The Karnataka government claimed in the High Court on Wednesday that 17 students of Shaheen School in Bidar were “counselled” and not “interrogated” following an anti-Citizenship Amendment Act play at the school on January 21, News18 reported. The High Court was hearing a plea filed by advocate Nayana Jhawar, questioning the investigating officer’s conduct and asking whether rules were followed during examination of minor students at the school.
The police have slapped sedition charges against the head teacher of the school and the mother of a child. During Wednesday’s hearing, Advocate General Prabhuling Navadgi, representing the state, argued that the petitioner had filed the case simply based on newspaper reports, and hence the case should be dismissed. He said the police had questioned 17 students, of which 10 watched the play and seven took part in it.
The state told the High Court that the Police Manual and all rules and procedures prescribed for questioning minors under the Juvenile Justice Act were followed. The investigating officer counselled the students in the presence of the district child protection officer, along with the Special Juvenile Police Unit, in line with the Juvenile Justice Act, Navadgi claimed.
The advocate general said that policemen visited the school in plainclothes and did not carry any weapon as was alleged by the petitioner.
Chief Justice Abhay Sreenivas Oka asked the state if the police officers were trained to counsel students. He also asked if the investigating officer, who is Bidar deputy superintendent of police, would question more students. On receiving a negative reply, Justice Oka posted the matter for further hearing on March 9.
A local court in Bidar district had on February 14 granted bail to the head teacher and the mother of the child. The two were arrested on January 30, nine days after the play was staged. The police claimed the play was seditious and inflammatory. They said the students – in Classes 4, 5 and 6 – insulted Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The police drew flak for filing sedition charges on the basis of a complaint of an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad activist. The outfit is the students’ wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. They were also roundly criticised for questioning young students, including a nine-year-old.
Several political leaders have criticised the police and the state government for filing the sedition charges, and repeatedly questioning schoolchildren. Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights pulled up the district police earlier this week for allegedly violating the Juvenile Justice Act norms, and asked the police to stop questioning children. The child’s rights commission also said many students had stopped going to the school due to the police investigation. The Child Welfare Committee of Bidar district also issued a notice to the police.
The Karnataka High Court had issued a notice to the state on February 14 based on Jhawar’s plea.