordeal has deeply affected his daughter who is reluctant to go back to school. He managed to convince Firdous to attend classes for the first time on Friday, as it was a half day. But she started feeling unwell, and returned home.

Teachers said that Aria too, has been 'depressed' ever since her mum's arrest. Parvin is a widow and works as a domestic help. Aria has been a student of Shaheen School since kindergarten. "She is a sincere student and has always been involved in classroom activities. In a play, last year, she spoke against dowry," said a member of the school management.

Thouseef Madikeri
Thouseef Madikeri

A school staffer said that apart from the students, 12 to 15 teachers were also interrogated by the police. "They were so shaken up by that experience that most of them didn't show up to work for two to three days," said the staffer.

A 24-year-old teacher, Huma (name changed), said that the police kept asking if they had written the line. "The police are questioning us on the basis of one line. They even asked us if we would have said such a thing, if we had a Muslim leader," she said.

A 10-year-old male student, who was part of the performance, defended it, saying, "We have been reading about the protests against CAA and NRC and we wanted to spread awareness about it. A play is just a creative way of expressing our beliefs and we were only trying to be funny. The police made a big deal out of it."

Child laws were violated
The headmistress, Begum, and Parvin have been charged under Sections 124 (A), 153 (A), 504, 505/2 of the Indian Penal Code. Both the arrested women will be produced at the Bidar District court on February 11.

The school has also slapped charges against Shaheen Institute, Alimuddin TA, the president of the primary school, and Yusuf Rahim, who uploaded the video on Facebook. Both Rahim and Alimuddin are yet to be arrested.

The teachers said that the police's behaviour inside the campus has terrified all the students of the school, especially when, on January 30, they arrested Begum and Parvin. "The students got so scared that they started crying," said Huma.

Keshavarao Srimale, the advocate representing the school, pointed out that the police have no valid reason for the arrest. "With reference to an old judgement from 1962, if someone had to be charged with sedition, prior permission has to be taken from a senior rank officer like a DGP or SP. In this case, no such permission was taken. The mother has no involvement in the case and the police has arrested her for no fault of hers," he said.

After the word on the incident spread on social media, members of the Child Rights Commission in Karnataka gave verbal directions to the Superintendent of Police in Bidar to stop interrogating the children.

Antony Sebastion, chairperson of Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (KSCPCR), said that one of the commission members visited the campus and submitted a report on the incident. "Based on the report, some cops interrogated the children in uniform. Wearing uniform [during interrogation] is prohibited under the Juvenile Justice Act. We have asked for an explanation from the police," he said.

On Thursday, the KSCPCR sent a letter to the current superintendent of police, DL Nagesh, asking him to submit a report on the entire incident. Sebastion said that the police's report is expected next week and after its submission, the CRC will give its recommendations to the police.

The police, however, argue that they have acted as per procedure and no laws were broken. Nagesh took charge a few days ago, after he replaced T Sridhar, who was transferred on January 31. He said that the police had only acted on the complaint. "The complaint was that the children staged a play which was offensive. The children and teachers are main witnesses. So, the investigating officer spoke to them as per protocol, while the district child protection officer and teachers were present," he said.

Nagesh denied that the police had questioned a child repeatedly and said that the police had spoken to different students and teachers, over a period of five to six days. He further said that the CCTV footage of the auditorium was deleted when the investigating officer went to the school. "There is no other way to find out what happened, but to speak to the children and teachers. We have followed due procedure. However, if police action is said to be objectionable, we are ready to conduct an inquiry," he said. Madikeri, however, said that cops had seized hard disks, which had all CCTV recordings.

Despite the ordeal, the teachers said they will continue to encourage the students to stage plays next year. "The students are bold and confident, and they will get over the incident soon," said a teacher, on condition of anonymity.

21 Jan
Day students of the school staged the play

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