Handwara girl speaks

For 27 days she was under police  protection. She kept denying that she was molested by the Army man, an alleged incident that triggered widespread protests in Handwara, leading to five killings. She stood by her statement before the Chief Judicial Magistrate. But when a free Handwara girl held a press conference in Srinagar on Monday, she went back on everything she said in police custody. She said she was indeed molested by the Army man. “As I was leaving the toilet, he held my hand. I screamed and this alerted the people around,” the  girl, her face masked,  told at a press conference organized by the civil liberties group Coalition of Civil Society.  She has now moved an application before the police for the arrest of the soldier. 

Earlier in a video statement shot under police custody, the girl, her face uncovered, had denied any molestation by the Army personnel. Instead, she had put the blame on some local boys for taking exception to her visit to a public washroom used generally by the soldiers from the adjacent bunker. She stuck to the version through her custody by the police while her parents – first the mother and then the father contradicted her publicly. They even filed a case in the high court seeking an end to the police protection of their daughter. But the girl clarified that whatever she had told police was under duress. “They wanted me to exonerate the Army,” she said.

The girl spoke at length about her ordeal right from the moment she was hauled to the police station to her release after her parents approached the High Court seeking an end to the police protection of their daughter. She said the policeman Mohammad Shafi Watali dragged her to the police station against her will and also verbally abused me. So did another cop Mohsin who stormed into her room, hurled invectives and then spat at her. 

And as for denying molestation in a video statement, the girl accused the police of coaxing her to make it and on the assurance that after she had made it everything will be ok.  But she was shocked when the following day she was told that the video was on the Internet and Whatsapp. “My reputation was sacrificed to save the Army man,” she said.

The girl’s volte face has further complicated an already complex situation. It has also raised some pertinent questions. People are asking why did police held the girl, including her father under protective custody when family didn’t want it? Why did police painstakingly build a narrative absolving the role of the Army man, only to see it unravel once the girl was released? Or whether the girl was telling the truth then or now when she is free of the police pressure? 

And now that the girl has changed her statement, will action follow against the policemen who allegedly shot her video and then uploaded it to social sites. And will the soldier allegedly responsible for her molestation be arrested now? If anything,  the girl’s statement in the presence of her parents reveals a systematic attempt by the police to shield the Army. Now, ideally the action should follow. Ball is in the government’s court now.

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