Handwara Case: Probe Can Restore Peoples’ Faith, If Done Right
The minor girl who was ‘molested’ in Kashmir has now alleged that she was “sexually assaulted” by an Army soldier.
The story of the Handwara molestation case is one of many cases in Kashmir where truth becomes prey to contesting narratives, and denial of justice is institutionalised. In a state where the social fabric has been ripped apart by decades of violence, truth has come to assume many layers. Seen through the prism of national security, the Handwara incident confuses unless you choose a side.
But the reality is that there are many truths in Kashmir, and every truth is backed up by ‘facts’. The more you dig, the more confused you get. Another reality is that trust has become a victim in the battle of perceptions. You can never be sure which side to believe. In the case of Handwara, the truth, perhaps, lies somewhere between the two extreme versions of ‘reality’.
At the centre of the controversy, the minor girl, whose ‘molestation’ shattered the eerie calm in Kashmir last month, has now alleged that she was “sexually assaulted” by an Army soldier. The allegation was denied by the Army, and a top police official filmed her under duress and circulated the video. But her recent statement upturns the official version, which gave a clean chit to the Army.
These are serious allegations that should be investigated impartially. But they need not be taken at face value. Given the history of conflict in Kashmir, there are endless possibilities to explain the events of the fateful 12 April afternoon in Handwara. Besides, ordinary people live at the mercy of powerful people.
Yet, the civil society in Kashmir, and even some prominent Hurriyat groups, have maintained a guarded silence on the girl’s revelations while the demand of judicial probe has come from the opposition, National Conference. Although there are clear guidelines from the apex court to police on how to treat cases of sexual violence against women, there has been no action and no outcry in Kashmir.
This reckless apathy is perhaps explained by the fact that official probes have rarely led to the delivery of justice in Kashmir. People know there will be no outcome from such probes. Five people were killed in Handwara. Five families have been destroyed. Although there are conflicting versions of what happened on that day, attempts are being made to “cover up” the case.
Given the seriousness of the issue and the fact that five civilians were killed in firing by security forces, the girl’s revelations have cast a shadow on the magisterial inquiry being carried out by the Jammu and Kashmir government. So far, the government has given a clean chit to the Army, which is being seen as a tactic to pacify public anger.
Which is why the new PDP-BJP government headed by Mehbooba Mufti must shun the traditions that have eroded the faith of people in elected governments. It is important that the government steps in and restores the lost credibility of its institutions. There are serious allegations against four police officials, including the senior-most officer posted in Kupwara district. The same police should not be allowed to investigate the case. What will come from such a probe and who is going to take responsibility?
The systems, which have miserably failed the people over the last three decades of conflict, must be pulled out of their decrepit state and made accountable; whether it is the police, the Army, or the separatists. Truth must prevail. A message must go out that the system can work.
But this can only happen if the state government itself orders a judicial probe that will get to the bottom of the matter.
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