Earlier this week, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) wrote to the district magistrate (DM) of south-east Delhi, asking for an investigation into a complaint they received that the children of Shaheen Bagh are being “misled” about the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) by their elders and, as a result, may be suffering from ‘mental trauma’.
The top government child rights body has requested the DM to send a child protection officer and a police child welfare officer to “identify these children and arrange counselling session for them and also for their parents, if deemed fit”.
Priyank Kanoongo, chairperson of the NCPCR, spoke to HuffPost India and attempted to explain the reason behind NCPCR issuing such a letter.
Kanoongo also forwarded a copy of the letter his office sent to the DM, embedded later in this article.
Here are excerpts from the interview.
How did the NCPCR come to the conclusion that the children of Shaheen Bagh are suffering from ‘mental trauma’?
See, if these children are saying that they are will be sent off to detention centres, or they are saying in the videos that ‘hum maar denge kisiko’ (we will kill someone).... so they are kids, yeh aise kisiko marne ke baat nahin karte (they don’t talk about hurting people), they say all this when they are traumatised. When the child’s mind will be traumatised and disturbed, only then they will get thoughts of violence like this.
So these videos you are talking about, where kids are apparently saying ‘maar denge’, where did you see these videos?
We received a complaint, madam.
Who has filed this complaint, can you reveal that?
According to our policies, we cannot reveal the name of the complainant. We will conduct an investigation into the matter.
You have also said in your letter that children have been influenced by ‘miscommunication’. What do you mean by that?
See, you have seen the complaint, right? In the complaint, it is said that the children are saying that their elders have told them that our Prime Minister and the Home Minister will send them to detention centres if they cannot show documents of citizenship. So obviously they are under the influence of miscommunication.
On the basis of that, you have come to the conclusion that they need intervention?
Yes, they need counselling.
The protest at Shaheen Bagh is happening in the open. The media is there, it is open to everybody, everyone can go and see what is happening there. People are singing songs, painting posters and all of this is happening in public eye. There is no evidence of any violence there, so how did you come to this conclusion?
I will rely on the DM’s report on what is happening at Shaheen Bagh once it is submitted to us.
When you are saying ‘children’, what age group are you referring to?
Anyone under the age of 18 are all children.
Since you are saying that your intent is to protect children from violent content and trauma, another thing that is happening is rampant hate speech on television which more children have access to. For example, a BJP minister in Karnataka said last month that while the majority of Hindus are usually patient, when their patience is breached, another Godhra can happen. How do you think these things affect children?
File a specific complaint about hate speech involving children and we will immediately take action based on it. But first, a complaint has to be filed.
I am saying, this content is easily available to kids through television and phone, so as a child rights body of the government, do you have any guidelines on that? These can cause trauma too.
In this case, we have received a specific complaint. So if we receive a specific complaint, we will act on it. Or we take suo moto action on such violence if we think it affects children.
So have you considered taking suo moto action against such individuals or videos on television?
I don’t watch such television programmes and TV shows at all, where these things are said. Don’t watch them at all.
So the suggestion that you have made for counselling, that activists and police should go identify these children...
No no, that is a misinterpretation of what I have said. Let me quote the section of the letter. It says, “in view of the seriousness of the issue and impact on children, you are requested to issue necessary direction to the DCPO along with police child welfare officer to identify these children and arrange counselling sessions for them and also for their parents if necessary”. They will identify these children and there are counsellors with child protection officers anyway...
How will they identify which child is traumatised in a protest meet?
Madam, this is the counsellor’s job. They can identify these children.
What about hateful content online—on Facebook, Twitter etc. These days even toddlers have phones, and slightly older children can come across such content very easily...
Madam, we have sent a report to the concerned parliamentary committee in the past with comments about how much time children should ideally spend on the internet. We will be able to talk about it after there are discussions with the government on this.
There were reports that children were picked up and tortured by the Uttar Pradesh police. What has the NCPCR done about that?
We have taken cognizance of the matter...
What does that mean?
We have asked for reports.
From who? The police or the government?
There is an accusation that government agencies are trying to scuttle the protest at Shaheen Bagh, which is happening peacefully and it is for everyone to see...
I will wait for the district magistrate’s report. I have not been to Shaheen Bagh protest so don’t know. I received a complaint, and I forwarded it to the respective authorities and asked them to look into it.
So this complaint could also be politically motivated, right?
That the DM will investigate.
Do you take all complaints this seriously?
Do you think we do not take complaints seriously or this one shouldn’t be taken seriously?