BIDAR, Karnataka — In the first week of February this year, a posse of policemen arrived at the modest home of Mohammed Barkat Ali and seized his 11-year-old daughter’s slippers.
These were no ordinary slippers, Ali learnt. These were seditious slippers—vital evidence in a high-profile Karnataka police investigation to determine if a school skit on India’s controversial new citizenship law, scripted and performed by a group of nine to 11-year-olds, counted as sedition.
The police’s actions would be laughable if the only arrests were of children’s footwear. Instead, the investigation has already resulted in the arrests of Fareeda Begum, the 52-year-old headteacher of Shaheen School in Bidar, and Najbunnisa, a 26-year-old single mother whose daughter acted in the play. The two women were arrested a fortnight ago, on January 30, and are yet to get bail.
The Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 offers amnesty to non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, India’s Home Minister Amit Shah has frequently called for a National Register of Citizens to disenfranchise those who cannot produce enough documents to prove that they are Indian.
At Shaheen School, the children were asked to write and perform a play as a means to understand the implications of the new law. The Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) process of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) urges teachers to think of creative new ways for students to engage with their curriculum.
Nilesh Rakshal, a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), spotted a Facebook video of the play on his feed and was outraged by a moment where Najbunnisa’s daughter waved Barkat Ali’s daughter’s slippers in the air and said, “The boy who was selling tea till the other day is asking us for documents. I’ll ask him where he was born and where his papers are. If he does not provide them, I...