A young mother and a teacher in the Indian state of Karnakata are in jail because of a school play presented by elementary school students.
Twenty six years old Nazbunnisa, a single mother who did not give her last name and who works as a domestic help was arrested on January 30, along with Farida Begum, a teacher at her daughter’s school.
They were both charged with sedition, which the women, both Muslims, deny.
Their bail hearing is scheduled for Tuesday. Their lawyer said the charge of sedition is being misused.
It stems from a colonial-era law that was used to quash dissent, but is still deployed liberally despite the Supreme Court’s attempt to limit it by making incitement to violence a necessary condition.
The two women are accused of spreading “false information” and of “spreading fear among [the]Muslim community” and of using children to insult India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Their ordeal began with a play put up by the students and staff at Shaheen School in Bidar, where Ms Nazbunnisa’s daughter studies and Farida Begum, 52, teaches.
The play was about a controversial new citizenship law, which has polarised India since it was passed in December by the governing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) offers amnesty to non-Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. It sparked fear among India’s 200 million-plus Muslims as it came in the wake of the government’s plans to introduce a National Register of Citizens (or NRC) based on those who can prove their ancestors were Indian citizens.
Their ordeal started when one of the parents streamed the school play live on Facebook and the video quickly went viral.
Among those who have seen it is local resident Neelesh Rakshal who describes himself as a social activist and says he became furious over a scene where a man approaches an elderly woman and tells her that Narendra Modi wants Muslims to produce documents proving their Indian citizenship and that of their ancestors, and if they fail to do so, they will be asked to leave the country.
Mr Rakshal says he immediately registered a police complaint against the school for “using children in a school play to abuse the prime minister and also for spreading hatred”.
The complaint named the school management and the parent who streamed the play. While several members of the school management and the president of the school have also been charged with sedition, police told the court they are still looking for them.
“We do not know for what reason sedition charges have been invoked against the school. It is beyond the imagination of any reasonable person. We will fight it in court,” the school’s CEO, Thouseef Madikeri, said.
Police also questioned students – videos and screen grabs of CCTV footage showing them speaking to students were shared widely on social media, prompting criticism.
Mr Madikeri told the BBC it was the questioning of students that led to the arrest of Farida Begum and Ms Nazbunnisa.
Ms Nazbunnisa is perplexed as to why she was arrested.
“My daughter was rehearsing for the play at home,” she said. “But I did not know what it was about, or what this controversy about CAA or NRC is about. I did not even go to see her play.”
Ms Nazbunnisa has met her daughter only once since she was jailed: “It was just for a few minutes, and even then only through a window. I held back my tears. I did not want to scare her further.”
Farida Begum, who suffers from high blood pressure, said she is “scared of what the future holds”. Her husband, Mirza Baig, said he fears that his wife being in jail will affect his daughter’s marriage prospects.
“Whatever is happening is not right,” he said. (Source: BBC)