Handwara girl’s video: a hornet’s nest

BY MOAZUM MOHAMMAD| IN Media Practice | 27/04/2016
Her minor status raises a host of issues about the legality of her detention, the video, its leak, and the disclosure of her identity.
MOAZUM MOHAMMAD explores these questions

A video grab of what India TV showed. (Pixellated by the Hoot)

 

Srinagar: In the maze of narratives surrounding the event that acted as a trigger for Kashmir’s Handwara killings, what has remained unnoticed is the legality of a video statement made by the girl in question (a minor) which was leaked anonymously on social media by unknown officials in the state government, as a firefighting measure.

The video raised more questions than it answered. Was the girl supposed to be shot on video, considering she is a minor? Was the girl supposed to be shot on video, considering she is a victim of alleged molestation? At what level in the state apparatus was the approval given for recording and releasing the video, which was later confirmed by Army as authentic?

Along with these basic questions, many others are also yet to be answered and have been highlighted by media outlets. Since the girl is a minor - her date of birth is recorded as October 2000 in school records – why was she placed in police custody? Why was her guardian not taken along with her while recording the statement? Why are those who violated the law by leaking the video on social media not being booked?

To top it all, the chairperson of the State Women’s Commission, Nayeema Mehjoor, is clueless and merely questions how the video was leaked while the girl was in police custody. Mehjoor, who met the girl last week in her office in Srinagar, said the video was shot when the girl was alone in police custody.

“She wasn’t accompanied by her guardian when it was shot. I have asked police to provide details as to how the video of the minor was shot and later released on social media. It a breach of law (Jammu and Kashmir Juvenile Justice Act 2013),” said Mehjoor. The police have not yet replied to her request.

North Kashmir’s Deputy Inspector General of Police, Uttam Chand, said he was not aware who shot and leaked the video but said it will be part of the police investigation.

PRO Defence Lt Colonel N.N. Joshi also said he was unaware as to how the video was released on social media. Asked how the Army released the video officially, he said they had got it authenticated by the “relevant quarters”. “That’s our own procedure,” Joshi said. The video that’s been circulating on social media was released by the army the day after the incident of alleged sexual assault but with her image blurred.

The irregularities that have happened in the case extend to the media with both English and Hindi news channels apparently colluding with the government. The video was flashed without anyone asking whether the way it was recorded, in police custody, was legal. And while the video was repeatedly relayed, the background voice on some channels reassured viewers that the soldierwas not involved in the incident. How was the army absolved of the crime?

What TV viewers were not shown is her illegal detention in police custody. The girl’s father, along with her aunt,  joined her 10 hours later that night on April 12. The trauma she underwent ended up being drowned out amid a cacophony of uninformed voices on TV screens,  and ultimately her plight was ignored. This case again cast aspersions on the Indian news media in Kashmir whose credibility is already suspect here.

Oddly, news channels such as India TV, while blaming the separatists for spreading the rumour about the molestation bid, committed a serious breach by flashing the video without blurring the image of the girl, seemingly unaware that it is an offence to disclose a minor’s identity.

The relevant Act says: “No report in any newspaper, magazine, news sheet or visual media of any inquiry shall disclose the name, address or school or any other particulars calculated to lead to the identification of the juvenile or child nor shall any picture of any such juvenile or child be published.” Any violation is a punishable offence with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or a fine or  both.

Today, the fallout is in front of us to see. The girl’s life is under "threat" as she is living under "police custody" and her movement curbed, according to the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, which filed a petition in High Court on behalf of the girl. She was prevented by police from appearing in the court  on April 26, said the rights group coordinator Khurram Parvez. “The police shifted girl's family to their relative’s place though they want to go back to their house. The police is preventing them to do so. Now, the girl's father has sought an end to police detention by submitting a written application to the Women’s Commission yesterday,” he said.

Nayeema, who met the girl on Wednesday, confirmed that the girl’s father in his letter demanded an end to police deployment at their relative’s house and that their movement be not restricted.

However, police had said the girl and her family were willingly to be under "protective custody". Her schoolmates have expressed their apprehension that she might not return to school again because the leaked video has compromised her dignity.

“The girl is quite depressed and disturbed after learning that her video has got leaked on social media,” said Mehjoor. Bharti Ali, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Centre for Child Rights, HAQ, thinks that had this happened anywhere else in India, it would have been a major issue. 

 

Moazum Mohammad is a journalist based in Kashmir and works with Kashmir Reader. He has previously worked for the Pioneer and the Millennium Post.He tweets @moazum_m.

 

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