Basirhat clashes: Minor whose FB post triggered Bengal riots in jail against law
A teenager’s reckless Facebook post on July 2 offended Muslims and triggered riots in West Bengal’s Basirhat subdivision, and the communal bitterness continues to fester.
Police acted promptly. So did the mobs, which torched his family home. The police wrote “18+” for his age when he was charged, without mentioning the date of birth. Just four days before he turned 17, the Class XI student was detained and sent to Basirhat sub-jail.
He continues to be there, though the law forbids keeping any offender or suspect below 18 in a jail for adults. The law also says an underage suspect must be tried by the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) and kept in a detention centre for children.
He was born on July 6, 2000, according to his birth certificate issued by the Baduria municipal agency and the admit card for the Class X finals conducted by the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education.
Activists of the Hindu Samhati allegedly found the documents from debris of his gutted home in a village about 70km northeast of Kolkata.
“Police didn’t take him to the Juvenile Justice Board because his date of birth could not be ascertained. Now that we have verified it, we will tell the court in the next hearing that the accused may be sent for trial by the board,” said C Sudhakar, the police superintendent of North 24 Parganas district.
The court is scheduled to hear the case on August 3.
After his arrest on the night of July 2, the police produced him before an additional chief judicial magistrate’s court the next morning. He was remanded in police custody for three days. On July 6, the court sent him to jail for two weeks.
When the court examined him again on July 20, his lawyers said he should not be tried as an adult.
“The boy appeared for secondary exams in January. It is well-known that around 90% of the examinees were 16 years old. It should not have taken police more than a few hours to ascertain his age,” said Brajendranath Ray, one of three lawyers representing the teenager.
The judge ordered verification of the certificates and remanded him in judicial custody for two more weeks.
The law says suspects aged between 16 and 18 can be treated as adults for heinous crimes such as rape and murder, which attract a maximum punishment exceeding seven years in jail.
But the Basirhat teen is charged with legal sections that warrant imprisonment of five years at the most. The police registered cases against him for deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings, and for publishing obscene material.
West Bengal’s human rights groups have been unusually quiet about the juvenile in jail.
“It is illegal to keep a minor in jail if he has not committed a heinous crime. If the rights organisations overlooked the issue, it has to be admitted as a lapse that should not recur,” said Sujato Bhadra, a leading human rights activist. According to Ranjit Sur, vice-president of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights, activists should identify the “overlook” as a mistake and it should serve as an eye-opener.
“There were mixed feelings about aiding someone involved in spreading communal hatred,” he said.
But Sur, associated with the state’s largest human rights group, believes “the nature of his crime or his social background” shouldn’t have taken precedence over the fact that he was still a boy.
The teen’s social media post triggered the state’s worst communal flare-up in years. A 65-year-old man was knifed to death and dozens of people were wounded in clashes.
Violence swept the communally sensitive Basirhat region, barely 12km from the Bangladesh border.
Mobs torched shops, houses and police vehicles.