The questioning of students at a school in Karnataka’s Bidar district in 2020 by police officers in uniforms was a “serious violation” of child rights and provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act, the High Court said on Monday, according to Live Law.

The students had been questioned in connection with a sedition case involving a play critical of the Citizenship Amendment Act. The contentious law grants citizenship to persecuted minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, provided they have resided in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014, but explicitly excludes Muslims.

The police had alleged that the content of the play staged at the school in January 2020 was inflammatory and its participants – students of classes 4, 5 and 6 – had insulted Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They had arrested a teacher at the school and the mother of a student who performed in the play. They were granted bail in February 2020.

On Monday, the Karnataka High Court heard a petition arguing that the police violated the law by allegedly questioning students in the absence of their teachers or parents, according to Live Law. The petitioners – a lawyer and a human rights group – added that questioning in a hostile environment had impacted the children mentally.

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The court took note of a photograph showing three students being questioned by five police officers. Four of them were in uniforms and at least two were armed, the court said. Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice NS Sanjay Gowda said that in their affidavits, the Bidar Police had not denied the authenticity of the picture.

The judges observed that as far as possible, police officers speaking to children should be dressed in plain clothes and a woman officer must be present when a girl is being questioned.

They ordered the Karnataka government to file an affidavit about what action had been taken against the police officers who questioned the children. “Why children are subjected to all this? the court asked. “This has to be corrected, this can’t go on like this.”

The judges asked the government to consider giving appropriate directions to the police so that the rights of children are not violated again. They will hear the case again on September 3.