Monday, 3 October, 2022
HomeOpinionSupreme Court can’t care for Shaheen Bagh children more than the parents

Supreme Court can’t care for Shaheen Bagh children more than the parents

The infant was at Shaheen Bagh because his parents were protesting, and unless you are well-off, reliable childcare is beyond the means of most people.

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Like God supposedly does, the Supreme Court of India works in mysterious ways. Even as we lament the fact that it has delayed deciding on important petitions involving the violation of people’s fundamental rights, the Supreme Court has acted upon a letter written by a 12-year-old against the involvement of children in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh protests. While issuing notices to the Union and Delhi governments after an infant died at the protests, the court asked: “Was a four-month-old child there to protest?”

Well, it’s easy to answer why an infant was at the scene of the protests, but harder to answer to what extent should older children make — and be used to make — political and public arguments.

The infant was at Shaheen Bagh because his parents were protesting, and unless you are well-off, reliable childcare is beyond the means of most people. That is why we in India are witness — and oblivious — to infants at hazardous locations like construction sites, footpaths and traffic signals.

Parents feel their children are safer in such dangerous places than at the alternative, if at all there is one. It is an indictment of both Indian society and the Indian state that this should be the case. The exact sequence of arguments in the Supreme Court is unclear but the advocates for the Shaheen Bagh protesters ought to have argued that the best place for infants is at the side of their breastfeeding mothers.


Also read: Karnataka anti-CAA school play: Should children not participate in political movements?


Politics of convenience

A much harder question to answer is the extent to which older children ought to be engaged in politics and public discourse.

Unless in the most exceptional cases, children’s involvement in politics is supported, encouraged, managed or instigated by the adults in their family. There is a long history of children waving flags, dressing up as political leaders, holding ideological banners or singing songs in support of political causes. Our reaction to these images depends on our politics: we tend to approve of these actions when we support the cause, and are horrified when we don’t. We are not horrified if little children celebrate violence or martyrdom, provided they are doing it for the ‘right’ cause. Most of the time, therefore, adults’ opinion on children in politics is unconsciously self-serving.

Now, no liberal society should bar children from engaging in politics. The question is how should a liberal society deal with them. We know that most of the time, the child’s politics is greatly influenced by the immediate family and community. We also know that children can be used to disarm opponents, their innocence deployed to silence critics.


Also read: How India protested when there was no WhatsApp or Instagram


Look at arguments, not age 

Seventeen-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, whom the Shaheen Bagh lawyers’ cited in the court, is a good example. If you agree with her political views — yes, views on environmental protection are political — you are likely to approve of her speeches and activism. We are told that we should listen to her arguments and do what she recommends because she is so young, and a lot of people do. Disagreeing with her invites charges of being heartless, rude or dismissive. I do not doubt that Thunberg is really passionate about the cause she espouses, but only the credulous will believe that there is no strategy and marketing behind the Greta Thunberg phenomenon. Just like it took a lot of money to keep M.K. Gandhi poor, it takes a lot of adults for a child to occupy space in the public discourse.

Despite this, we should neither disallow nor discount the arguments that children make. What we should do, to the extent that they affect public policy, is to treat their arguments in the same way as we would if they were adults. Greta Thunberg the person should be entitled to special treatment on account of being a teenager. But Greta Thunberg’s arguments should not be entitled to any special privilege on account of her age. They should be examined and debated with the same rigour as those made by any adult. So too our 12-year-old bravery award winner: her arguments too must not be dismissed because of her age, nor must they be accorded special privilege.

Whether or not children should be kept away from protest sites is not a decision for the Supreme Court to make. It is a decision that rightly belongs to — and is best left to — their parents or legal guardians. No organ of state cares more for the well-being of the child than the parent. No organ of state is more equipped than the parent to weigh the trade-off between the risks of participating in a protest against the value of doing so. As much as the Supreme Court is concerned about the welfare of infants and children, it must not intervene in the private matter of the choices that parents make for their children. After all, the Supreme Court is not responsible for the consequences of its decisions. Parents are.

The author is the director of the Takshashila Institution, an independent centre for research and education in public policy. Views are personal.

