In a major relief for the beleaguered Baduria minor whose Facebook post, deleted the same evening, sparked off three days of communal violence in Basirhat town of North 24 Parganas district from July 4, the Hindu Samhati legal team successfully convinced the Addl. Chief Judicial Magistrate court of Basirhat that the child was a minor and had him sent to the juvenile home.
The organization, which took up cudgels on behalf of the minor boy, was dismayed at the manner in which Police disregarded the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act and arrested the boy. The FIR conspicuously failed to mention the age of the accused; he was produced before a magistrate who sent him to judicial custody. Readers may recall that the youth was only 16 years old at the time of his arrest on July 4 and turned 17 only on July 6, 2017.
In the first court hearing on July 20, the Hindu Samhati lawyers argued that the child is a minor and deserves to be treated accordingly. It placed on record evidence of the child’s age, and the court ordered verification of the documents by the investigating officer.
Finding the documents was a heroic feat in itself, as the family’s home was burnt down on July 2 itself, the same day the post was made on Facebook, and also deleted.
Undaunted, Hindu Samhati volunteers scoured the cinders at the first opportunity and finally, on July 12, found his birth certificate which clearly states that he was born on 6 July 2000, thus confirming the fact that he was and remains a minor. The birth certificate was issued by Baduria Municipality.
The same day, the Samhati filed complaints with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights, regarding the violation of child rights by the West Bengal police. Though nearly a month has elapsed since then, the West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights has taken no interest in the case, though it is statutorily obliged to take cognizance of such a flagrant violation of the human rights of a minor.
At the second hearing on August 5, the police admitted the authenticity of the documents submitted by Hindu Samhati on July 20. But, in an attempt to retain the boy in jail, the prosecution roped in an expert lawyer, Bibhas Babu, from Kolkata, to argue its case. However, defense lawyer Brojendranath Roy rose to the occasion and succeeded in having the boy sent to juvenile home.
Hindu Samhati’s Prasun Moitra said this outcome was in the best interests of the child as the State will now be responsible for his security. The organization did not demand bail as this would put the already fearful family in a quandary. With the child in a juvenile home, his custody can be reclaimed by his father directly from the home, on personal bond, as and when the situation is conducive for his safe return. There would be no need for a court hearing.
It is learnt that the idea of rehabilitating the family in a new and safe location is also under consideration.
The boy, a class XI student, belongs to Rudrapur village in Baduria in Basirhat. His Facebook post – a comment or sketch regurgitating some story about the Ka’aba – led to his arrest on the night of July 2 itself, ostensibly for his own safety, after he was made to delete the offensive post. A mob burnt down his house the same day, and the rioting built up thereafter.
This is where the Police failed utterly – it should have moved the entire family to a safe location, and ensured that there was no collection of crowds in any place in the town. Section 144 Cr.P.C. should have been imposed.
Instead, crowds were allowed to gather and run amok in Baduria and Basirhat area, burning everything that came their way and beating up another community with impunity for three days, until some intrepid youth organized retaliatory action. It was only then that things began to calm down, though this too, did not happen until the original rioters had destroyed the property and livelihood of those who stood up to them.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee threw a public tantrum when questioned about the law and order situation in the State by Governor Kesrinath Tripathi. She also accused Hindu Samhati chief, Tapan Ghosh, of aggravating the situation, when the fact is that the Samhati was nowhere near the scene when the disturbances broke out. It arrived days later when outsiders were allowed to enter, to provide succor and reassurance to the terrified Hindu community in the district.
Sources claim that a crackdown on illegal cattle smuggling to Bangladesh was the real reason for the communal outburst. Basirhat is adjacent to Bangladesh, and the border is quite permeable. The beef trade allegedly rakes in Rs 4000 crore per annum, half of which is collected by the North 24 Parganas traders, and the rest shared by the Malda-Murshidabad traders.
Meanwhile, acting on a complaint by a Samhati volunteer, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, on July 25, directed the District Collector of North 24 Parganas to investigate the complaint of violation of child rights and submit a report within 25 days. This would have come as a huge blow to the Trinamool regime. Both the birth certificate and FIR are a damning indictment of the manner in which the State administration is run.