The Quill Foundation, an autonomous institution engaging in research and advocacy in India, in collaboration with Citizens Against Hate and Haq: Centre for Child Rights, has collated a detailed report on children who were detained and tortured by Uttar Pradesh Police during the anti-CAA protests in the state. The report, complete with testimonies of victims, is based on fact-finding investigations conducted by participating organisations between January 10 and 24, 2020, in the districts of Bijnor, Muzaffarnagar, Firozabad and verified media accounts looking into the detention, torture, and criminalisation of minors in UP. It contains documentary evidence about the nature of violence, the methods of custodial torture and intimidation, and post release targeting by law enforcement agencies, and the overall effects in individual cases and its patterns across the state.
The team, in its investigation, found that close to 41 minors were or are still detained and subjected to custodial torture. Of these, 22 minors were detained and tortured in Bijnor and 14 minors in Muzaffarnagar. In Muzaffarnagar, FIRs were filed against four minors who were released after 12 days of detention. Two minors continue to be held under detention in Firozabad and have not received any legal aid nor have their cases received any media coverage. Two minors sustained bullet injuries in Lucknow, while another eight-year-old was killed during a stampede as a result of use of excessive force by police against anti-CAA protests in Varanasi. The report says that the boy’s parents were forced to conduct a high security burial one hour after the body was returned.
All detained minors that the fact-finding team spoke with testified that they were beaten with police batons and lathis, and were made to witness violence inflicted by police on detained adults. The tortured, traumatised children returned home with bruised body parts and fractures. Some of the children were so traumatised that they could not talk for days after their release. A 15-year-old, physically challenged minor from Nagina, who was also detained and beaten up in Muzaffarnagar, told the fact-finding team, “I kept telling them that I am physically challenged. But they wouldn’t listen. They put me in a police van and started beating me up non-stop.”
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A 17-year-old boy, also from Nagina, who was kept in detention for two days and subjected to torture, was scared to speak up when the team asked him questions. He told them, “Mostly they beat us on the lower parts of our body. I was not able to walk properly for 15 days. The police detained me on Friday and released on Sunday night. Till then, I was in custody where they beat me brutally.”
According to the report, when the protests and detentions first began, instead of questioning the authorities on the reported cases of violations, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) issued a notice to the Director General of Police in all States asking to keep a check and punish those who use children as “shields” during protests. Early in January, the Uttar Pradesh State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (UPSCPCR) also issued a similar directive to DGP Uttar Pradesh. Any form of police excesses do not find mention in both notices.
The report points out that detention of every minor that took place in the two districts is a violation of the Juvenile Justice Act and the rules made under the central government and the U.P. state government. It says, “Both Model Rules and the U.P. State Rules on Juvenile Justice clearly require that no child shall be apprehended for petty or serious offences. Registration of FIR and apprehension is allowed only for heinous offences, and that too if such apprehension is necessary in the best interest of the child. Going by the list of offences figuring in the FIR in Nagina, all the offences are either petty offences or serious offences as per Section 2 (45) and Section 2 (54) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.”
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The detentions are also in violation of the UN Child Rights Convention (UNCRC). The UNCRC is a human rights treaty that illustrates the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children. India ratified the UNCRC on December 11, 1992, agreeing to all articles except on issues of child labour. Any person below the age of 18 is defined as a ‘child’ and thus, minor. The report says, “In the case of minors held in detention in UP, it is evident from the media testimonies that all minors testified to physical and psychological custodial torture that included severe inhuman, discriminatory, degrading treatment.” It adds, “The UP police did not abide by any national or international standard operating procedure and in no way was a child’s well-being their concern. In fact, the torture they subjected the children to was a direct and immediate threat to the children’s life.”
When questioned by journalists, Bijnor’s Superintendent of Police Sanjeev Tyagi claimed to be unaware of any minors being detained and instead asked the journalist covering the incident for evidence. The UP government has not taken cognizance or issued any statements. Instead, in a video, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath guaranteed that “badla (revenge)” will be taken against protesters. Justifying the UP Police crackdown on anti-CAA protesters, he also said that the police actions have “shocked” the protesters into silence.
The report has made several recommendations for the UP state government and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). It has recommended that the UP government conduct a time bound (three months) judicial inquiry on police action from December 20, focusing on child rights violations as per state and national laws. It has also suggested that the national scale of compensation be used to calculate the physical, mental and psychological violence and loss suffered by the violated minors, and due compensation be paid. The government should also provide counselling for violated minors and their families.
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