Curious case of Handwara girl’s police detention

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Nayeema Ahmad Mehjoor, Chairperson of the State Commission for Women, has asked the police to withdraw the security cover of Handwara molestation victim. The girl has been in police custody and now in police protection ever since the alleged molestation bid on her by an Army personnel triggered the protests that led to the killing of five persons – four youth and an elderly woman. According to Mehjoor, the girl’s father was also supposed “to file an application with police for withdrawal of security cover,” Pertinently, the Inquiry Officer probing Handwara killings has sent reminder to Army to clear its position about the incident. Army is yet to respond. And it might not and instead seek exemption from cooperating with the government probe in the light of Armed Forces Special Powers Act. 

But what has befuddled most observers in Kashmir over the past two weeks is the control over the girl’s actions and also that of her family exercised by the police. Soon after protests broke out over the girl’s alleged molestation, police took her into custody. It was apparently at the police station itself that the girl’s video statement was taken and released on Whatsapp. It soon went viral. The girl’s face was uncovered. Incidentally, there has been no inquiry as to who took the video and who put it on social media. This was, after all, blatantly illegal. It exposed the face of the girl, making her easily identifiable and therefore vulnerable.

The video has also ensured that the stigma would haunt her all her life. The first response of the police should have been to identify the culprit who recorded the video and whatsapped it and send him to jail. But no, this hasn’t happened. Instead, police chose to keep girl in its custody. In the video, she denied that she was molested by the Army personnel but her statement raised more questions than it answered. The girl subsequently stood by her video statement before the Chief Judicial Magistrate Handwara.

But while in police custody she has maintained that she was not molested, her mother told media in Srinagar that there, indeed, was an attempt at a sexual assault on her. The mother said that the girl had made her video statement under duress.  Meanwhile, the girl and her family continue to be watched over by the police. Her free interaction with the media and the lawyers has been barred. Questions are bound to be raised as to why police is so determined to prevent the girl from returning to her normal life. Why shouldn’t she and her family be allowed to talk to the media and the lawyers. Some cops in civvies are still on her guard duty. Now Mehjoor has said that the girl will be allowed to record her statement again, ‘once she is set free”. But this seems unlikely to happen anytime soon. This has sown doubt in public mind as to why police was acting the way it was doing. And that there was something that it wanted to hide. Least that the police could do is to release the girl and let her decide for herself in a free environment. That is, if it wants to set the speculations raised by the whole handling of the tragic episode at Handwara to rest

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