On Tuesday, protests broke out in Handwara, located in north Kashmirs Kupwara district. They started after word spread that a schoolgirl had been allegedly molested by an army man as she entered a washroom. To disperse the stone-pelting crowd, the Jammu and Kashmir Police and personnel of the Rashtriya Rifles reportedly opened fire. In the skirmishes that followed, four people have been killed so far.
Several questions hang over the incident at Kupwara.
Soon after the protests spread, the army released a video which showed the girl saying she was never molested. According to this report, the girl says in the video that some local boys had grabbed her bag and refused to give it back until she went to the police station to file a complaint, that they instigated protestors soon afterwards. It is not clear who shot the video. The army spokesperson told journalists that the girl was “seen speaking to local media persons”. But the Indian Express reported that the girl was speaking to the police. This report says the girl is reportedly heard addressing a “police uncle”.
The filming and circulation of the video has raised several questions. The girl was a minor and the alleged victim of a sexual crime. Although the army spokesperson claimed that it had released the video after obscuring the face of the girl, in several versions of the video floating on social media, her face is clearly visible.
How did the original video make it to social media?
The Hindu reported that the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, a human rights group, has said that the disclosure of the identity of the victim should invite prosecution under criminal law as the videos circulation has serious ramifications for the victims security.
Why was the girl’s testimony recorded by the police instead of the district magistrate’s court? How did the army get access to the testimony?
The Indian Express reported that locals alleged that the girl may have made the statement at the police station under duress.
There is also some confusion about who opened fire first, the police or the army. But this much is known: once again, security forces have used disproportionate force to quell civilian protests in Kashmir. Protestors took to the streets armed with sticks and stones; the armed forces responded straight away with bullets.
In the bout of violence that followed, they managed to wipe out three young men barely in their 20s, and a middle-aged woman who had nothing to do with the protests.
Nayeem Qadir Bhat, aged around 22, was a brilliant student and an aspiring cricketer. A few years ago, he became the first person from Kupwara to be chosen for the national under-19 coaching camp. He also played in the state-level under-19 team and Handwaras Star Eleven. Friends remember him as a fearsome batsman who intimidated bowlers from the opposing side. Bhat’s Facebook pictures show him in cricketing whites, accepting awards or posing with teammates. One of his last posts is about friendship: “part of the glue that holds life and faith together”.
On Tuesday, Bhat was reportedly filming the protests when he was hit by bullets in the abdomen. He died on the way to the hospital.
The bullets also hit Iqbal Farooq Pir, 21, who lived in Shalpora and worked at a computer and mobile accessories shop in Handwara town. His father had been a mason. Pir, the eldest of three siblings, had to give up on his education to help earn money for the family and pay for his parents’ medical bills. And they hit Raja Begum, a resident of Langate who was working in her vegetable garden while the protests raged around her. On Wednesday, 25-year-old Jahangir Wani, who lived in Dragmulla, died of injuries from teargas shells.
Police officers have been suspended and the army has ordered a probe. But probes and suspensions have been ordered before, in the countless incidents of police and army firing in Kashmir. In most cases, the findings of the inquiry have never been public and there were no convictions. So will anyone account for these four lives now?
Whether an army man actually molested a minor on April 12 is not known yet. But the protests of the past two days reveal that the residents of the Valley are ready to believe he did. It is evident that the army in Kashmir is seen as a rapacious force that preserves its control through sexual aggression and violence.
It is a perception that has built up over several alleged cases of sexual crime, from Kunan Poshpora in 1991 to Shopian in 2009. On the long road to justice for these cases, evidence has been lost, certain accounts have been silenced and the army has been seen to be protecting its own. In the process, they have created lasting resentments against the armed forces in the Valley.
That perhaps explains why protests erupted in Handwara, even before the facts of alleged molestation could become clear. —Scroll.in
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