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31 COMMENTS

  1. The author should be congratulated for his forthright views. If the parents do not have a safe place to keep their breast-fed children they have to carry them to a place wherever they go even if it is a place of protest. If the SC had solved their ggenuine grievances of their rights vis-a-vis CAA etc. in time this situation would not have risen.

  2. Typical liberal left argument not burdened by logic or reality. Using children to trigger an emotional response is the oldest trick in the book..Cant afford childcare ? A very low IQ argument if there was one.. The author would do well not to breed any children of his own. He would gladly leave his children to fend for themselves and then claim cant afford childcare. One advice : Please quit writing and get another job and earn your living in an honest way.

  3. Author is a dumb idiot to justify an infant to be in protests, these people want to kill their own to gain sympathy and media attention. What are they protesting against, why should a country not legitimize their citizens. Are we suppose to leave borders open for people to come over and settle no country does that. If you are a citizen you have nothing to worry, if you are not follow the law and relocate to where you belong or get a valid residence status which is a norm in any country.

  4. Didn’t know takshila produced shallow and inbred like this author.

    4 month old dying is on the parents.

    6 year old spewing venom against caa is on parents.

    Parents taking their kids to protest are putting them in harms way, stampeded riots or any disaster.

    At this tender age it’s not free will but indoctrination what these kids are parroting and future jihadis.

  5. Muslim women participating in anti-CAA protests have compromised with the child safety for their selfish goals. This author often justifies anything that is done against BJP’s interests. Nonsensical arguments of this author can’t be bought by SC.

  6. With such opinions no wonder India fares so poorly on child welfare with some of the highest rates of child mortality, abuse and malnourishment. In any civilised country social welfare takes over children’s upbringing of parents, if they are not found up to it. Nothing justifies putting a child at risk including protests and revolutions.

  7. Its easy to write an article where you cannot argue with the writer. the matter is still in court. you can contact the lawyer defending the protestors and feed him with your erudite arguments. you will find out whether you are right or wrong.

  8. Absolutely wrong viewpoint.child under the age of 6 months have their working mothers out on maternity leave.For the sake of her child she should have stayed home

  9. ‘No organ of state cares more for the well-being of the child than the parent. No organ of state is more equipped than the parent to weigh the trade-off between the risks of participating in a protest against the value of doing so.’

    Well Mr Tintin, in civilized soceities the parents have responsibilities towards their children. In the US, if children are found in a car without a child seat the parents can be arrested and charged. You cant make an argument that the parents are too poor to afford a car seat.If the parents expose their children to a dangerous situation then they are liable for criminal charges.

    ”Parents feel their children are safer in such dangerous places than at the alternative, if at all there is one. It is an indictment of both Indian society and the Indian state that this should be the case.”

    Mr Tintin, do you mean India is such a dangerous place for children,that people have to take their children to potentially violent protests and feel safe there. And that you can publish such frivolous drivel from the safety of your home and nothing happens to you. Imagine if you were in China, you would have been shot by the time such drivel is published. Be greatful for the rights given to you by the Indian Constitution.

  10. The child died at home in his bed and not at shaheen baugh. Unless a post mortem report specifies what he died of, it is ridiculous for the supreme court and the plaintiff to jump to conclusions. What is the difference between a construction site woman who brings her kid to work at a potentially hazardous site, and a human rights activist who brings her kid to her place of work be it a safe satyagraha sit-down like Shaheen baugh or UN activist like Angelina Jolie who was pregnant when she visited Iraq warzone. Maybe the SC should be thundering at cops who grabbed blankets from activists in Lucknow in the bitter cold.

  11. Mr Pai,

    This comes from a fellow Goan based in Mumbai. Please tell me if its ok for women and children who do not understand what even the acronym CAA stands for to protest randomly along an arterial road causing disruption and inconvenience to millions?? Secondly, your argument is so western that it makes me laugh….I am from a well off family, when my parents were protesting against labour policies of the Maharashtra govt, my mom and an infant me would stay at home while dad went to protest. This unfortunate incident happened because the lady wanted 500 rs. more for herself and to show the world that look we have a baby with us. This is manufacturing unrest in the most simple way. Just threaten people by saying that the govt and Modi are out to get them and voila….a bunch of uneducated, home makers come out and start protesting for what they do not know. Furthermore, its sad how educated people like you are supporting this farce. Shame!

