ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Unanswered Questions

Removing army bunkers from Handwara will not address the deep-rooted anger.

The recent outbreak of violence in Handwara in Jammu and Kashmir, following protests around the alleged molestation of a minor girl by soldiers, illustrates yet again the crisis of credibility that the state faces. The immediate task before the state government, of which Mehbooba Mufti took over the reins recently, was to restore calm. In this regard, the government’s decision to bulldoze four army bunkers in Handwara was a good first step as it met a long-standing demand of the local people. The area has been relatively peaceful in recent times and the presence of the bunkers was a constant irritant. But is this enough? Such measures can only bring temporary calm but do not address the deep-rooted anger and alienation that lie at the root of the outburst in the first place. Despite the state government’s intervention, which has helped prevent escalation of violence and restore some semblance of normalcy, a trail of questions remains unaddressed.

We cannot forget that at the centre of the Handwara story is a minor girl. Allegations of molestation motivated the protests in the first place. Whether or not such allegations are true, the girl’s story is a manifestation of the gendered view of the Kashmir conflict and the patriarchal nature of the combination of the military and political groups. The girl’s videographed statement, absolving the army and blaming local boys instead, went viral on the internet, thereby revealing her identity in absolute violation of court directives. There were gaps in the narrative. But the contradictory statements made by all sides illustrate how this young girl became a pawn in the larger games being played out. Without discounting her statements in the video and before the chief judicial magistrate, we need to ask whether there was any legal basis or logic in risking the safety, security and interests of the girl for the larger goals of restoring “calm” and “normalcy.” This is the justification given by the police to make her statement public. We also do not know for sure whether the statements by this girl were made under pressure. If they were not, then what was the need to subvert laws and authority to her disadvantage? She is now exposed to further violence from all sides.

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