‘Molested’, isolated, pressurised, shuffled around
Srinagar: The minor girl, who was allegedly molested by a soldier of 21 Rashtriya Rifles on April 12 in Handwara, and her family have become prisoners of the state of affairs that has prevailed in Kashmir for decades. During protests over the incident, five persons, including a middle-aged woman, were killed in army and police firing.
In police custody since the incident, the girl at the center of it all has not been able to return to her home. She or her family cannot decide where they would like to live and freely pursue their legal options to secure their fundamental rights. Police even forcibly prevented the child from attending the hearing of her case in the High Court on April 26.
Immediately after the ‘molestation’ incident, the girl was taken into police custody where a video-recorded statement was illegally secured from her in which she vaguely dismissed the allegation. The girl has since been living out of Handwara police station, taken to spend days and nights at a stranger’s house (apparently that of a police officer) and finally confined to her maternal uncle’s house around 10 kilometers away from her own home.
While her legal counsel has had to struggle every step of the way with police officials preventing access to the girl and her family, a random duo, a man and a woman, could easily visit them and intimidate the girl asking her not to change her initial statement, according to rights activists advocating that the minor girl be freed from police custody.
When the police finally allowed the lawyers access it was a restricted meeting and only after directions from the court. According to statements issued to the press by the legal team appointed by the girl’s family, the State Women’s Commission has failed to ensure the girl’s basic freedoms, primarily a wish to freely relocate to a place of her family’s choice and away from constant monitoring and control of their movement by a set of identified police personnel.
From the statements of the girl’s legal team, and her mother’s contentions, it seems all aspects of the case are being controlled by the police. The Court scheduled the case for the next hearing on May 2.
Here is a timeline of what the girl and her family has had to deal with since their lives were severely disrupted:
12 April: The schoolgirl was seen coming out of a toilet, a part of a towering bunker of 21RR adjacent to her school. Within minutes, allegation that a soldier from the bunker molested her inside the toilet spread in Handwara town and protests began. A police official dragged the minor girl to the nearby police station and her cell phone was taken away. The army personnel took refuge in their bunker as protesters outside vehemently sought arrest of the accused soldier. Army resorted to indiscriminate firing resulting in the killing of three people, including a woman some four kilometers away from the site of the protests. Many protesters were injured.
12 April: While in police custody, a statement of the minor girl was video recorded which found its way to journalists and TV channel newsrooms in Delhi.
13 April: The girl remains in police custody at Police Station Handwara. Her father and aunt were brought in at 1 AM and detained, their mobile phones taken away.
14 April: The three spend the day in custody of PS Handwara.
15 April: A little after midnight the girl and her family members are taken to a stranger’s house in Shehlal, a village in Handwara around 10 kilometers away from the girl’s home. They spend the night there with police personnel on guard.
16 April: Again taken to PS Handwara from where policemen take the father and daughter to record a statement in front of a magistrate under directions from a court. The girl testified in presence of some unknown persons. Both the father and the minor girl were coerced to testify as per their directions. She was also told by the police that she should say she was born in 1997 and she did so under coercion. The girl and her family members spend the night at Zachaldara, at her maternal uncle’s house with policemen on guard.
16 April: The High Court issued a notice for the police to file a status report and explain under what authority and laws the girl was being kept under police custody. The court also directs that the girl should not be presented before the media.
16 April: Police ban a press conference where the mother of the girl was slated to speak. But she manages to issue a video recorded statement to the media dismissing her daughter’s video as taken under duress and demands the girl and her father be released from police custody.
17 April: Police custody at Zachaldara continues.
A woman officer from the State Commission for Women meets the girl.
The police interrupt a meeting of the girl’s legal counsels with her and her relatives. The lawyers are taken to police post Zachaldara from where they were asked to return to Srinagar.
18 April: In the morning, police inform the girl about an imminent threat to her safety. At 10 in the night the family is shifted by the police to a stranger’s house, again against their will, this time to Wadoora village.
19 April: The girl remains in police custody at the stranger’s house in Wadoora. The girl tries to reach out to IG of Police over phone, but he did not respond. She then manages to speak with Nayeema Mahjoor, chairperson of SCW and protests harassment by police. Following this, police officer Masroor Ahmad questioned the girl about calling the IGP and seized her mobile phone again. Later the girl found out that contact numbers of IGP, Nayeema Mahjoor and members of her legal team were manipulated.
20 April: The High Court directs that a meeting between the girl and her legal team be facilitated.
On the same day, the Court also ordered to club together the Public Interest Litigation filed by Bar Association of Kashmir and the petition filed by the girl’s legal team (611/2016 OWP ).
20 April: The girl and father continue to remain under police custody at Wadoora.
21 April: Her lawyers meet the girl at Zachaldara with great difficulty. But police prevented other members of the formally appointed legal team from meeting the girl.
22 April: The girl and her father continue to remain in police custody at Zachaldara. Police bring the two to SCW office in Srinagar. The girl’s legal team initially not allowed during the meeting which was taking place in the presence of two police officials. The girl confirms to SCW that she is under continuous police custody and that she wished to be relocated to a safer location in Srinagar immediately. The SWC Chairperson promised to look into this and directed the police to not disturb the girl and her family inside the house in Zachaldara where they were being held.
23 April: Despite SCW orders the father-daughter duo remained in police custody at the Zachaldara house.
23 April: A woman and a man, who identified themselves as Saleema and Mohammad Shafi from Panzalla in Rafiabad, both unknown to the girl’s family, were allowed to meet the minor girl inside the Zachaldara house. The girl later revealed to her lawyers that the man and the woman firmly advised her that she stick to the statement given to police and CJM.
24 April: The girl and her father continue to remain in police custody at the Zachaldara house.
25 April: Police continue to restrict the girl to the Zachaldara house.
25 April: Her lawyers visit the girl at Zachaldara and an application written by her is sent to SWC Chairperson specifically citing intimidation by some police personal and reminding the SWC of the earlier request for relocating the family to Srinagar.
26 April: The girl and her father not allowed to travel to Srinagar for attending the High Court hearing, stopped at nearby police post of Zachaldara. The girl called up Nayeema Mehjoor as she was stopped from traveling any further. The SCW chairperson asked her to pass the phone to police officer Masroor Ahmad who was present at the police post. But the officer refused to speak to the SCW chairperson and declined permission for the girl to move towards Srinagar.
At SWC, the legal team meets the chairperson Nayeema Mehjoor and formally handed over the copy of the application written by the minor girl.
In the meeting, the chairperson informed that she will visit the minor girl soon and look into the possibility of bringing her to Srinagar. The minor girl and her family have been demanding that they want an end to the restrictions imposed on them by police.