It's been three weeks since the reports first emerged of a minor girl in North Kashmir's Handwara being molested, allegedly by a army personnel. Five civilians have been killed in army and police firing in the protests following the incident. And not it has been three weeks since the girl has been kept in 'protective custody' by the police. 

The girl has been kept at her maternal uncle's home in Zachaldara village, approximately ten kilometres away from her home, and several policemen guard the house day and night. Even when the situation returned to 'normal' after a week of bloody clashes that began on April 12, the girl has remained out of bounds for the media. Her lawyers have alleged that the state police has prevented them from meeting her several times. 

Refuting the claim that the girl's family has asked for the security, rights group Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), which was approached by the family of girl, has alleged that the girl is being kept in custody against her will. It also said the cops confiscated the mobile phones of the girl and her family. 

Source: b'Students holding placards and a silent protest against the killing of five civilians in Handwara and Kupwara, at Lal Chowk in Srinagar | Source: PTI'

"The Handwara minor girl has been video recorded [that in turn was widely circulated by the army], slapped, spat at, had her phone snatched, personal space violated, randomly moved around, been under constant surveillance and kept detained. All of this against her will," a JKCCS statement on April 26 said.  

According to the girl's family, her video statement in which she denied being molested by an army soldier, and widely circulated by the police and army, was taken under duress. Activists and lawyers in the valley called it a "criminal offence."  

Child and women rights activists have termed the confinement of the juvenile in custody against her wish a gross violation of human rights. All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) general secretary Jagmati Sangwan termed the girl's custody as a "violation of the spirit of justice." 

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"It's deeply in violation of the spirit of justice that a girl has been kept in isolation. On the one hand you are saying you are providing safety to her and on the other side, you are not allowing her to meet those who are fighting for her rights. The girl has the freedom to be with whosoever she likes and wants to meet," Sangwan told ScoopWhoop. 

The case has also raised questions over the credibility and independence of the autonomous J&K State Commission of Women (SCW), which according to the JKCCS has played a "partisan and deceptive" role in ensuring the release of the girl. 

Stressing on her concern for the safety of the girl, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association, Kavita Krishnan told ScoopWhoop the "girl's statement shouldn't be used as an alibi for violence by the army and police against civilians."

"There's no justification for keeping her under custody. The girl's video statement taken in custody has no legal value. But the worrying factor is how the state and media have taken the police's version of the incident as a final one and stopped raising questions on the girl's illegal detention," Krishnan said. 

The J&K High Court had admitted the petition of the girl's mother seeking the release of her husband, daughter and her sister, and on April 16 asked the police to explain the grounds under which they had kept the three in detention. 

On the second hearing of the petition on April 26, the girl and her father were not allowed by the Handwara police to reach Srinagar to attend court proceedings. 

Source: b'J & K State Authorities dismantling a 23-year-old Army bunker a week after a young cricketer and two others were allegedly killed in firing by security forces from the same bunker, at Handwara Chowk | Source: PTI'

Programme Coordinator, 'HAQ'- Centre for Child Rights, Shahbaz Khan Sherwani said it's a criminal offence to keep a minor victim in the custody. 

"Under any law of the land, you cannot keep a victim in custody. It's a gross violation of law and highly questionable on the part of officers who are not allowing the girl to go free," he said. 

"You cannot keep the girl away from her family and friends. There's no such law anywhere in the world," he added. 

Feature image source: AFP