A human rights body on Thursday accused the Handwara Police of detaining a minor and her family to protect the army, one of whose personnel is accused of molesting the girl, and pressurising them into withdrawing all allegations.
Though police countered the claim, saying the girl and her family were willingly under protective custody, the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) claimed they were approached by the girl’s family seeking legal counsel to rescue the girl.
The organisation, which works for victims of human rights violations in the Valley, also issued an urgent appeal for the release of the 16-year-old and her father, stating the detention is “outside the powers of the State”. They further alleged that the girl has been in custody from April 12, according to the family.
“Last night (Wednesday), around 1 am, the father of the victim was called to the Handwara police station. He was accompanied by his brother. Since then his whereabouts are not known. The family has been denied access to both the minor girl and her father,” the statement read.
Speaking to Hindustan Times, deputy Inspector General of Police, north Kashmir, Uttam Chand confirmed the family were in police custody, but willingly so.
“The girl, along with her father and mother, is in our protective custody,” he said.
Violence spread through Kashmir after two young men died on Tuesday from army fire during a protest. The men were part of a group agitating against the army for the alleged molestation of the school girl inside a public washroom by an army man in Handwara, Kupwara. A 50-year-old woman died a day later from a bullet wound.
Another youth was killed on Thursday during protests against the earlier deaths in the district when he was hit by a teargas shell on Wednesday.
The army expressed regret at the deaths and launched an investigation into the matter . However, they refuted the claims of rape and released a video of the girl absolving them . The army remained tight-lipped over the origin of the video.
“The identity of the victim is revealed through this video that appears to have been recorded by the police and then widely circulated by army and Indian media,” the JKCCS statement said.
“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,” the statement said.
The JKCCS claimed that the state, under the garb of law and order, is ensuring “all access to the family of the victim is denied so as to ensure protection to the armed forces personnel” and was further distracting from the crimes committed – “from the sexual assault to the killings”.
“Any suggestion that the State is seeking to ‘protect’ the minor girl and family must be rejected in the circumstances of this case and the actions of the police. Any protection, if necessary, must be provided at the residence of the victim and not at the police station,” the statement said.