Lawyers were on Thursday scheduled to meet a girl who activists say was illegally detained after her alleged molestation in north Kashmir’s Handwara town provoked violent protests that killed five people since April 12.
However, a government official said she was being housed along with her father and aunt at a “relative’s house without any restrictions”.
The Jammu and Kashmir high court directed Handwara superintendent of police Ghulam Jeelani Wani on Wednesday to facilitate a meeting of the girl with her mother and lawyers. Hearing a habeas corpus for the “immediate release” of the three people, the high court said that it should be clubbed with a PIL filed by the Bar Association that seeks “similar relief”. The PIL has been listed for April 26.
“The consequence of today’s proceedings is six more days of illegal police custody for the Handwara minor girl. But the direction to SP Wani will ensure that the minor girl and her family receive unhindered access to legal counsel for the first time since they were detained,” read a statement by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), which is providing legal help to the girl and her family.
Civil rights activists continued to dispute the state’s version of the circumstances surrounding the girl’s alleged detention. While the JKCCS and other rights groups claimed that the minor and her kin were being illegally kept under restraint, a status report filed by the police before the court on Wednesday stated that the three were shifted “on the request of the father” to the house of a friend.
A copy of the police report is in HT’s possession.
Nayeema Mehjoor, chairperson of the State Commission for Women, told the media on Wednesday night that the girl was “not in police custody” but at a relative’s house. However, “one or two policemen” are with the girl “to make her feel safe as she is feeling insecure and is mentally disturbed”, she added.
“I talked to the girl myself. She is quite exhausted and disturbed. Even the girl’s family members are feeling insecure about her security, which is why they are putting up at a relative’s house. I don’t think police have been restricting the girl’s movements,” Mehjoor was quoted as saying by a Srinagar-based news agency.
The series of conflicting statements began when the girl’s mother told the media that her daughter’s statement regarding misbehaviour by local boys – as recorded in a video released by the army – was made “under pressure from the police”. The girl, however, reiterated in a statement before the chief judicial magistrate (CJM) the next day that she was assaulted by two local boys – one of whom was in school uniform.
The JKCCSS countered the statement by pointing out that her deposition had “taken place in the absence of any family supervision or legal aid”.
The Solidarity Group for Handwara Girl, a human rights group comprising mostly women activists, held a demonstration at Press Enclave in the state capital on Wednesday to demand the “immediate release” of the minor from “illegal detention”.
“The Handwara girl is in police custody. They either keep her under arrest at the police station, at her home, or at some undisclosed location. She is a minor, and they can’t keep her under detention like this,” said Essar Batool, a Srinagar-based rights activist and writer.
The protesters also sought chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s intervention in the matter.
Hundreds of students participated in a signature campaign undertaken by protesters at Kashmir University. A similar demonstration was also held by the All India Students’ Association at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University on Wednesday.