Handwara was an irrelevant small town in Kupwara district of Kashmir until April 12th, 2016. A 16-year old schoolgirl had alleged that an Indian Army jawan had attempted to sexually molest her in a public toilet. The incidents shook the Kashmiri youth, and the rest of India into action, crying foul on the way the sexual molestation survivor was treated by the state police and the media. The incident stirred the Kashmiri youth into protests, in which six youths across Kashmir were shot dead as the Army open-fired.
Amidst the violence, a group of Kashmiri women formed a Solidarity Group to become a collective voice for the survivor. While the minor was kept under custody by the police, a handful of women – students, professionals and activists, formed a Solidarity group and raised their voice on her behalf, demanding that she got full access to her legal team.
The ill-treatment of the sexual assault victim such as in this case also sends a strong message to victims of sexual harassment across the country, especially states where there is a heavy presence of the Armed Forces. Social activist Mahum Shabir, also present at the rally sheds some light on this, “This behaviour by the police sends a message to the masses that anyone who alleges sexual assault against the Armed Forces, will be harassed and vilified so that no one else would dare to hold them responsible.”
Natasha Rather, one of the protestors at the site condoned this behaviour “as the height of injustice.” She reasons to Nadiya Shafi, our Kashmir community correspondent, “You can’t treat a victim as guilty which is happening now. This girl, who is a victim, in this case, is being treated as she was guilty. She’s been kept under custody, her family’s movements are being restricted.”
While the initially the survivor had made allegation against a jawan from the Indian Army, she later recorded her statement before the Chief Judicial Magistrate stating that she was attacked by two boys. The victim’s mother claimed that her daughter, who is 16 years old, was pressurised into making the statement that had exonerated the army personnel of the molestation charge.