Authorities in India’s eastern state of Bihar have been criticised for arresting an eight-year-old Muslim boy accused of rioting after clashes broke out during a Hindu religious event.
The boy, a resident of Barharia village in Bihar’s Siwan district, was granted bail by a local court on Wednesday, nearly a week after he was arrested.
His family told Al Jazeera he had gone for afternoon prayers on September 8 with his 70-year-old grandfather when violence erupted during a procession to mark the annual Hindu festival of Mahavir Akhara.
“We don’t know what happened near the mosque. We later heard there were some clashes during a Hindu rally and Muslims were randomly arrested at the mosque,” Shama Parveen, the boy’s cousin, told Al Jazeera. The boy’s grandfather was granted bail on Tuesday.
Barharia residents say the clashes on September 8 started after dozens of saffron-clad men carrying sticks and iron rods gathered outside a local mosque and chanted Islamophobic slogans.
“Instead of catching the rioters, the police are targeting Muslim children. The police personnel should be given strict punishment and the family members of the child should get compensation,” Muslim parliamentarian Asaduddin Owaisi tweeted.
The area’s Hindus allege the clashes began after their rally was pelted with stones by the Muslims.
“Muslims first stopped the rally saying they were praying. We stopped and later they threw stones from the top of the mosque,” Rajan Kumar Singh, a member of the far-right Hindu group, Bajrang Dal, told Al Jazeera.
Praveen Prabhakar, a police officer in Barharia, told Al Jazeera police arrested people from both communities over the clashes.
“The procession (Hindu rally) was pelted with stones and if people had any problem, they should approach the administration. We suspect the incident happened in a planned way. In (the boy’s) case, his video of stone-pelting came to us,” he said.
Police say more than two dozen people, including 10 Hindus, were booked for rioting, attempted murder and disturbing a religious assembly. Nearly 20 people have been arrested so far, they said.
Police also recorded the boy’s age as 13, though his family rejected the claim. His birth certificate accessed by Al Jazeera also showed he was eight.
The Indian Penal Code says the acts of a child – defined as being between seven and 12 – cannot be considered offences until the child has “attained sufficient maturity of understanding to judge the nature and consequences of his conduct”, Indian news website Scroll.in said.
Shama told Al Jazeera the family has been in shock and helpless since the boy’s arrest. “We were shocked. How could an eight year old be accused of a crime that he did not commit?” she asked.
She said they found the boy’s hands were “tied like a criminal” when they visited him in police custody. “He cried and wanted to go home, but we were helpless.” She also alleged the boy was imprisoned with adults in violation of the law and was shifted to a juvenile home only two days later.
Muslims in India comprise nearly 14 percent of its 1.35 billion population. Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, the community has witnessed an escalation in hate speech and violence by right-wing Hindu groups who want to turn a constitutionally secular India into an ethnic Hindu state.
Dozens of Muslim activists, journalists and even students have been arrested under stringent laws and are languishing in jails, many without trial.
Khaja Aijazuddin, a lawyer based in the southern Telangana state, told Al Jazeera the arrest of the boy is a case of violation of the rights and “bias towards the minority Muslims”.
“It was not even an arrest but illegal detention. The Juvenile Justice Act was not followed in the case of this eight-year-old boy. The law enforcement authorities are not working according to the law, they are working for political executives,” he said.
Sartaj Alam contributed to this report from India’s Jharkhand state.