Since September 9, Sheena Khatoon* has been spending her days visiting lawyers and activists, desperate to get her minor son out of custody. The previous evening, the boy had been arrested by the Bihar Police after communal clashes during a Mahavir Akhara rally in Barharia, about 250 km from the state capital of Patna.
The boy, along with 35 other people, has been booked under serious sections of the Indian Penal Code relating to rioting, rioting with a deadly weapon, attempt to murder, assault, disturbing a religious assembly, causing grievous hurt, provoking breach of peace and criminal conspiracy.
According to the boy’s birth certificate, issued by the gram panchayat and reviewed by Scroll.in, he is eight years old. However, the Bihar Police has recorded his age as 13.
Siwan district magistrate Amit Kumar Pandey said that the authorities recorded the boy’s age as 13 based on what he “told them when he was in custody”.
Section 83 of the Indian Penal Code states that the acts of a child – defined as being between seven and 12 – cannot be considered as offences until he has “attained sufficient maturity of understanding to judge the nature and consequences of his conduct”.
His mother is indignant. “Everyone is asking us for proof of his age,” she said “Why is no one asking the police on the basis of what they have decided he is 13?”
The family alleges that the minor was kept in a police station for two nights. According to the Juvenile Justice Act, minors should be taken to an observational home immediately. Pandey, however, insisted that the act was followed and the boy was presented in front of the Juvenile Justice Board within 24 hours.
He is now in the Juvenile Justice Home in Siwan.
The boy’s 70-year-old grandfather has also been arrested.
The two were in a mosque saying their prayers when the Mahavir Akhara procession stopped outside, said Mohammad Aftab*, the minor’s 24-year-old cousin. Fearing for their safety, they remained inside the mosque, Aftab said.
Pandey told Scroll.in that as of Tuesday, 20 people had been arrested in the case. Of the 35 people named in the first information report, 25 are Muslim and 10 are Hindu.
The case has drawn widespread criticism. “Even children are not safe under the new “Secular Chacha” @NitishKumar rule,” said Asaduddin Owaisi, head of the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen, on Twitter. “Instead of catching the rioters, the police are targeting Muslim children. The police personnel should be given strict punishment and the family members of the child should get compensation.”
In five videos of the violence reviewed by the Scroll.in, it appears that the clashes took place in Barharia’s Purani Bazaar locality around 4.30 pm on Thursday. Men wearing saffron robes can be seen with swords and sticks as they march in the Mahavir Akhara rally. At the time of the Asr ki namaz, the Islamic late-afternoon prayers, the rally paused outside the Madina Masjid. Stones were hurled.
Videos of the incident show participants in the rally throwing stones at the mosque and trying to attack it. Other videos show Muslim men hurling stones from the top floor of the mosque.
Muslims told Scroll.in they were only attempting to protecting themselves, while Hindus claim Muslims started the violence.
As the violence spread, property was vandalised and 15 or 16 people suffered minor injuries, residents claim. However, district magistrate Pandey said that no members of the public were injured though some police personnel sustained minor injuries.
“Everything is fine,” he said. “These were not communal clashes.”
Asked why the Siwan administration did not believe the clashes were communal in nature, Pandey explained, “When there is body contact, when people fight between themselves, only then it is called communal. Only some stone pelting was done, that is it.”
The boy’s grandfather was granted bail on Tuesday,
Mohammad Aftab*, the minor’s cousin, said a bail plea for the boy was moved the same day. “The requirements for our grandfather need to be completed,” he said. “And for my brother, we are hoping he is released from jail tomorrow [September 14] itself.”
He said angrily that both the boy and his grandfather were brought to the court with their hands and waists bound in rope.
‘He cries each day’
Aftab, a civil engineer who returned from Bahrain in the Gulf recently, described the minor as a shy boy who kept to himself but never missed his prayers. He is a Class 4 student in Iqra Public School, close to the village. Aafreen Parveen*, another cousin, said that he was the kind of child who only spoke when spoken to and did not like to get into fights.
His grandfather, Aftab said, had served as the sarpanch of Barhariya village around seven years ago. “They have arrested the kind of man who would solve the problems of others,” he said. He added that his grandfather had been in hospital for a stomach operation a month ago and was still recovering from the procedure.
While the family waits for the grandfather and the minor to return home, his mother has her hands full. Her husband had gone to Delhi to apply for jobs and the family has asked him to stay there, fearing that he will be harassed by the police if he returned. “We do not think it is a good time for him to return to Siwan,” said a cousin of the minor.
The boy’s mother said that she has been allowed to see her son for only five or ten minutes every day. “Every time he cries profusely asking what he did wrong and when he will come home,” she said.
She said that wants her son to come back home quickly. “How can they separate an eight-year-old from his mother?” she asked.
*Names of those related to the minor in the story have been changed to protect his identity.