The police, of course, wasted no time acting on the complaint. Storming into the school (whose spacious facilities on the five-acre campus they have regularly used for hosting police programmes), a posse of policemen, some in uniform, tried to identify the students who had participated in the play as well as 85 others who watched it. This went on for five days and many children stopped coming to school for fear of being questioned by the police. Never mind that the Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights pulled up the police for violating the norms of the Juvenile Justice Act and asked them to stop questioning the children. “When the children were being questioned, their parents or guardians should have been present and the police should not have gone in uniform,” says the commission’s chairman, Antony Sebastian, also a juvenile justice advocate.
Before long, the police booked Abdul Qadeer, founder-chairman of the Allama Iqbal Educational Society and Shaheen Group of Institutions; Fareeda Begum, 50, headmistress of the Shaheen Urdu Primary School; Najibunnisa, the 46-year-old single mother of the girl who uttered the controversial lines on Modi, and four others, under Sections 504, 505 (2), 124 A, 153A and 34 of the Indian Penal Code. Both Fareeda (whose husband is a part-time mechanic) and Najibunnisa, the breadwinners of their families, were in Bidar Central Prison for a fortnight.
Ordering the conditional release of the women on February 14, Bidar principal and district sessions judge Managoli Premavathi observed: “The drama shows that the children have condemned enforcement laws. No other community has been named; all they have said is Muslims will have to leave the country.” In its bail order, the court observed that the women had not been named in the original FIR. It was the remand memo that noted that the children had allegedly said they were asked by Fareeda to enact the play. Similarly, the child who ‘spoke derogatory words [referring to] using a chappal against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’ revealed in her interrogation that her mother (Najibunnisa) had asked her to use the words.
School authorities point out that the performance was part of routine classroom activity. Seven students, aged between nine and 12, had been asked to put up a six-minute performance on the NRC on January 21. “A key element of the National Curriculum Framework stipulates creating awareness on contemporary social issues. This was just another assignment given to students,” claims Thouseef Madikeri, CEO of the Shaheen Education Foundation. Now, the Karnataka High Court has to decide if the student play was a creative or literary activity within the ambit of freedom of expression. It is likely to decide by February 25 whether or not Qadeer and the four other accused should be arrested and tried on sedition and related charges. “Every citizen of the country has the right to oppose a law intended to be brought into force and this cannot be treated as sedition,” says Keshavarao H. Srimale, one of the lawyers who moved the bail application for the two women. “Further, since there is no reference to any other community, there is no question of causing disharmony among communities.”
Following the initial outcry by politicians, including former chief minister Siddaramaiah, the police are treading cautiously. “We are awaiting the findings of the forensic analysis of the surveillance camera footage from the school’s recordings for a fuller understanding of the course of events to act on the charges against the accused,” said a senior police officer. Activists in Bidar argue that it is a motivated complaint as the anti-NRC rally on December 23 drew a huge response. “Several disparate groups got together for a common cause under the banner of a secular forum. This has turned out to be unsettling for the BJP,” said Mansoor Ahmed Quadri, district president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen.
Proving the charge of sedition (for which the maximum punishment is life imprisonment) is easier said than done. A five-judge constitutional bench of the Supreme Court presided over by Chief Justice Bhuvaneshwar Prasad Sinha in Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar (1962) laid down the guiding principles for dealing with offences under Section 124A of the IPC. The judges ruled that ‘comments, however strongly worded, expressing disapprobation of the actions of the government, without exciting those feelings that generate the inclination to cause public disorder by acts of violence’, would not be penalised. “Disloyalty to government established by law is not the same thing as commenting in strong terms upon the measures or acts of government, or its agencies, so as to ameliorate the condition of the people or to secure the cancellation or alteration of those acts or measures by lawful means… without exciting those feelings of enmity and disloyalty which imply excitement to public disorder or use of violence.’
Besides, the sedition law itself has other limitations. “It uses words that are amenable to multiple interpretations. It also relies on the perception in the mind of the listener, adding to the potential for misuse,” says Kunal Ambasta, who teaches at the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru.
Mainstreaming the Marginalised
Shaheen is the mythical bird that flies farther than a falcon. That is what the educational enterprise that blends modern formal education with religious teachings from the Quran strives to achieve progressively. Soaring higher. It is also the school motto. What Abdul Qadeer started as a single-room facility with 18 students in 1989-while searching for a good school for a younger sibling-is today a full-fledged facility. “In Bidar alone, there are 9,000 students from 23 states and nine countries with diverse backgrounds,” says Dr Thouseef Madikeri, CEO, Shaheen Education Foundation. The 43 institutions across nine states are expected to go up to 55 in 13 states by the next academic year. “Many more who go to the traditional madrassas for religious learning alone, especially in the north, need to be exposed to quality modern education,” he says.
Madikeri takes pride in the fact that Shaheen students excel in the entrance exams to professional colleges; last year, 327 of them secured medical college seats through the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test. The educational enterprise is also known for its successful experiments like the Academic Intensive Care Unit, which takes charge of dropouts besides mainstreaming those exposed only to madrassa education. About 500 are admitted to the AICU every year and its alumni are now among those pursuing collegiate education at the Jamia Millia Islamia and the Aligarh Muslim University. This is enabling Hafizes (those who memorise the Quran) get modern education.
Although its tuition fee is in line with quality private schools, the Shaheen Group extends concessions and scholarships to deserving indigent students. It also takes in students from socially and economically backward communities while wearing the ‘minority’ institution tag.
Source INDIA TODAY