September 14, 2020 11:30 pm

Grounded ‘Flight’ at Srinagar Airport

Representational Photo

Before she was handed over to cops along with an army man from UP posted in her village, a Bandipora girl had silently passed through some dramatic twists and turns in her life. 

AJAS, Bandipora — Barely 15 hours after her New Delhi ‘flight’ was cut short at Srinagar Airport, the 22-year-old Ajas girl began voicing her flouted story.

Along with her minor ‘niece’, the girl was caught with an army man—Lance Naik Ashok Kumar Paul of Uttar Pradesh—posted some meters away from her residence, in 13 Rashtriya Rifles camp.

Inside their two-storied, concrete house, the girl’s family wore long faces and struggled with words. They didn’t raise their eyes throughout the conversation.

Everything, they said, was going well, before they denied their daughter’s hand to one of their pushy relatives — an army soldier posted outside Kashmir.

“He stood adamant,” Ghulam Hassan (not his real name), the 60-year-old father of the girl told Kashmir Observer. “His desperation for my daughter was intimidating.”

Hassan, a small time trader, lives with six daughters, including three-married ones, and three labourer sons.

Earlier Story: Soldier Flying 2 ‘Minor’ Girls To Delhi Held At Srinagar Airport

To drive out the destitution in her family, the daughter—the one caught with soldier at Srinagar Airport—started her own Khidmat Centre, in the village, with the help of an acquaintance.

In a short span of time, she managed to get a Laptop, Xerox Machine and other essentials to run the centre.

However, getting a laptop was a “big thing” in the village, she recounted.

“My neighbours and friends started questioning me about how I managed to get the laptop,” the girl said. “Since I know they won’t believe me, so I told them it belongs to my brother-in-law.”

But the same brother-in-law’s identity would soon come to haunt her.

She would frequent his Hajin house, “to pay a visit to my sister”, before one fine day he was detained in a ‘militancy related case’.

“I used to visit my sister’s house because she was pregnant at that time,” the girl continued. “It was then, some people, who were jealous of me, started spreading rumours that I was a courier for a local militant commander.”

The wild rumours, she recalled, soon reached army camp.

And with that, she said, began an ordeal of midnight raids on her home.

“But despite repeated raids, they found nothing against me,” the girl said. “Even then, I was told that I feed militants and the commander, but the truth is, I don’t know any of them.”

Those explanations, however, hardly helped.

Since her married sister’s Hajin house was “on the radar”, the girl’s visit there only made her a suspect. Soon, she recalled, an army officer would tell her father: ‘Your daughter is working with militants!’

“I told him to give me the proof,” Hassan broke his long, disturbing silence. “I even told them: Punish her, if proven guilty.’ But they never found anything against my daughter.”

But in a small village in Ajas, the rumours were only getting rampant. First stemming from the girl’s Khidmat centre gadgetry followed by her routine visits to her sister’s home, rumours had indeed spread far and wide.

“Some even spread canards like we gave ration from our shop to militants,” the girl said. “I was aware how everybody was talking about me. Such tags and baseless allegations did an irreparable damage to my person in a place where army camp is at a stone’s throw from my home. All this started taking a huge mental toll on me,” she told Kashmir Observer, as tears rolled down on her cheeks.

While struggling in her personal life, she never forgot to take care of her ailing father. She would arrange medicines and other essentials for him.

“I literally fought with army during one of those raids, shouting: You are harassing us,” the girl said.

Kashmir Observer tried to reach out to Srinagar-based army spokesperson and senior police officials for their comments on the story. Most of them declined to share their versions, despite the recent media delegation raising the “absence of the other side” of the story with Raj Bhavan.

As and when they respond to the queries, this story will be updated.

Meanwhile, during her tumultuous time, the girl kept receiving calls from her soldier relative, whose proposal her family had rejected earlier. He questioned her about the “rumours” and “scolded” her for the same.

“He kept abusing me day-in and day-out for the same,” she said. “I was still wondering why he was calling me. Actually he had’nt given-up on me.”

During this traumatic period, she had met the army man from UP. When this reporter asked the girl how she came in contact with the soldier, she became hesitant.

“The society forced me to do this [to run away with the soldier],” she said. “First I was linked with militants, then allegation started that the army is visiting our house to seek sexual favours from me.”

The real motive behind her flight, she said, was to know the people behind her “vilification”. How? She seems to have no idea. Somehow her family believes that it was the same relative, who in a “fit of rage”, defamed her, as his “ego was hurt” after the proposal was rejected.

But as army’s erring elite counterinsurgent soldier has been released after questioning, there’re many unanswered questions which people are asking. One question is, how did the soldier come in contact with the girl? And what made her to travel with him? What was the purpose of her Delhi visit?

Clearly, as plot thickens, many say, all eyes are now on police investigation.

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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