As many as 41 minors were detained and tortured in Uttar Pradesh in the wake of anti-CAA protests that erupted after the Citizenship (Amendment) Act was signed into law on 12 December, 2019, finds a new report by HAQ Centre for Child Rights.
The January 2020 report, Brutalising Innocence: Detention, Torture and Criminalisation of Minors by UP Police to Quell Anti-CAA protests is based on fact-finding investigations conducted by HAQ and the collective, Citizens Against Hate between 10-24 January in the districts of Bijnor, Muzaffarnagar and Firozabad as well as verified media reports. It contains documentary evidence of the nature of violence, methods of custodial torture and intimidation.
Of the 41 minors who were detained and subjected to custodial torture, 22 are from Bijnor and 14 from Muzaffarnagar, finds the report. In Muzaffarnagar, police filed FIRs (first information reports) against four minors and kept them in detention for 12 days – in violation of section 10 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 which stipulates that under no circumstances may a child alleged to be in conflict with the law be placed in a police lockup or jail.
As of 27 January, at least two minors continue to be held under detention in Firozabad and have received neither legal aid nor media coverage, says the report.
In Lucknow, two minors sustained bullet injuries while in Varanasi, an eight-year-old child was killed in a stampede as 'a result of police use of excessive force against anti-CAA protests’, finds the report.
The minors interviewed by the fact-finding team said they had been beaten by police with batons and also made to witness violence inflicted by police on detained adults. But, they said, they did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals by the police. The sister of one of the minors interviewed said the police harasses anyone who speaks up. “We are already very poor and not able to face the police,” she said.
In Bijnor, where night temperatures dropped to 6 degree Celsius, police made no sleeping or heating arrangements for the detainees. Minors were denied drinking water, food and even the use of toilets. In Muzaffarnagar, detained minors were forced to chant Jai Shri Ram and released only after their guardians signed affidavits stating that there had been no ill-treatment by the police, says the report.
“I kept telling them that I am physically challenged,” one 15-year-old from Bijnor testified. “They put me in a police van and started beating me up non-stop.”
“Mostly they beat us on the lower parts of our body. I was not able to walk properly for 15 days,” a 17-year-old, also from Bijnor, said.
“They refused to give us water and said if we are so thirsty, we should drink their urine,” a student said in Muzaffarnagar.
A 13-year-old was made to watch a video of an adult male protestor being stripped naked and beaten by police with batons. He was told that this would be his fate if he ever participated in a protest again.
In an ‘attempt to intimidate and induce fear within the citizenry, UP police have publicly displayed posters with mugshots of protestors, including minors’, says the report. This too is a violation of the Juvenile Justice Act that prohibits the public disclosure of a minor’s identity. One such minor whose photo was on display had to be sent away by his family to a safer place.
The HAQ report is bolstered by a separate application filed by advocate Aparna Bhatt who was appointed amicus curie in a case involving the exploitation of children in Tamil Nadu orphanages.
In her application, Bhatt alleged that eight minors were detained and denied medical attention by Delhi police in the Daryaganj police station on the night of December 20 during the anti-CAA protests.
Moreover, she says in her application, orphaned students aged between 14 and 21 in a Muzaffarnagar hostel were detained for three days and assaulted, “denied access to toilets at times, abused, thrashed with sticks through the night, forced to kneel against the wall, deprived of sleep, starved and shackled.”
On 12 February, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court issued notices to the UP State and Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights against the manner in which children in conflict with the law are being dealt with by the concerned state authorities.
Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose have asked both the Delhi and the UP state commission to submit a response within three weeks. “Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs) are not meant to be silent spectators,” the judges observed. “It is the duty of the JJBs to ensure that the child is immediately granted bail or sent to an observation home or a place of safety. The Act cannot be flouted by anyone, least of all the police.”
Speaking to Article14, Bhatt said, “The issue raised in my application is about safety and protection of children irrespective of the situation they may be in.”
Under India’s Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 police may not detain a child without informing the district juvenile justice board. Such children must by law be placed in a special unit under the charge of a special juvenile police unit. Public disclosure of the identity of children, including plastering their photographs on posters, is prohibited.
India is also a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Child Rights that upholds a child’s right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly and bans any form of custodial torture.
Uttar Pradesh police have denied all reports of inflicted torture or even taking minors into custody.
“This is beyond violation of the law,” said HAQ co-founder Bharti Ali. “None of the child protection agencies acted on media reports of police violence. Did they not feel the need to check if there were any minors amongst those detained? Should emergency response protocols not require such a check?” In fact, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) chose to respond with a statement cautioning citizens against using minors in protests.
Besides being subject to violence, children and youth in the state lost out on school and college with exams around the corner for many. “The trauma of violence and threats is going to haunt them forever if we don’t tell them now that those responsible will be punished,” said Ali.
HAQ and Citizens Against Hate are demanding a time-bound, three month, judicial inquiry on police action against the anti-CAA protests from December 20, 2019 that would focus on child rights’ violations that will provide justice for minors, take steps towards their rehabilitation and care and fix accountability of officers involved.
Anti-CAA protests were seen in 24 districts of Uttar Pradesh. Police action against the protestors resulted in 24 deaths, 1,200 charge-sheets and the filing of 5,000 unnamed FIRs in the state. On December 19, chief minister Yogi Adityanath swore to take ‘badla’ (revenge) on those who had vandalized public property during the protests. Footage by TV channels including NDTV show police ransacking homes belonging to minority communities.
Read the Supreme Court order here: https://www.livelaw.in/pdf_upload/pdf_upload-370138.pdf]
( Namita Bhandare @namitabhandare is a Delhi-based commentator and a member of Article14's editorial board)