Saturday, April 23, 2016

Spare The Handwara Girl: An appeal by a group of concerned Kashmiri professionals and students

There is no clarity yet on recent protests in Handwara in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district that started after word spread that a schoolgirl had been allegedly molested by an army man, leading to five people being killed in firing by the security forces. The official version about the incident continues to be contested and there is renewed concern about the young girl's safety. A group of Kashmiri professionals from diverse backgrounds have come together to issue the following statement and appeal:

It is distressing to see how some politically motivated groups that believe in and endorse violent political movements all over India are hell-bent upon seriously vitiating the already volatile atmosphere in the Kashmir valley, which was fuelled this time by the condemnable acts of killing of civilians by the armed personnel.

The killing of the provoked civilians and other people who were not even protesting should have been avoided at all costs. The security personnel involved should be promptly investigated and prosecuted. Even more distressing is the fact that instead of focusing on bringing the miscreants (who spread the false rumour) and the culpable army personnel and police officials who killed civilians, to book, the above parties have chosen to cynically use these tragic incidents to press their partisan case for ‘azadi’ over the dead bodies of innocent Kashmiris.

The issue of Kashmir is political in nature and can only be resolved by political means. Using the deaths of the Kashmiri civilians towards a partisan political end is an act of deceit. The use of tragic deaths to resolve deep-rooted political problems amounts to nothing more than political blackmail. Besides, no one who understands the complexities of Kashmir as a political issue would expect any resolution to the issue, or even delivery of justice to the wronged, by politicisation of the dead. Had that been the case, the issue of Kashmir would have been settled long back, as many Kashmiris have died and were killed. Maturity and objectivity is needed and should be stressed by all the involved actors, such that people are not pushed further into the unending cycle of violence that has led to an irreversible damage for decades now.

The complexity of Kashmir is a fact. However, we are deeply and seriously concerned that a minor girl caught in the centre of this imbroglio has, for no fault of her own except that she happens to be a Kashmiri (and also a female), been turned into a pawn to score some political points.

Ensure safety
It is a cruel irony that many of the people claiming to represent the girl are contradicting and appropriating her ordeal for their larger political goal. If we all are genuinely concerned for the girl, we should not be speaking over her testimony in front of the chief judicial magistrate. Instead we all should try to support her, irrespective of whether any sort of violation of her rights was done by armed personnel or the local boys. 

An attempt to bring the girl’s mother, who wasn’t even present at the scene and had no further facts to offer, was utterly foolish. Making her testify to suit a particular version of the story is condemnable, especially knowing that it has every possibility to incite further violence. Also condemnable is the circulation of the video of the girl in police custody by someone, which one may assume was done to clear the air of rumours and prevent violence. Reasons be whatever, it was an act of irresponsibility to expose the girl to public glare and cannot be left unaccountable. 

The demand of certain groups that the girl be released (to them) from the “custody of the state police”, which she was unwillingly dragged to in the first place by her accusers, is irrational.

We do not in the least believe that once the girl and her father are let out into the collective frenzy, the truth of the girl’s traumatic experience and her initial testimonies would be safe or would not become distorted under the collective pressure of a polity that only wants to see their own version of the events reflected in her new statement. 

We are worried about the physical safety of the girl and her immediate family. We also think that it is best for the girl and her family that they be promptly shifted into the safe keeping of a non-partisan party, say a neutral NGO outside the valley – either within the J&K state or outside the state, as per the family’s wishes. This is imperative till the situation in the valley cools down and the propensity for further bloodshed or rioting over the issue declines.

Though we believe that the girl could not be lying, we would rather pray that she is able to narrate her real ordeal without any pressure from any side. In many ways, through her initial statement that was leaked or later reiteration in front of a magistrate, she seems to have asserted the facts. Based on these facts, the boys who threatened and manhandled her and are responsible for provoking public sentiment should be identified and held responsible for their irresponsible and condemnable act. 

We are more bothered about the innocent deaths and the life of the girl – her physical, mental, and emotional condition – than the politics behind it. There are cases of molestation being committed by locals and by armed personnel too at various times in Kashmir. None of that should make us jump to conclusions or provoke us to violence.

Our demands
We, as concerned Kashmiris, demand a few things, which include that:

  1. The state initiates a thorough investigation, which should include a few politically neutral individuals or those who are willing to keep political aims or beliefs aside for the sake of fairness, from the community.
  2. Proper punishment is meted out to the culprits – the boys who beat up the Handwara girl and incited violence or the armed personnel who molested her (unlikely, but for fairness sake, not impossible), the person who circulated her video, and the armed personnel responsible for the killings, in the sequence of events.
  3. The girl’s safety and privacy concerns are adequately addressed. Her family’s safety is ensured.
  4. The girl is adequately compensated for the trauma and damage caused to her character.
We appeal to eminent people in and outside Kashmir and their respective forums to take up the case on the girl’s behalf and come forward to help the girl and her family find a temporary safe shelter outside the valley. Continuation of the concerned girl’s education is another concern which needs to be addressed.

We hope people like Kailash Satyarthi (Nobel Prize Winner in Child rights), Urvashi Butalia, and other leading and credible voices on human rights come forward to help the girl and her family.

Signatories:

  • Abrar Mustafa, self-employed
  • Arshia Malik, teacher
  • Ausifa Munshi, management professional
  • Ifra, student
  • Khalid Baig, entrepreneur
  • Mushtaq Dar, sales executive
  • Sabahat Malik, learning and development professional
  • Sadaf Munshi, artist and academic
  • Safeena Malik, homemaker
  • Shafaq Shah, lawyer
  • Shahid Hussain, procurement professional
  • Shakir, environmental journalist
  • Sualeh Keen, cultural critic
  • Zainab Bin Shamim Imtiyaz, doctor
  • Zeenat Nissa, women rights activist