On the morning of February 25, Rabia Khatun sent her 14-year-old son to look for his 10-year-old younger brother. The boy had slipped out of home earlier, while communal violence was raging in their neighbourhood, Chandbagh, one of the areas in North East Delhi that saw three days of violence that had left 53 people dead.
The 10-year-old came back home a few hours later on his own. He claimed he was playing at the home of a neighbour. But his older brother did not return.
The family has now discovered that he is lodged in North East jail’s Mandoli jail. He has been held under 11 sections of the India Penal Code and also the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act. Charges against him range from rioting with deadly weapons to arson.
According to court records, the boy was produced in the Karkardooma district courts on February 28. The court remanded him to judicial custody.
However, according to his Aadhaar card, he was born on November 21, 2006, making him a minor. “He completed 13 last year, he will be 14 this year,” said his mother Rabia Khatun.
The Juvenile Justice Act mandates that minors cannot be interned in a regular jail.
Khatun is a domestic worker. Her husband, Sarwar Ali, is a cart-puller. The boy dropped out of school a couple of years ago after studying upto Class 5.
Section 41 of the Criminal Procedure Code requires the police to provide details of those arrested to their families. But Khatun said she was informed of her son’s arrest on February 28 over a phone call by a person identifying himself as a lawyer.
“He told me that my son has been picked up by the police for the rioting from Khajuri Khas,” she said. “He said he would inform me about his next court appearance.”
When Scroll.in phoned the person who called Khatun, he identified himself to be an intern at a law firm. The person said that the 14-year-old had shared Khatun’s number while being produced at the court.
His senior Abdul Gaffar, a criminal lawyer, who has been representing people arrested in riot-related cases pro-bono, said he met Ali when the police had brought him to the Karkardooma court on February 28. There, Gaffar said, the minor identified himself as Aman and said he was 18 years old. Gaffar said he had appeared before the court on the behalf of the boy and the other co-accused in the case.
The First Information Report, filed in the Khajuri Khas police station, also identifies the boy as Aman. The FIR doesn’t cite his age.
The investigating officer Vipin Kumar Teotia said that was the name the boy provided. “He did not say he was a juvenile,” said Teotia. “If he has lied about his name, that is also a crime.”
Khatun said her son also went by Aman, even though it was not his formal name. “That is what we call him at home,” he said.
Shanta Singh, a former chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, said the police were duty-bound to verify a person’s age before pressing charges. But she said the boy’s alleged declaration to police that he was 18 complicated matters in this case. “The family should seek legal assistance to get the boy out of this,” she said.
Khatun insisted her son was 14. “A child can get scared in the police station,” she said. “His elder brother, Shah Alam, is 17.”
She added: “I am his mother, I know how old my sons are.”