After struggling for five days to get his teenage son to step out of the house, Mohammad Shoaib pretended to run out of tobacco. Knowing his father regularly consumes it, Naved, reluctantly got on a bicycle and rode towards the market to procure a packet.
“I had to do something to make him go out,” said Shoaib, sitting on a faded, red plastic chair outside his small apartment in Aurangabad, some 200 kilometres from Bihar's capital of Patna. “He has always been an outdoor person. But he has refused to leave home since he got out of prison.”
Naved was arrested on 21 December, 2019, for allegedly attacking the police during an agitation. RJD and its allies had called for a bandh on the day to protest the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) mooted by the Narendra Modi-led Indian government. The protests turned violent, which ended up in stone-pelting and unrest. After that, the Bihar police arrested 46 people — all Muslims — by raiding nearby areas.
Thirteen of the arrested were minors, Naved among them.
However, the police passed them off as adults in the First Information Report (FIR). Which meant spending a month in an Aurangabad prison with hardened criminals before being moved to a juvenile home on 23 January. Six of the 13 have received bail so far.
Naved has not been himself since he came home. “He appears hesitant,” said his mother Fatima. “He has been eerily quiet. Wait for 10 minutes. He will be on his way home.” Emerging from a narrow alley running perpendicular to Shoaib’s mohalla in Mehboob Nagar, Naved parks his cycle and walks towards us with a slight hunch. Chin down, he hands over the packet of tobacco to his father sitting in the dusky light. “I don’t feel entirely comfortable going out on my own,” said Naved. “It is scary.”
On the afternoon of 21 December, Naved was on his way back from a nearby garage, where Shoaib had asked him to run an errand. The unrest broke out about a kilometre from his home, following which the police picked him up from the street. The FIR, though, claims Naved was arrested along with 15 others while launching a “life-threatening attack on police”.
“Had I not sent him outside, he would not have had to go through what he did,” Shoaib lamented.
“The police beat me black and blue,” Naved recalled, shaking his head. “They kept calling me Pakistani. What do I have to do with Pakistan?”
Eyewitnesses claim what the police did in the aftermath of the protests was textbook religious profiling. They only targeted Muslim localities, terrorised residents, and even manhandled women in the absence of female constables.
Former minister and RJD member Suresh Paswan said that incidents of stone-pelting occurred on the main road after their rally ended. "There are CCTV cameras to find out who was pelting stones. They should be punished, irrespective of whether they are Hindus or Muslims. Police should investigate it, they have the machinery to do so. But the police action that followed was not an investigation."
The police were also caught on camera vandalising public and private property, which makes one wonder whether the arrested accused deserved to be jailed.
For the first 10 days in prison, Naved said he cried incessantly. “I was hurting because of being beaten up, and the police did not even give me medicine,” he added. “The atmosphere was intimidating.”
There were 60 to 70 other criminals in his ward.
“There was hardly enough room,” said Naved. “We had to cram ourselves while going to sleep. You move an inch in any direction, and you would touch another inmate.”After enduring that for a month, the juvenile justice board determined their ages and transferred the minors to a juvenile home in Gaya, which was much better in terms of atmosphere. However, Naved had one bad experience.
“I asked for an extra roti, and the three boys sitting next to me thought I addressed them,” he said. “They were in for murder. That night, I was beaten up badly.”
But the administration soon stepped in, and ensured the minors did not feel uncomfortable, said Naved. “The food was better, we would also get to play cricket in the evening,” he added. “I wonder why I was sent to the main prison when I kept telling them I am 15.”
Anup Kumar, SDPO of Aurangabad, though, claims the police wrote down what the kids told them. “They claimed to be adults because there is no juvenile home in Aurangabad,” he said. “They wanted to be in adult prison here so they could meet their parents frequently. The home in Gaya where they are now is about 80 kilometres away.”
The minors and their parents reject that claim. Their lawyer Meraj Khan claimed the police fudged their ages intentionally. “If the police had written their accurate ages, they would have had to hire a separate vehicle, and travel to Gaya,” he said. “The police did this to avoid that extra effort. Which parent would want their underage child to spend time with hardened criminals?”
The minors shared Naved’s daunting experience. Mohammad Syed, 17, a resident of Qureshi mohalla, said the mere presence of some of the criminals was unnerving. “And the food would be uncooked and bland,” he added. “The way we were treated by the police after the arrest, being abused inside the prison was not on my mind. To come to think of it, the police gave me a harder time than the inmates.”
An engagement ceremony was in progress at Syed's home when police barged in looking for “miscreants”. “They broke my hand,” he said, displaying his fractured right hand still wrapped in plaster. “From 21 December to 8 January, I was taken to hospital. I got my plaster on 10 January. In between, I had a basic bandage wrapped around my hand. It was extremely painful.”
Syed, in the FIR, is claimed to have been arrested from the terrace of a resident with nine other “miscreants”.
The police investigation is riddled with loopholes. The FIR blames local councillor Sikandar Hayat for the violence. He is accused of leading a mob of 200 in beating up shopkeepers, forcing them to down shutters and egging on the mob to attack cops.
Hayat was soon arrested after that, according to the FIR. However, a few pages later, Hayat is arrested again while jumping off a roof with a few other troublemakers.
The residents of Aurangabad have vouched for Hayat’s integrity. Parents of the minors that spent a month in prison said their children did not suffer as much as they could have because Hayat was also in jail at the same time. The minors come from poor families with working-class parents. They are not used to court hearings or police interrogations.
Parveen, mother of a 15-year-old still in the Gaya juvenile home, said she is finding it difficult to run the house without him. “His father died in an accident when he was one,” she said. “He used to do labour work and run the house. With him being locked up for more than a month, I am dependent on charity.”
Parveen has met him thrice, and both of them have broken down upon meeting each other every single time. “What do you say to each other in such situations?” she asked. “We have been subjected to this trauma only because we are Muslims.”
Names have been changed to protect identities of minors
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Updated Date: Feb 16, 2020 09:55:23 IST