On 3 February, police turned up at Shaheen Primary and High School in Bidar for the fourth time to question students about a school play that criticised the Citizenship Amendment Act. According to The News Minute, of the seven children questioned today only one had even taken part in the play. Last week the headmistress of the primary section (a Muslim woman) and the mother of a child who participated in the play (also a Muslim woman) were charged with sedition. As the police are trying to break down primary school children through interrogation for evidence of their seditious nature, the mother is in jail based on a complaint by an ABVP member.
Roughly at the same time, BJP MP Arjun Singh defended the gunmen who opened fire on students in Jamia and protestors in Shaheen Bagh. In the first of these incidents, an armed man succeeded in shooting a student while the police were witnesses. Singh said, “Our young children, who have been misguided, are resorting to firing in confusion.”
Singh’s moral callipers reminded me of an incident where an acquaintance of mine was found in bed with her boyfriend by her boyfriend’s mother. The mother reportedly ranted to her, “Why is a 26-year-old woman like you sleeping with my young son?” The son was 24, in case you were wondering. Similarly, a blinded-by-love Mr Singh said [of the shooters], “Humare kam umar ke bachche bharamit ho karke goli chalaye hain.” The key phrase here is humare bachche — our children. Those we love are forever young and in need of protection. It is not accidental that terms of endearment are often infantilising, baby.
One might have philosophical debates about what responsibility a child has when violating the law or whether young children should participate in political activism. The law as it exists usually has some rough guidelines about how a juvenile may be treated by the police and the media. Which is why the speed with which the news agency ANI produced a marksheet for the Jamia shooter has led to much bitter mockery and suspicion. Writer Krish Ashok even shared his forensic analysis of what The Telegraph called ‘the purported marksheet’ that took the youth from the somewhat unforgiving glare of the public when he was assumed to be 20 to the relative chatrachaya of his being 17. So much so that when the second shooting took place, the black comedy online involved asking where the shooter’s marksheet was to prove he was a foetus.
But as Arjun Singh demonstrates, if you bear the markers of some kinds of privilege you will always be a child ready to be forgiven.
The markers could be of fame and wealth as in the case of Salman Khan, that of caste and religion as in the case of the Jamia shooter and his fellow armed defenders of the status quo and the oldest one, of gender (boys will be boys). You are forever a fluffy bunny who knows not what he does.
Our playgrounds have a tradition of kachcha nimbu (green lemon) or the equivalent local phrase. Older children gesture over the heads of young players and say kachcha nimbu so that everyone understands the rules don’t apply to the littler ones. It’s the social compact that smoothly ensures feelings aren’t hurt and so there is less crying. If you are an upper-caste Hindu man, the country has entered into a social compact for you. You are a kachcha nimbu forever protected by secret head-nods of understanding.
And as in the case of my acquaintance surprised during sex, the perception of age usually works unfavourably if you are not an upper-caste Hindu man. The two year advantage had turned her into a cougar/vampire/Mrs Robinson in the eyes of her boyfriend’s mother. Writer and activist Monique Morris has written about the age compression that black girls face in America. Black girls are treated as adults, as hypersexual and predatory, Morris wrote in her 2016 book, Pushout: The Criminalisation of Black Girls. As Slate reported in corroborating research, “Black girls are seen as older and less innocent than their white peers starting as young as age five. The phenomenon of viewing black students as miniature adults means they are likely to be punished harshly within the school system, and their cases are likelier to be passed along to the juvenile justice system rather than to be handled within the school.” The result of adultification is that black minors who may make a tiny mistake are likely to be handled by the law like a dangerous criminal.
While the debate continues about the actual age of the Jamia shooter, the truth is that he could be 10 years older and will still be treated with greater kindness than young Kashmiri boys who shouted slogans and were charged illegally under the Public Safety Act and shipped off to Uttar Pradesh to be imprisoned alongside adults after the abrogation of Article 370, or a little girl with a Muslim name in that Bidar school which is being ‘investigated’ right now.
Margaret Atwood once wrote, “Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another, they are not cute. They are life-sized.” I would add that they are cute and small to adults only if they are hamare bachche, not tumhare bachche.
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