A schoolgirl whose alleged molestation triggered fatal protests in northwestern Kashmir’s Handwara town in April told the press on Monday that a soldier “grabbed her hand in the bathroom” but police pressured her to blame it on local youth.
Her remarks contradict two previous statements — one recorded on a video released by the army and another given to the Handwara chief judicial magistrate.
In the video after violent protests engulfed the small town and five people were killed, the girl said she was assaulted by local youth and did not mention the involvement of any soldier. She stuck to her statement before the chief judicial magistrate (CJM), saying two boys — one in school uniform — assaulted her.
More than a month after the April 12 incident, the teenager said she had left the government higher secondary school around 3pm and went to a shop at the main chowk or square of the town to pick up her and her brother’s mobile phones. She used to keep them in the shop of an acquaintance since phones are not allowed in her school.
Also, as washrooms in her school were closed she had to use one in the market that day, she said in her first media interaction since the incident.
“When I came out of the toilet, an army soldier forcibly held my hand. I screamed and ran from the bathroom crying. Outside, two-three boys asked me why I was crying. One of them slapped me as well. I didn’t say anything and was crying,” she said.
The girl accused a policeman – whom she identified as Mohammad Shafi Watali – of dragging her to the police station from the market. He allegedly verbally abused her and ignored her requests to let her go home.
She said she was abused and tutored by policemen to give a statement accusing local boys to have assaulted her and drop her allegation against the soldier.
A policeman with his face covered slapped her when she refused to lie and warned that she and her family would face grave danger, the teen said.
Further, she said her video was recorded by Handwara superintendent of police Ghulam Jeelani and the statement was given under “distress and pressure”. She accused Jeelani of going back on his apparent promise to not release the video but it soon got uploaded online. “To salvage the image of the army he wagered my honour.”
The girl said she didn’t give her statement to the magistrate voluntarily and accused police of forcibly making her sign on blank papers.
She asked the Handwara station house officer on Monday to register an FIR against the soldier.
The teen was under police protection for 27 days until the high court last Thursday ruled against it, based on her parents’ plea that she doesn’t require government security. Civil rights campaigners had called her police security an act of illegal detention.
The girl — in a black burkha that covered all but her eyes — came to the press conference organised by the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) with her parents.
Officials refused comment on her latest statement but are aware that this could trigger another round of protests in the sensitive region where security forces are viewed with disdain and contempt after years of separatist militancy.