Khader and Abdulla (names changed) — both employed by a local bakery — have been in jail for more than 18 days, and yet the police did not check their age.
While the First Information Report (FIR) by the B.C. Road police puts their age at 18, the boys’ school transfer certificates say they both are aged 16. Khader studied in Shri Bharathi Vidyanikethana High School, Naila, Bantwal taluk, Abdulla went to Government Higher Primary School, Aryapu in Puttur taluk.
According to the two transfer certificates, the date of birth of Khader is March 23, 1996, and that of Abdulla is October 8, 1996.
“Even though my son is only 16, he barely looks 14. He’s still a child and still scared of everything,” Mariamma, Khader’s mother, told The Hindu .
Gathered at their residence in Cowdell village nearby, Khader’s family said the news of his arrest had come as a shock to them. “He’s never even seen a police station, let alone a jail. He remains petrified in Udupi jail,” said Mohammad Ali, Khader’s brother-in-law.
With remittances from Khader’s father, who does odd job in Saudi Arabia, having stopped, and bills from his mother’s cancer surgery and subsequent radiation treatment piling, Khader discontinued his education.
“It had been only one month since he started working at the bakery. He even did night shifts to get a little extra,” said Mr. Ali.
Khader and Abdulla were among the six arrested from a bakery in Kalladka late on June 30.
According to the owner of the bakery, who requested anonymity fearing “the police and Hindutva organisations”, the six had collected their salaries and were about to leave around 8 p.m. when the violence started a few metres away.
Scared, the men downed the shutter of the shop and decided to spend the night in the bakery.
“Around 11 p.m., the police forced open the backdoor and arrested the men,” said the owner.
Ashwani Kumar Rai, the advocate who represents the eight arrested, including the two boys, said the police routinely mention an age that was “convenient” to their case without verifying any documents.
On taking legal recourse to ensure the two boys are tried under Juvenile Justice Act and not the Indian Penal Code, Mr. Rai said: “The bail application has been sent for all of them. Getting the police to split the FIR, and transfer the case to another court will take time and delay the application of the others.”
However, District Child Welfare Committee chairperson Asha Nayak said the present legal approach was “vitiating the liberty of the children and vitiating the trial process”.
She said it was a matter of right for the children to be tried under the Juvenile Justice Act.
She blamed the police for not verifying the age of the boys.
“When they have to fill so many details in the arrest memo, why do they flout laws when it comes to age? It is imperative to verify the age especially when they look young,” Ms. Nayak said.
Superintendent of Police Abhishek Goyal said he was not aware that two of the arrested were minors.