Photo Courtesy: Business Standard
SRINAGAR: In a video statement posted on Saturday, the mother of the schoolgirl from Handwara town at the centre of a molestation storm has alleged that the police have kept her daughter and husband in “illegal detention” and that her daughter was coerced to make a statement by the police.
While hearing a petition filed by the mother for the release of the girl and her relatives, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, on Saturday asked the state government to respond to allegations that the three are being illegally detained. Posting the case for the next hearing on April 20, the court had also directed the police to present the girl before a chief judicial magistrate for the recording of her statement.
(SabrangIndia staff: The Indian Express reported on Sunday evening that the police have issued a statement according to which, while recording her statement before the chief judicial magistrate, the girl has reiterated her earlier statement that she was not molested by an army man on April 12. The police statement added as directed by the high court, the girl was produced before the chief judicial magistrate along with her father on Saturday evening).
Meanwhile, Amnesty International (AI) has issued a statement asking for the immediate release of the teenage girl, her father and aunt who are being detained by the police. “Pending their release, they must be granted prompt access to their family and lawyers. The girl has been detained since April 12, and her family members since April 13,” the AI said.
“A teenage girl who has been allegedly sexually assaulted needs to receive sensitive and respectful treatment from the authorities, and not be herself detained in police custody,” said Zahoor Wani, campaigner, Amnesty International, India. “If the family needs protection, they should receive it at a location of their choosing,” the statement added.
In the agitation following the alleged molestation, at least five unarmed persons, including a woman and a bright young cricketer, have died in army and police firing in north Kashmir then. Many more are injured, some of them critically.
Early Saturday morning, the police cordoned the office premises of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) in Srinagar where a press conference to be addressed by the girl’s mother was scheduled to be held. Print and television journalists waiting outside the JKCCS office were told to go back. “We will not allow the press conference. Section 144 is in place. Go back,” said an officer of the police intelligence department present on the spot.
It was following this that the mother of the minor girl gave a video statement in which she alleged that the police had recorded her daughter’s statement under duress. The video was released by the JKCCS. She also questioned the “illegal detention” of her daughter and husband and said that her family would feel safe only among her people in the neighbourhood, not inside a police station. Mother’s latest video statement has put the state government and the police in a spot.
Narrating her ordeal, the mother said: “After school, my daughter came out with her classmates and went to the washroom in the market. As she entered an army person emerged before her which made her scream. The boys who were there could not tolerate the shrieks of their sister. Within minutes a crowd gathered. The army and police personnel opened fire on peaceful protesters.”
“My daughter is young in her teens. She is just 16 years old. Police has pressurised her to make a statement,” the mother said, adding that her daughter has been in illegal detention for five days now.
“They (police) are not allowing us to meet her,” she added. “Our daughter has been defamed. We want her dignity back. How can we leave our homes in this condition?” she said in her video statement.
Earlier, after massive protests by the locals against the alleged molestation of the schoolgirl on April 12, the army had released a video of the girl’s statement to the police wherein she denied being molested by an army man and instead pointed fingers at a local boy. This is turn had raised questions about the propriety and the legality of the face and identity of an alleged victim of molestation being put out in the public domain.
“The act of recording a video statement of a minor girl in the absence of her family violates a minor on multiple counts. It is a shameless and illegal act,” Khurram Pervez of the JKCCS said.
“The detention of the minor girl and her father are outside the powers of the state and it appears to be an attempt to further pressurise the family to withdraw all allegations against the armed forces. Further, 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,” a spokesperson of the JKCCS said.
In its defense, the police have come out with a bizarre statement that the schoolgirl and her father were being kept in ‘preventive custody’.
Various TV news channels based in Noida, Delhi and Mumbai played the video of the schoolgirl umpteen times, but most of them did not feel it necessary to also telecast the video of the mother of the girl in which she questioned the “illegal detention” of her daughter.
Meanwhile, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti flew to Kupwara on Saturday where she chaired a high-level meeting to make an on-the-spot assessment of the situation.
“The chief minister met with the victims’ families to offer her condolences and held an interaction with prominent members of the civil society here to defuse the tense situation so that peace and normalcy is restored in the region,” a government statement said.
According to the government, Mufti is said to have made it clear that no civilian should be harmed while dealing with law-and-order situations. She also had a telephonic conversation with defence minister, Manohar Parrikar, and also met Indian army commander, Lt. Gen. D. S. Hooda and told them that incidents like the ones at Handwara and Natnusa in Kupwara were unacceptable and come as a “major setback to the efforts of the state government in consolidating peace dividends in the state”.
She also said that the Standard Operating Procedure (SoP) should not remain a mere word but become a potent tool while dealing with law-and-order situations. However, despite her repeated assurances very little appears to have changed on the ground as the armed forces continue using oppressive tactics to control protesting crowds.
Video statement of the schoolgirl put out by Indian army
Video statement of mother released by Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society: Click here for video
Full transcript of the mother’s video statement:
Innocent people were martyred by army and police after they staged protest. My daughter left for school at 10 am. School got over at 3:30 pm. She is a Class XI student, a young girl around 16 years old. After the school got over she went to the toilet. As soon as she entered the toilet, she spotted an army person there. This made her scream. After hearing her cries the people, including the shopkeepers in the market, assembled.
By the time the police arrived on the scene, the army man had fled. My daughter was taken to the police station by the police. We had no idea about it. In the meanwhile, the people started protesting and pelting stones. Why wouldn’t they react? They could not tolerate their sister being harassed. The police and army opened fire on the protesters and martyred our children. Aren’t they my children, too? I am utterly shocked and saddened. My daughter was detained and taken to police station. The army guy has gone into hiding.
For five consecutive days we have no clue about our daughter. The police have not allowed us to even meet her. In the dead of night at 1 am (April 12-13) the police made a telephone call to us. Is this justified? My young daughter is alone in their custody. She was made to make a statement under pressure. Yes, she was pressurised. They did not even cover her face. There was no one besides her. Her statement was recorded under duress.
As they called us in the middle of the night, my husband, my sister and I went to the police station. I have a slip disc problem. They had told us to come to the police station to take back our daughter. Once we reached there, they detained my husband and sister too. This is a pressure tactic.
See, my daughter is an innocent child. She is only 16. You know how innocent children of such age are. What I want is that my daughter should be immediately released. We don’t require any security. They (police) have called us only once. It is the fifth day today. I am thankful to my people in the neighbourhood who raised their voice against injustice so that no other girl is harmed in this way.
Yes, I have also filed a case in the court. Those who killed our boys should not be probing this incident. It should be investigated independently by some other agency. How can the ones who killed investigate? They cannot. That’s what we want. They have brought disrepute to my girl; we want her dignity and honour restored. She is not only my daughter. She is the daughter of Kashmir. We want dignity and respect, nothing else. And an investigation as to why our young boys were martyred. The blame is on them (army and police). Isn’t it?
(The author is a journalist, commentator and political analyst from Srinagar. He is South Asia Journalism Programme/ Chevening fellow 2015 and Munich Young Leader, 2014. He formerly served Deutsche Welle (Voice of Germany) as editor in Bonn for several years).
Also see earlier story on killing of civilians here.