Srinagar: A civil society group monitoring the Handwara ‘molestation’ case that led to the killing of five civilians on Sunday described the State Commission of Women (SCW) and its chairperson Nayeema Mehjoor’s role as “partisan and deceptive”.
The Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), which has provided legal counsel to the 16-year-old girl, who is at the center of the case, said Mehjoor has “conducted herself as an arm of the government and police” despite the fact that the SCW is an autonomous statutory body.
The minor girl, a student at the higher secondary school in Handwara, has been in police custody since April 12 when the locals in Handwara protested over an alleged sexual assault on her by a soldier in the vicinity of a concrete bunker.
The army had fired at the protesters, killing two youngsters, while a woman returning from an orchard was hit by a stray bullet at some distance from the spot of protests and firing.
Two more civilians were killed in subsequent protests in the district in following days.
The girl has been under police surveillance since. Her video statement purportedly recorded in police custody was leaked and then circulated by an army spokesman in Srinagar.
“Nayeema Mehjoor has been seized of the case of the Handwara minor girl since 17 April 2016 when a member of the SCW met the girl and father at their location of custody, and 22 April when she herself met the minor girl and her father at the SCW office in Srinagar,” the JKCCS said in a statement.
The JKCCS statement the legal team of the minor girl, representing her before the High Court through her mother, had advised the girl and her family to seek the assistance of the SCW as the priority was the immediate release of the girl from “oppressive and debilitating police custody.”
“The role of the SCW, 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 SCW is an autonomous statutory body but Ms Nayeema Mehjoor has conducted herself as an arm of the government and police,” the statement said while referring to Ms Mehjoor’s quotes published in a local newspaper on Sunday.
“The newspaper carried inaccurate and prejudicial quotes of Nayeema Mehjoor regarding the minor girl and the case yet again,” the statement said.
The CCS said that the minor girl and family in all interactions with Ms Nayeema Mehjoor, including in two written applications, have consistently maintained that they are under police custody against their will and want to be immediately released.
The family and the girl had also maintained that the statements made by the minor girl in the “illegal video recording” and before the judicial magistrate were made under duress and do not reflect the real testimony of the minor girl, the statement said.
“Despite this clarity from the minor girl, Nayeema Mehjoor has repeatedly been quoted in the media as stating that the girl is under police protection and the newspaper quotes her as stating ‘so far the girl did not change her statement. She repeated what she has deposed before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Handwara’. This is a complete misrepresentation of what the girl in fact told Nayeema Mehjoor,” the statement added.
Further, the statement said, Mehjoor is “prejudging and taking sides on the issue of whether the girl is under protection or custody when, in fact, this is the “entire dispute before the High Court between the police on one hand and the girl and family on the other”.
“Sexual assault cases, particularly involving minors, require of all persons a great deal of sensitivity and restraint. This is particularly important for individuals in public positions such as the Chairperson of SCW. Ms Nayeema Mehjoor has repeatedly misrepresented the girl and family, and effectively toyed with them over the last fourteen days,” the statement added.
The CCS demanded investigation into Mehjoor’s role. “Ms Nayeema Mehjoor’s statements and interventions are, and necessarily must be, subject to investigations especially as the case is also before the High Court,” the statement said.
Mehjoor, a former radio Kashmir employee was nominated Chairperson of the SWC during the first stint of PDP-BJP coalition under Mufti Muhammad Sayeed in 2015. She was a London-based broadcaster with BBC Urdu Service before joining Peoples Democratic Party. She is believed to be a friend of chief minister Mehbooba Mufti who paved way for her entry into politics and the post.