  12. Very well argued. Child protection should definitely be a priority but mothers can not be imprisoned in the name of child protection. To fulfill her function as a conscientious citizen, the mother could either take her child along or she could leave it alone at home – she chose to do what thousands of poor mothers do every day – keep her baby with her at all times. if the court is sensitive to this issue, it should instruct the government to prioritize child-care and baby-sitting facilities – including for the domestic workers who are forced to leave their young children tied up at home, a complete crack-down on child labour including in tea-shops and fire-works industry and a general culture of society as a whole taking responsibility for kids – not only the mothers.

  13. The protesters have made their point. This has forced the Centre to backtrack on NRC. Without NRC, CAA is benign. BJP has lost three consecutive state elections. Hope that BJP will realise the futility of adopting radical Hindu majoritarianism. It is not paying any political dividends. As such to continue protest indefinitely is absurd and irrational. The Delhi elections should be eye-opener for both supporters and protesters of CAA. The Shaheen Bag has been carried out too far. People can become sick of continuous protests and this was evident in the Delhi elections. Congress opposed CAA, it got a zero. BJP’s tally has improved despite CAA protests. AAP simply ignored Shaheen Bag. They have got a thumping majority. CAA is being contested in the Apex Court. The protests should pause now.

  14. Absolute nonsense no wonder western countries are way ahead when it comes to child rights. It is nothing less than a stupid argument. A 4 month baby who is vulnerable to disease even in the most favourable of conditions at home is brought out on the street by his/her parents who are protesting in a place which is highly charged with emotions and anger and advocates are making such imbecilic arguments. Both the mother and child should have stayed at home.

    To the man above who is indulging in whatboutery about judgements of the court he must understand each case is dealt with on its own merits. Delhi is not kashmir, Kashmir was prone to violence and political turmoil for the last 70 years and what are you trying to point out? Anyone can even ask where was the SC when mobs of muslims threatened kashmiri pandits with rape and murder if they don’t leave.

    • Kids ideally should not come to any protests whatsoever, but ours is not a ideal world , our impoverished country much less so , the supreme court commenting on a single kid is the height of supreme incredulity. Courts of India I believe should have better things to do.

  15. The author is ignorant of the law. Parents have a duty of care to the children. They are supposed to act in the best interest of the child. If the parents fail to act in the best interest of the child then the State will take custody of the children. In this instance a strong case can be made for criminal negligence by the parents

  16. Extremely poor argument.

    If parents knowingly or unknowingly bring their children into harms way.. culpability can be established and it can be termed manslaughter.

    We are not cave men that the safety of the child is sole prerogative of the parents and in the event of death, it’s just a sad accident with no culpability. You live in a society with laws.. surprise surprise!

    If there is no adequate child care, and taking a child for protest would harm him/her in any manner, then safety of the child and his life holds precedence over the protest.

    So stop writing these silly articles online, where people with common sense can also come across them.

    Print pamphlets and distribute in villages like shaheen bagh where majority don’t have any common sense and they will blindly agree.

    • all those kids that get hurt every diwali, all those who are given prasaad and get food poisoning… who is worried about them? while safety of a child is paramount, one cannot tie-up the mother at home – if society cannot provide child care, the mum has the right to do the best she can to balance her role of a mother and an autonomous human.

  17. The issue is around neglect and if it was criminal or not. That is something the legal system is well positioned to address.

  18. _Shaheen Bagh:_ “One can’t block the road forever:” ~ Supreme Court

    *But one can lock a state for months together.*🤷🏻‍♂

  19. I have nothing against the protests. In a democracy people have rights to protest against govt or an act of law. But I strongly disagree with the headline. A civilised society should interfere when children are abused or seem to have been abused by even the parents.

  20. How silly can your contributors get? If protestors have children, they must stay out of politics of protest. This commen sense matter does not occur to the writer of this trash. Probably, children also get paid per head for appearing in the protest venue. Hence, participation of children. None of these protests can happen unless someone is footing the bill: AAP? Pakistan? PFI? what else?

  21. I think this is a lame argument .
    Children’s rights include
    Right to Protection:
    • Right to be protected from all sorts of violence
    A protest site is not a safe environment for a child If any violence breaks out, injury or harm to children could be used as a emotional tool to exploit people’s emotions, which the media and politicians of the country are already good at.

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