Srinagar: The Army Chief, General Dalbir Singh Suhag, on Sunday visited Jammu and Kashmir to discuss with local commanders the situation arising out of the shooting incidents in frontier Kupwara district in which five protesters were killed and few others injured earlier this week.
The protests were sparked by an alleged molestation of a 16-year-old student in a public lavatory close to an Army camp in north-western town of Handwara on April 12. The Valley also witnessed shutdowns and official curfews and violent clashes, leaving 202 security personnel and 27 civilians injured.
On April 12, word spread in Handwara, 72-km from Srinagar, that a local school girl has been molested by an Army jawan inside the lavatory. Soon irate crowds took to the streets but were confronted by police and Army which opened fire, killing two youth and a 53-year-old woman and injuring another person.
The girl who is since in police custody along with her father and aunt on Sunday reiterated that she did not see any Army soldier inside the lavatory and that it were two local youth who harassed and even slapped her as she was leaving the place.
Soon after arriving at the headquarters of Northern Command (NC) in garrison town of Udhampur, Gen. Suhag closeted with chief of NC Lt. Gen. DS Hooda and corpse commanders and other senior Army officers for a review of the situation. “Lt. Gen. Hooda briefed the Army Chief on the overall security situation in the command theatre,” defence spokesman Colonel S. D. Goswami said.
He added, “The Army Chief interacted with the Corps commanders and took a firsthand assessment of the prevailing internal security situation specifically in view of the recent incidents at Handwara and Natnusa (in Kupwara district)”.
On Friday evening soon after a teenage boy was killed and three other protesters were injured in Army firing at Natnusa, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, spokes to Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar, on the phone to urge him to ensure the Army exercises restraint in dealing with the unrest. Earlier, she also met Lt. Gen. Hooda, and told him that Handwara and Natnusa like incidents come as a major setback to the efforts of the State government in consolidating peace dividends in the state and are hence unacceptable.
While the State government ordered a judicial inquiry into the April 12 incident at Handwara, the Army is on its own probing it and also the Natnusa shooting and has assured that “anybody found guilty will be dealt as per the law.”
The school girl on Saturday evening recorded her statement before the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Handwara in which she stood by her earlier statement that she was not molested by any Army soldier. A statement issued by police here on Sunday said that the girl (name withheld) was along with her father produced before the CJM (Handwara) and her statement was recorded in case FIR Number 130/2016 registered at the local police station under sections 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent), 341 (wrongful restraint) and 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty) of the State’s Ranbir Penal Code.
In her statement before the CJM, “she revealed that on 12-04-2016 after school hours while proceeding to her home with her friend she entered in a public lavatory near main chowk Handwara for answering the call of nature,” the police station said. It added “As soon as she came out of lavatory she was confronted, assaulted and dragged by two boys and her bag was snatched. One of the boys was in school uniform”.
Earlier during the day on Saturday, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court had directed the police to cite the law under which it has detained the girl. The student, her father Muhammad Akbar Ganai and aunt Zeba Begum were detained by police even though a video was circulated by Army on April 13 showing the girl saying she was, in fact, harassed by two local youth and that there was no Army jawan present in the public lavatory where she was believed to have been molested the previous day.
The video released by the Army was apparently recorded in a police station and the girl’s family had said she has not been allowed to return home since and that, on Wednesday night, her father was called to the Handwara police station. Later her aunt was also detained.
Taja Begum, mother of the girl, filed a petition before the High Court seeking release of her daughter and two other relatives from “illegal detention” of police. In her petition, she pleaded that her daughter, husband and sister have been kept in illegal detention in violation of the constitutional rights guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. She also said that she fears that the lives of her minor daughter, husband and sister are in jeopardy.
Besides issuing notice to the state, Justice M. H. Attar directed the Superintendent of Police Handwara and SHO of the concerned police station to tell the court under which law they have detained the minor girl, her father and aunt. The court also directed the police to present the girl before the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Handwara or a judicial magistrate at the nearest place for recording of statement. The court issued notice to the respondents asking them to file objection to the petition. The case has been listed for next hearing on April 20.
Referring to the video circulated by the Army on Wednesday, Ms. Begum had said earlier that her daughter had given the statement under pressure. She said that after school, her daughter went to the washroom close to an Army camp in the town’s main square and when she was inside an Army jawan emerged and she began screaming. “The boys who were there could not tolerate the screams of their sister. A crowd assembled. The police and Army opened fire,” she said....