Parents of Girl at Centre of Handwara Incident Call for ‘Dignity for Daughter’

Srinagar: The parents of a Kashmiri girl at the centre of a molestation case have called on the police to ‘restore her dignity’ and release her from ‘protective custody’.

The middle-aged couple made a heartfelt plea for their teenage daughter’s freedom and requested that she be allowed to speak in court about the April 12 incident that that led to pubic protests and the eventual deaths of five civilians in the firing by the security forces.

It is alleged that the girl was molested by an Indian army jawan near a bunker in the centre of Handwara, in northern J&K, which has subsequently been removed. The army has denied the charge.

Three people were killed by gunfire from Indian security forces who fired on an angry crowd that gathered after hearing the girl’s screams, with two more killed in subsequent protests days later.

The girl cannot be identified owing the nature of the allegation and her status as a minor.

In a hastily arranged press conference in Srinagar on Tuesday, the family denied rumours of them taking money from the authorities, saying they were ‘not facts’. They said they were appealing to the government for the restrictions to be removed so they could return to a normal life in their village, where they felt safe without protection.

Speaking at the headquarters of the Jammu & Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, the father, who before the press conference began, removed a surgical mask protecting his face after being assured no photographs would be taken, said: “Even if they offer 20 lakhs we do not want anything. We want dignity for our daughter and family restored and to live in our community once again.

Expressing anger at the present situation, he added: “What kind of safety is this? What kind of security is this?”

The girl’s mother, who partially shielded her face with her dupatta for the duration of the press conference, added that her daughter has been spat at and cursed after she was detained by the police immediately following the incident.

She also confirmed that neither parent was called until 1am the following morning – after the girl had already been pressed into making a video about the incident where she appeared to exonerate the army man and blame local youths for her harassment.

The girl remains in police custody and the father explained that she had been moved from village to village in the days following the incident.

Both parents said they were perturbed by the role played by State Women Commission chairperson Nayeema Mehjoor, whose public statements to the media earlier this week said that the family had requested police protection. This was flatly contradicted by the girl’s parents.

Khurram Parvez of the JKCCS reiterated the human rights group’s previous criticism of Mehjoor. He said; “She is supposed to protect women’s rights but is the aggressor in this case.”

The Jammu and Kashmir police have yet to comment or respond to the latest developments.