As the protests demanding the formation of a separate Gorkhaland state carved out of West Bengal enters its third week, a child rights body in the state is seeing red. The State Commission for Protection of Child Rights has sent summons to Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leader Bimal Gurung and asked him to appear before them by 11 July. The child rights body's statement comes following two incidents of children being made to participate in the Gorkhaland protests.
Ananya Chakraborty, chairperson for the state child right's body told Business Standard, "We have already sent the GJM a show-cause letter last week for rallying the kids amid such a volatile situation in Darjeeling. The kids are not safe on the streets there. After today (Monday)'s incident, we have summoned Bimal Gurung to appear in our committee office on July 11."
It must be pointed out that these weren't the first few times that children have participated in pro-Gorkhaland protests. Agency photographs show that they had been made to participate in rallies sporadically since 2013.
On 28 June, children were first seen on the frontline of a protest rally. Mumbai Mirror reported that while some of the children -- some as young as toddlers -- were dressed in traditional Gorkha attire, some had 'we want Gorkhaland' scribbled on their bare upper bodies.
Some of the children, as seen in this ABP video, have iron shackles around their bodies -- symbolic of how the Gorkha community feels to be a part of Bengal. Kids, as young as three and four years old, are seen enthusiastically shouting 'Gorkhaland, Gorkhaland' and 'we want Gorkhaland'.
According to The Telegraph, the child rights body had earlier send a notice to Bimal Gurung asking why no action was taken against party leaders who had first organised a protest putting children on the forefront. However, instead of responding to that, the GJP brought out another protest on July 3 and had children lead from the front.
Faced with criticism, party leaders have said that the participation was spontaneous. However, how children under 5 years old could have formed informed political opinions and have chosen to participate in a protest is beyond anyone's understanding. When questioned on this the GJM leaders said that parents of kids have appealed to them to make the children march demanding Gorkhaland.
In 2011, the Calcutta High Court had suggested that children be left out of political rallies. The Telegraph reports that the state had followed it up by issuing a notification banning political rallies with children. In its show-cause notice, the child rights body suggested that making them participate in a political rally is 'potentially damaging to the children's physical and cognitive development'.
It is not unusual to see children participating in protests in India. Hundreds of children participated in protests following the gangrape of a 23-year-old student in Delhi in December 2012.
However, Roshan Giri, a GJM leader who organised the rallies told the newspaper that the children had 'joined' the rallies.