India women facing sedition charges over school play get bail

Karnataka Reserve Policemen beat two men on a motorcyle during protests againstIndia
Karnataka Reserve Policemen beat two men on a motorcyle during protests againstIndia's new citizenship law  

Two women held for two weeks by Indian police on sedition charges over a school play which allegedly criticised a contentious citizenship law have been granted bail, officials said Sunday.

Teacher Fareeda Begum, 50, and parent Nazbunnisa, 36, were arrested on January 30 for helping the children stage the play at Shaheen Public School in Karnataka state.

The play depicted a worried family talking about how they feared the government would ask millions of Muslims to prove their nationality or be expelled from India.

They were detained under a British colonial-era law after a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party claimed the children insulted the Hindu-nationalist leader in the play.

India has been gripped by widespread street demonstrations against the law that grants citizenship to religious groups from three neighbouring countries, but excludes Muslims.

Nearly 30 people died in the months-long protests, including two in Karnataka, which is ruled by Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party.

The women were denied bail multiple times before a court set them free late Saturday on a personal bond of $1,400 each.

"The accused have been released on bail but we will continue with our investigations," an officer told AFP.

Officers visited the school at least five times to quiz children about the play and gather evidence against the accused.

Critics accuse the police of misusing the law amid a public outcry and several protests after videos showing officers interrogating the children -- aged between nine and 11 years -- went viral on social media.

The citizenship law, combined with a mooted national register of citizens, has stoked fears that India's 200 million Muslims will be marginalised.

The British-era sedition law enacted in 1860 carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Prosecutions are rare but it has frequently been used against critics of the government of the day.

Activists say authorities use it to stifle dissent.


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