The Uttar Pradesh police either made no attempt to identify the age of those held during the anti-CAA protests or deliberately skipped recording their details in FIRs, allege activists after the Supreme Court ordered the Union government and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) to submit a report within three weeks on ‘illegal detention of children in jails’.
The Supreme Court on Monday observed that the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, laid down that a child in conflict with law “shall not be placed in a police lock-up or lodged in a jail”, adding that they have to be handed over to a special juvenile police unit (SJPU) or child welfare committee (CWC), who must produce them before a juvenile justice board immediately. The court demanded a report from the Centre, the NCPCR and its arms in Delhi and U.P.
“During our visit to U.P., we found that the police made no effort to verify the age of those detained. Worse, in cases where it was obvious that those held were minors the police deliberately did not record their details in FIRs”, says Bharti Ali, co-founder, HAQ: Centre for Child Rights. She says neither a school certificate was sought nor bone-ossification test seems to have been conducted to determine the age of the detainees as mandated under law. “The entire child protection system, comprising SJPUs, CWCs were found missing in action in U.P. as they failed to enquire into the whereabouts of the children”, she adds.
Ms Ali was a part of a joint team from NGOs HAQ, Quill Foundation and Citizens Against Hate that conducted a fact-finding probe in U.P. and recorded the testimonies of juvenile victims, their families and eye-witnesses describing the ‘torture meted out to children in police custody’. The investigation was conducted between January 10 and 24 in the districts of Bijnor, Muzaffarnagar and Firozabad. The report made public on Thursday says children were denied water, access to toilets, brutally beaten up and shown videos of adult detainees being hit in order to instill fear in them.
Syed Asad Raza Hussaini, principal and founder of a local madrasa, says police raided his institute and picked up all 50 students. As many as 14 students were under 18 years. Of these four were challaned and released after 12 days. “One student was rolled around a drum and hit on his legs- smashing his knee. He had to spend Rs 1.2 lakh on a surgery. Many had arms broken, all have beating marks and bruises all over their body”, says the report.
He adds that when ‘raids’ took place, students were observing a fast, but they were denied water to break their fast and faced derogatory comments on their religion. “They were forced to say Jai Shri Ram”, the principal allegedly told the team.
“Those were the most terrifying moments”, says a mother after her son suddenly disappeared. Her 16-17-year-old son was among 22 allegedly picked up by the police from a protest site and detained for two days. The detainees were allegedly moved from the police station to a BJP MLA’s house. “My son and other boys were forced to stay awake the whole night and if somebody fell asleep, they had to face merciless beatings. Although, they were allowed to drink water, if anybody requested for toilet, they got beaten up. My son was also beaten up black and blue and his toes were crushed with the boots worn by the policemen and batons,” the report says.
A 20-year-old says that when the police detained him, a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old were also picked up along with him.”While one police official held the hands of the detainees, the other police official was raining lathi blows mercilessly on bare bodies”. He adds that a police official made a video call to his colleague to show them live visuals of other people being stripped naked and subjected to ruthless beatings.
A 15-year-old allegedly tells the probe committee how the police lathi-charged on protesters injuring an 8-year-old. The local police took out a poster promising reward for identifying those wanted, which included the 15-year-old too. “I am planning to leave here as soon as possible”, he says.
It is illegal to identify minors.