‘He Was Sleeping During Riots’: Family of Boy Penalised Rs 2.9 Lakh Over Khargone Clashes

New Delhi: A 12-year-old boy in Madhya Pradesh has been served a notice to pay Rs 2.9 lakh in compensation for the damages he allegedly caused to public and private property when clashes broke out in Khargone during Ram Navami celebrations on April 10, Article 14 reported.

The boy’s father, Kalu Khan, has also been asked by the state’s Claims Tribunal to cough up Rs 4.8 lakh after his neighbour lodged a complaint with authorities about damages they had allegedly suffered during the clashes.

The notices were issued in accordance with the Madhya Pradesh Prevention and Recovery of Damages to Public Property Act, which was passed in December last year. The Madhya Pradesh law is modelled on a similar law enacted in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, other Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states. These laws empower authorities to recover wilful damages caused to public or private property during protests, clashes, strikes or during disturbances.

There have been allegations that the laws have been misused to selectively target members of one religious community.

The notices, which the father-son duo received, go back to the communal violence which broke out in the state’s Khargone town on April 10. It was alleged that some people had hurled stones at a Ram Navami procession, raising objections over loud and provocative music being played when the procession reached the Talab Chowk area. In the ensuing violence, one person was killed and at least 24 were injured. Ten houses went up in flames.

On April 11, authorities demolished the homes and shops of Muslims in Khargone in the aftermath of the violence.

Speaking about the notice received in his son’s name, the mother of the 12-year-old told NDTV that he had been “traumatised” since the notice was served on him and that he feared arrest.

“My son is a minor. We were sleeping when the riots happened. We want justice,” said the boy’s father, Kalu Khan. His wife Ranu lamented that her son is “constantly in fear that the police will arrest him”.

The family’s neighbour in their complaint filed with the Tribunal alleged that the two robbed and vandalised their home during the violence on April 10. Notices have also been issued to six others in the same case.

Although the family had moved a plea before the Indore Bench of the Madhya Pradesh high court for the notices to be withdrawn, it was rejected on September 12 on grounds that any such requests should be filed with the Tribunal.

“If the objection is filed, the same shall be considered and decided by the tribunal in accordance with the law,” the court order had read.

However, subsequently, the family’s plea was also dismissed by the Tribunal.

The family’s advocate Ashhar Ali Warsi alleged that the Tribunal had acted “arbitrarily without applying the essentials of law”, according to NDTV.

“The definition of the act has a clear interpretation – that the whole act is dependent on criminal status based on the Indian Penal Code. While the boy filed his objection before the Tribunal, it was rejected on vague grounds of civil procedure,” he told the news channel.

“The recoveries made within this act are criminal in nature. The tribunal has issued notice without any serious investigation of the role of the boy. The claims tribunal is fining those not yet pronounced guilty,” he added.

According to Article 14, the lawyer said the trial exposed the lacunae in the new law given that it allows juveniles to be tried under civil offences, such as destruction of property and looting during riots, even if they do not face criminal charges of rioting.

However, those associated with the tribunal disagreed with the views expressed by the family’s lawyer. “The tribunal is dealing with cases of civil nature. If it was a criminal case, the child would have got the protection of the Juvenile Justice Act… This is about the fine. The money will be recovered from his parents as they are responsible for him,” NDTV quoted an official linked with Tribunal as saying.

In the event of the family not being able to pay within 15 days, the law vests powers with the authorities to levy a 6% interest on the compensation amount to be paid. The claims have to be settled within three months. If the compensation is not paid, authorities can seize the properties of the accused.

The tribunal in question is a quasi-judicial body, but with the powers of a civil court. It is empowered to recover damages from those held guilty of destruction to public and private property caused during riots and other violence.

Featured image: Houses and shops were burnt in the violence in Kahrgone on April 10, 2022 during Ram Navami clashes. Photo: Kashif Kakvi

This article was first published on The Wire.