Five people were killed and dozens injured when security forces opened fire on protesters at Handwara in North Kashmir in the middle of April. The protest was against the alleged molestation of a girl by a soldier on 12 April. The killings and the subsequent flare-up across the Valley brought the state on the brink. Although a deceptive calm has returned to the town, 20 days after the incident the 16-year-old girl continues to remain in “protective custody” of police. On Sunday, Nayeema Ahmad Mehjoor, Chairperson of State Commission for Women (SCW) in Jammu and Kashmir, who has been under criticism over the issue, spoke to Firstpost at her residence in Rajbagh locality of Srinagar. Excerpts from the interview:
Firstpost: You have been saying that you will get this girl out of police “protection”. What are the impediments?
Nayeema Mahjoor: There are no impediments. When I met her and her father in my office I asked both whether they wanted police protection. Her father said they needed it until they felt safe. He said they would inform me when the police can withdraw the protection. That is why I told the police to keep a few personnel [outside] her house where she lives with her uncle or some relatives.
FP: Was that after you said she was facing a security threat?
NM: She had said that earlier and asked for police protection. After that the girl gave me an application in Handwara, saying she didn’t want police protection anymore, and that it should be taken off. So I took up the matter with police, and I wrote to the DG police. I spoke to the police officials concerned in Handwara, and they said they would do it.
FP: How do you see the role of the police in this case? They have come under criticism for allegedly releasing a video and revealing the identity of the girl.
NM: That is true. I think the police are definitely involved in this, because at that time (when the video was made) she was in police station. She was in police custody and her identity should have been protected. I have also asked the police to explain this, but have not got any answer yet.
FP: Do you think the police should act against people who were involved in making the video?
NM: They have to. People who are involved in this should be punished. This is a crime. When the girl was in the police station she was asking for help and not for a video of her which would be circulated.
FP: Is police creating more trouble for the girl by keeping her in their “protective custody”?
NM: That is true. I agree with it completely. Police should not keep her under their custody. If her parents are asking (because they are her guardians) for the withdrawal of protection, then the police should do it.
FP: Is there hostility towards this girl in her own town now? How do you see her life after she gets out of this?
NM: I don’t think there is hostility. But, you know, five lives have been lost because of this incident. What really happened in that place? There is anger and resentment. I could sense it after speaking to a wide range of people there. But it is not that the anger is directed at the girl. Most of them say she is a minor and they don’t know what actually transpired on that day.
I asked the parents of the girl whether they would feel safe if they go back to the same house, and the same place along with their daughter. They said yes because the neighbours wanted them back. The girl also wrote that she wanted to go back to the same school because she won’t feel threatened there. But we all have to understand that there are other elements in Kashmir. My priority is she should feel safe.
FP: Does she leave the house? Is she confined to one room?
NM: No, she is not confined to one room. She lives in a big house. They have got a huge garden. This house is fenced and she moves around freely. But I don’t think she can go out because the police won’t allow her.
FP: In all these days, has Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti ever spoken to you about this girl?
NM: Yes, two times, and the only issue was this girl. She was also worried and she said our priority was to save this girl and make her safe, no matter who has played a dirty role in the entire issue.
FP: Is it true the girl has asked for accommodation to be provided to her outside her town?
NM: She said she would feel safe if the government provided her accommodation in Srinagar. I told her that I will take up the matter. But her father said she is safe when she is with them and in their village. He wants to resettle in their village with his relatives. I had asked her parents whether we could put this girl in some school in Srinagar, but her father said no.
FP: A local human rights group has said that you should be investigated for your “prejudicial role” in the case. What do you have to say about that?
NM: I don’t mind whatever they say. They have the right to say whatever they want to. I gave them access when they wanted to meet this girl. This human rights lawyer said they were not being allowed to meet the girl by the police. I said she was in my office. They met her for fifteen minutes. When the girl was telling me stories, they were with us. The lawyers and this human rights activist were in contact with me all the time. I was getting information from the police as well as these human rights activists. It is not that I was relying only on the police’s version. I spoke to schools mates of the girl, journalists and common people. I needed the whole perspective.
FP: Have you come to any conclusion on what actually happened?
NM: No yet. We are still corroborating information and evidences and we will come to conclusion very soon.
Updated Date: May 02, 2016 15:54 PM