The Uttar Pradesh Police detained at least five minors at the Bijnor Police Cantonment last week, and tortured them over 48 hours before releasing them, HuffPost India reported on Wednesday. All of them are from the district’s Nagina town.

The five boys – Muslims between the ages of 13 and 17 years – were detained on December 20. That day, after the afternoon prayers, a small group of young men organised a march from the town’s Jama Masjid to a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act. A scuffle broke out when the the police tried to stop them. The police fired tear gas at the demonstrators and beat them with batons, while some protestors pelted stones at the police. The police detained at least 100 protestors, at least 21 of them children. Nagina municipal council’s Chairperson Khalil ur Rehman said the children were not part of the demonstration and were swept up by the police.

“We asked the police to release the children and be lenient with the adults as no public property was damaged, but they didn’t listen,” Rehman told the news website. “We condemn any violence by demonstrators, but the police response has been completely disproportionate.”

The youngest of the five that Huffpost India spoke to was 13 years old. He said he stepped outside his home to find his little brother when he was arrested by the police. Another boy – 15 years old – was detained while he was returning home from tuitions. A 16-year-old daily wage labourer held by the police was out on the streets because there was no work that day. The other two – a 16-year-old working at a furniture shop, and a 17-year-old – got caught in a crowd that was trying to escape the police. They took shelter in an empty shop, and were held along with the others when the police raided the shop. HuffPost India examined their Aadhaar cards to verify their age, and documented injuries visible on their body.

Even though the Juvenile Justice Act states that children “alleged to be in conflict with law” cannot be placed in police lockup or lodged in jail, at the Bijnor police, the five were kept in detention along with a large group of adult demonstrators.

‘Now you know what we’ll do’

The children said the beatings started as they were bundled on to the police bus that took them to the Nagina police station. They were assaulted at the police station, and beaten when they reached the police lines in Bijnor. Then, they were assaulted every two to three hours, when the guards’ shifts changed. One of the boys’ ankles had to be put in a plaster cast after being released.

“I have lost track of how many times I was beaten,” said the 13-year-old boy. “I was beaten all over my body. I have been beaten so badly I need help to walk or eat.” The boy detained while he was on his way home from tuitions said he was hit so hard that a policeman’s stick broke. “They said, this is a strong one, hit him some more,” he added.

The boys said that as the temperature plunged at night, they were given a fetid mat to either spread on the floor or wrap around themselves. The guards, however, did not let them sleep and were beaten when they dozed off. “I pressed my fingers against my eyelids to keep my eyes open,” said the 17-year-old. “If you nodded off, the guards would hit you with a stick.”

The five teenagers confirmed to the news website that the policemen guarding them would offer the prisoners water, and take them to the bathroom one by one when they wanted to urinate. However, on their way back from the bathroom a group of policemen would ambush each prisoner and thrash him. “First the police gave us all water, which we drank because we were thirsty,” said the 15-year-old boy. “But then we realised we would be beaten every time we wanted to pee.”

The police also made adult prisoners strip in front of the children and display their bruises. The teenagers also saw the adults being tortured. The 13-year-old seemed to be the most traumatised by it. “They were lined up facing the wall and then guards would hit them across their backs with sticks,” he told HuffPost India.

The police, who questioned the teenagers about who asked them to protest against the citizenship law, said they too were made to strip. “No one else will admit to it, but they made us pull down our pants and show our bruised backsides to the guards,” said the 15-year-old. When he was released, a policeman hit him and said: “Now if there is any protest again, you better not attend. Now you know what we’ll do.”

While the 21 children were released, the father and elder brother of a 14-year-old boy claimed he was still in police custody. The boy’s name appears in the FIR filed by the police. His father said the police are insisting that he is an adult. HuffPost India verified the teenager’s Aadhaar card.