Handwara Girl Could be Freed Within Days as State Raises No Objection in Court

Srinagar: The teenager at the centre of the Handwara incident that led to the deaths of five civilians could be free within days following a division bench hearing at the Jammu and Kashmir high court on Monday.

Justice M. Yaqoob Mir and Justice Ali Mohammed Magrey requested an affidavit be filed by the girl’s parents confirming that she does not require ‘protective custody’ and reserved the petition for further orders.

State prosecutors said that they would raise no objection to the affidavit, which is expected be filed tomorrow (Tuesday) through the girl’s lawyer, Parvez Imroz, president of the Jammu & Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a human rights’ group.

The teenage girl was detained by the police following her allegation that an army jawan had molested her on April 12. The Army denies the charge. According to the police, she is being detained “for her own protection.”

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

A protest on April 12 led to firing by the security forces, killing three people. Two more were killed in protest that followed days later. The army bunker in the centre of Handwara has since been removed.

In a submission to the court, the J&K superintendent of police and station house officer, Handwara said: “The husband and the daughter of the petitioner [mother] were provided protective security in view of apprehending grave and imminent threat to their lives.”

Referring to the immediate aftermath of the alleged molestation, the submission adds: “The situation took an ugly turn and the violent mob gathered in the main chowk and resorted massive violence. To disperse the mob and tackle the situation the army personnel resorted to firing.”

Last week the parents of the girl, who remains in ‘protective custody’ pleaded for her release, adding that she had been spat at and cursed after being taken into police care. Her parents also said that she was moved from village to village after being initially detained.

Today’s court hearing was convened solely to determine the question of the girl’s liberty. It did not deal with the civilian deaths, the allegation of molestation that lies at the heart of the case or the circulation of a video where the girl appears to absolve the jawan and blame local youths.

Monday’s hearing took place on the same day as the state government move to Srinagar, the summer capital. Last week the chairperson of the State Women Commission also called for the girl’s release, stating that chief minister Mehbooba Mufti would be ‘personally handling’ the case.

The girl’s parents have previously said that she would wish to testify in court upon her release from police custody.

A JKCCS spokesperson said: “Today’s high court order follows 27 days of oppressive police custody. In these days, the police has intimidated and harassed the minor girl and her family and every attempt has been made to try and break their will and determination. Yet, at multiple forums, beginning from the high court petition filed on 16 April, the girl and her family have protested police custody and intimidation. Through this long and frustrating legal journey what is clear is that state leaves no stone unturned and abuses all the available mechanisms of redress for the people.”

On April 29, the girls’ parents filed an application to the Handwara chief judicial magistrate asking for the withdrawal of ‘police protection’. The decision was then referred to the high court.

Last week, the high court dismissed a PIL filed by the J&K Bar Association seeking a special investigation team headed by a sitting judge to look into the killing of five civilian deaths and the unlawful detention of the minor girl.