- A student's widowed mother was arrested on Thursday
- She has been charged of sedition for some lines in a play
- Children who were in the play have been questioned four times
Children at a school in Karnataka's Bidar have been getting used to a highly unusual routine. A police officer arrives in the afternoon. This is followed by four or five hours of questioning. Their "crime" was to participate in a school play critical of the citizenship law, staged on January 21. The children's interrogation continues even after the school's headmistress and a student's mother were arrested last week, the school administration has said.
A student's widowed mother was arrested on Thursday over charges of sedition for some lines the child said in the play.
Children from Classes 6, 7 and 8 who were in the play have been questioned four times already, the school administration said on Tuesday. They are asked - "who scripted the play?" and "Did the teacher instruct you?" Over and over again.
"They are kept out of the class for four to five hours regularly. The Deputy Superintendent of Police will come around 1 pm. They will question the children till 4 O'clock. This is what has been happening for the last 4 days. We don't know why they have put sedition section on is. It is beyond the imagination of any reasonable person," said the school's CEO Thouseef Madikeri.
"One of the parents has already apologised. This is like mental harassment for the parents and also the students. They are living in a kind of fear," Mr Madikeri told NDTV.
Several parents in Bengaluru have, in an open letter, condemned the arrest of the parent and the headmistress and the repeated interrogation of the children.
The child, whose widowed mother was arrested, allegedly said the line in the play that was sharply critical of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA): "Joote marenge (will beat with shoes)".
As that clip went viral, the police filed charges like sedition and promoting enmity on grounds of religion against the school. After questioning students and teachers, the police arrested the student's mother and the headmistress on January 30.
The mother, the police claimed, tutored the child to introduce words not in the script. The head teacher was arrested because the play was held with her knowledge and permission.
"In blatant violation of the Juvenile Justice Act (2015), the New Town station police have repeatedly interrogated the school children, some as young as 9, without allowing their parents to be present, for hours at a stretch," a group of parents in Bengaluru have written in an open letter alleging "illegal and inhumane actions of the Bidar police".
They wrote: "If there was any doubt that the police department is being used as an instrument of those in power, this incident should put it to rest. The police were acting under the diktats of the state government and using an archaic sedition law to suppress dissent against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC). The arrested parent had not even been named in the First Information Report and the charges against her were not clear," said the letter by the group that describes itself as 'Parents for Peace, Justice and Plurality'.
"What security threat did these two women pose that they had to be arrested immediately and without the possibility of bail?" it said.
The parents also express worry over the visuals of children being questioned by the police, calling it intimidation and harassment. Police officer T Sreedhara, who has since been transferred, had defended it saying the questioning was done in the presence of parents and teachers.
"We do not want our children to grow under the fear of terror - inflicted by non-state operatives or by those in power... This situation where children who performed a play are being repeatedly questioned by senior police officers concerns all of us as parents, any of whose children would be subject to such interrogation for expressing their thoughts in a creative manner," said the parents, demanding that the police immediately drop all the cases and release the two arrested women.