Many of those who have been closely following events in West Bengal, especially the alarming manner in which the BJP has been trying to disseminate its brand of Hindutva, would surely have noticed BJP rallies and processions in which children, many as young as seven years of age, are being made to march with naked swords and tridents. This has been common on the occasion of Ram Navami, a “festival” hitherto not observed in Bengal.
But the latest spectacle has shocked many in Bengal as well as elsewhere. On May 14, BJP President Amit Shah held a roadshow from Shahid Minar to Simla Street in Kolkata while campaigning for Rahul Sinha, North Calcutta BJP candidate, where, on a tableau, a group of children, who appeared to be not more than 14 years old, were performing acrobatic acts on a moving vehicle for several hours. As this video shows, the children were bare-bodied, clad in only extremely small shorts which could well be termed as underwear. On asking, they said they have been brought by the BJP from Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh. While performing, they were accompanied by vociferous slogans against the ruling party in West Bengal and rambunctious music.
Jhuma Sen, a probashi Bangali (expat Bengali), who teaches at Jindal Global Law School in Sonepat, has lodged a complaint with the West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights against this brazen abuse and violation of rights of children.
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In her May 15 letter to the child rights’ commission, Sen has complained against egregious violations of various provisions of municipal as well as international law.
The economic exploitation of children, bringing them to Bengal from far-away Ujjain, and making them perform acrobatic acts on a makeshift pole on a moving vehicle for hours at a stretch, is in flagrant violation of the National Policy for Children, 2013, Sen contends. Moreover, it is also in contravention of Article 32 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - which prohibits member countries from involving children in any form of hazardous or dangerous work for any purpose – a covenant which India has signed and ratified.
When NewsClick spoke to Ananya Chatterjee Chakravarty, who heads the state child rights commission, she said that apart from what Sen has mentioned, the BJP’s use of children also violates Article 36 of the UN Child Rights Commission, which prohibits member states from inflicting any form of degrading treatment on children. “If children, who have been brought from a faraway place, under what terms and conditions we are yet to get to know, are made to perform such acts in public, in almost half-naked condition, should it not hurt our conscience?”, an anguished Chakravarty asked.
She said that on the very day she received Sen’s complaint, she and the commission took cognisance of the matter, and exercising the power vested in her by Section 13 (1) (J) of the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act, had sent a letter to Calcutta’s Police Commissioner urging him to take suo motu action against Shah and Sinha.
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The day after that, she sent the complaint to the Chief Electoral Officer of West Bengal, who subsequently informed her that it has been forwarded to the BJP’s West Bengal unit. But even now, she has received no response. Bengal goes to polls in the last phase tomorrow, so Chakravarty said that the BJP, in connivance with the Election Commission, has achieved a fait accompli. What would be the use of the complaint now, she wondered aloud.
While speaking to Chakravarty, this correspondent also brought to her notice the Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling prohibiting the participation of children- that is, those below 18- in the Dahi Handi ceremony which is popular in Maharashtra on the occasion of Janmashtami. Particularly telling is the bench’s remark- “We know of Lord Krishna stealing butter, but never heard of him performing antics to steal it.”
Chakravarty agreed that this precedent could be cited if the Election Commission was to take up the case against Shah and Co.
This is not the first time that the Child Rights’ Commission has complained against the BJP and its leaders. In April, the Commission had objected to schoolchildren being made to march with swords and daggers in a Ram Navami procession organised by the RSS and BJP. Rahul Sinha had replied that daggers cannot be termed as dangerous weapons since they are used in training in many schools.
Later in the same month, the commission took strong objection to the BJP’s making children march with lethal weapons in some districts of West Bengal and complained to the respective District Magistrates, but till date, no action has been taken.
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