Handwara girl’s video snowballs into major controversy

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SRINAGAR: A major controversy has erupted over the video of a girl released by the army in their defence to prove that the molestation charges were intended to malign the soldiers on duty in the Handwara township.

This comes on the day when the authorities suspended the mobile internet services amidst the curfew in the parts of the Kashmir valley.

“It (release of video) tantamounts to defaming the girl. We do not know who the girl is. It can be cooked up story. If she had to make a statement the army would have brought her before the magistrate concerned or in Srinagar not necessary in Kupwara. They (army) cannot do it (release the video) even if her face is blurred,” said Zaffar Ahmad Qureshi, senior advocate at Jammu and Kashmir high court.

Violent protests had rocked Handwara township on Tuesday after locals alleged that a girl was molested by the army trooper when she entered into a public washroom. Four people have so far died in the security forces firing on the protestors.

Indian army on Wednesday released a video in which a school girl is seen apparently giving a clean chit to the soldiers in the molestation case and blaming an unidentified boy for inciting people at Handwara town on Tuesday.

“It (video) does not hold any water before the court of law. Only the statement made before the magistrate has evidential value,” said Qureshi.

Main opposition National Conference too questioned the authenticity of the video saying it was not feasible (for army) to make it public. “It was not feasible to release the video. If any video is there, it should have gone to the judicial magistrate heading the enquiry not to be made public. Again we do not know whether she is the same girl”, said Junaid Azim Mattu, National Conference spokesman.

Indian Army defended the release of video saying it was done after authentication. “Video has been released after verification. It has been verified and released that is all I can say,” said Colonel NN Joshi, defence spokesman at Srinagar.

Even as political parties spar over the video, authorities suspended the mobile internet in parts of Kashmir in a bid to avoid the rumor mongering on the social media.

This is despite the fact strict curfew was imposed in parts of Kupwara district to avoid any law and order breakdown. Curfew like restrictions continued for the second day in the area falling under the jurisdiction of six police stations in Srinagar.

Police has, meanwhile, detained the 16-year-old student and her father. The video was apparently recorded in a police station on April 12 and her family said she has not been allowed to return home since.

It said that on Wednesday night, her father was also called to the Handwara police station. After reporting to the police, along with his brother, his whereabouts are not known and the family has been denied access to the girl and her father. 

Civil society sees it as a pressure tactic by the police to force the family to withdraw the allegations against the Army. “The manner in which the video has been recorded and then circulated is a gross violation of the special protections afforded to minors, particularly during investigation of sexual assault cases. The actions of the police and the Army would necessarily invite criminal prosecution if investigated,” the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society said in a statement here.

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