Curious case of police detention of Handwara girl
On April 12, just when Army had killed three persons in Handwara over an alleged molestation of a school girl by an Army personnel, a mysterious video of the girl, her face uncovered,, was circulated on Whatsapp which soon went viral. In the video, the girl denied she had been molested by the Army. The video was made when the girl was in police custody.
She was taken to the local police station when the instant protests broke out in the town after an Army man was allegedly seen to have followed her to a public washroom near an Army bunker. She was at the police station for the two days, along with her father and the aunt and then kept at different houses under police protection. She later stood by her statement before the Chief Judicial Magistrate.
But the mother who travelled to Srinagar to address an aborted press conference contradicted the daughter. She said her daughter was indeed molested and that she had given the video statement under duress.
The situation now is that even more than three weeks after the killings which rose to five, the police continues to protect the girl. She has been moved from village to village and kept at different houses with police personnel in civvies keeping a close watch over her. Police say they have the girl under “protective custody,” and that they were doing so “at the request of the parents”.
But the parents who visited Srinagar again contradicted the police, saying they want their daughter to be left alone.
“We don’t want any police protection. We appeal to the government to end this harassment,” the father said. “We will go to our own fraternity in the village and ask them to look after us. We don’t need police.
When asked that the police has alleged that the family itself had sought the police protection for the girl, the father said they hadn’t. “Why would I seek protection.. The police would protect me and my daughter. What about the rest of family, my wife, other children? They are still in the village at their house and thus vulnerable,” he said. “So why shouldn’t I instead go to my own people. I have no threat from my them”.
Mother said that her daughter had been forced to give a video statement. “When she was in police station, she was spat at, abused and threatened and made to give the statement without her parents in attendance. And that too with her face uncovered,” the mother said. ”Now everybody knows and recognizes her. She has been made vulnerable”.
She said that her daughter never expected that she would be taken to the police station in the first place. “The cop who took my daughter to police station is from our village and is known to her,” the mother said. “When he rescued her at the market, my daughter thought he would let her go back to her home. Instead he took her police station where she was detained”.
Father said that he and his daughter have since been moved from village to village under police guard.” Police follows us everywhere. They even visit us in the night,” he said.
When asked about the girl’s statement before Chief Judicial Magistrate in which she denied that that she was molested, the father said the statement was “wrong”.
“That is a completely wrong statement. She will give the statement before the court. I will urge her to tell only the truth,” the father said adding he accompanied the girl when she gave the statement. “When she was giving the statement, I was kept outside. I was not with her. I was called in when she had already given her statement”.
The family has already filed a case in the J&K High Court seeking end to police protection of the girl. They, however, complain that the police doesn’t let them to attend the hearings. “Whenever we have hearings we are not allowed to visit the court in Srinagar. We are stopped on the way,” the parents said adding they had given police slip to reach Srinagar to inform media about their plight.
The civil liberties group Coalition of Civil Society, at whose office, the couple talked to media has also sought the immediate release of the girl.
“The girl is a complainant, not a criminal. How can police keep her under protective custody,” CCS convenor Khurram Parvez said.”Whether she alleges that army molested her or not. That is immaterial”.
The CCS has also criticized the Chairman State Women’s Commission Nayeema Ahmad Mehjoor for playing a partisan role in the matter.
“The role of the State Women’s Commission and particularly Ms Nayeema Mehjoor, during the past 14 days has been partisan, deceptive, against her mandate and extremely insensitive to the extraordinary circumstances in which the 16 year old girl finds herself,” the CCS said in a statement. “The Women’s Commission is an autonomous statutory body but Ms Nayeema Mehjoor has conducted herself as an arm of the government and police”.
And on her part, Mehjoor has blamed police for her consistent detention and for making her video. “I think the police are definitely involved in this, because at that time (when the video was made) she was in police station. She was in police custody and her identity should have been protected,” she said. “I have also asked the police to explain this, but have not got any answer yet”.
Army which officially released the video a day after it was circulated on Whatsapp has also laid the blame on police.
Army spokesman Major KS Suresh in the reply affidavit to High Court has denied any army role in the detention of the minor girl, and stated that the army was not involved in the creation of the video of the girl and “only released the video which was already existing on various social media”. “Nothing has been done by the respondents (Army) with malice,” he said.