The Kashmiri girl who was raped by the Indian Army

Over the past month, the ‘world’s most beautiful prison’ has seen turmoil once again, with some media houses and government mouth pieces in the occupied territory shedding different shades of light on the horrific ordeal that the Kashmiri people had to face.

It all began on the after-noon of April 12, when a 16 year old school-girl was molested by an Indian army officer while going to a toilet next to her school. It was located close to a bunker of the 21 Rashtriya Rifles, placed in the center of the street. The desperate screams of the minor girl alerted people in the surrounding market and very soon, an infuriated crowd of unarmed locals had gathered, protesting the molestation of the minor girl and demanding the arrest of the army man. However, the troops in the bunker started indiscriminate firing, killing two young men and a woman and injuring at least two dozen other unarmed civilians.

Army Bunker Set on Fire by protestors, Photo: Zulkanain Bandey, JKCCS
Army Bunker Set on Fire by protestors, Photo: Zulkanain Bandey, JKCCS

The Handwara Police took the girl away as soon as the people started gathering and placed her under custody at the Handwara police station. Later that day, after the deaths of three innocent people, a video of the girl filmed by the Jammu and Kashmir police surfaced online, exonerating the army. The video, that received thousands of views online, was extensively disseminated by the Indian army, the J&K police, and television channels. However, the other side was not presented until the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) was approached for legal assistance. The minor girl was taken into custody, without any elder, and she was allowed no legal counsel before they took her statement. Neither did they attempt to properly conceal the identity of the girl for her protection. The statement of the girl, obviously filmed under undue influence and threat was coerced in addition to which it was legally unjustifiable also. The girl was kept in police custody and her father was summoned at 1 am on April 13 to the Police station to take his daughter back. He was asked to bring an extra ‘pheran’ along with him. The father, who was disallowed from accompanying his daughter to record her statement with the magistrate, later explained how his daughter was coerced, harassed and even spat on.

A protestor climbing to remove the Indian flag, Photo: Zulkarnain Bandey
A protester climbing to remove the Indian flag, Photo: Zulkarnain Bandey

On 15th, the government barred the JKCCS legal team from meeting the mother of the detained minor, who expressed her concern for the safety of her husband, sister and daughter in Police custody, and feared the use of influence and force on her family. The government denying them their legal rights, barred the movement of the JKCCS legal team beyond Ganapora village.

However, on the 16th, they finally arranged a press conference for the mother of the Handwara victim to talk to the press at the JKCCS office. That same day the internet in Kashmir was shut down. The security agencies barred the JKCCS from completing their press conference and restricted the media online from reporting on it. But the JKCCS recorded a video of the mother explaining her point of view over the matter, and Program Coordinator JKCCS Khurram Parvez, writer of the report ‘Structures of Violence’, which documents more than a thousand extra judicial killings in Indian occupied Kashmir, shared the video on his Facebook account.

The legal battle between the Indian security forces and the minor girl along with her family continued for over a month during which they were kept under ‘protective custody’ against their will. They were shifted to isolated locations and their movement was restricted. They reiterated several times and given rejected the need for protective custody many times in writing. Finally on the 12th of May, their illegal detention ended through high court orders as the parents of the minor girl had to deposit affidavits where they mentioned that they were all kept under custody wrongfully and against their will.

In one of their press releases, the JKCSS also mentioned a similar incident taking place in Handwara in 2004. Then too, an Army officer was reported to have raped a mother and her daughter. The officer was not tried in a civil court, and even though the then Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed gave assurances that the guilty officer would be punished, the officer was later reinstated in the Army.

The battle to vindicate the stance of the minor girl and her family still continues, with the JKCSS on their side against the security forces which have a history of heinous and inhumane crimes against the Kashmiri people. They have received support from activists around the globe and also from inside India. The death of at least 5 unarmed protesters, the removal of the Indian flag by protesters, and the charring down of the Rashtriya Rifles bunker in Handwara has illustrated the strain in relations between people and the occupying forces once again. This issue was never a case between an individual and an offender, but it is a battle between the people for their rights, safety and sanctity, against rogue Indian forces.

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Hasnat Sheikh

Hasnat Sheikh

Hasnat Sheikh is a civil society activist residing in Azad Kashmir.