A Class XI student, who was among four injured Friday when security forces opened fire on protesters hurling stones at an Army camp in Natnusa area of Kupwara, died of injuries in a Srinagar hospital.
Arif Hussain, the 19-year-old from Awoora, was the fifth person to die in protests that started Tuesday in Handwara over the alleged molestation of a minor girl who is now said to be “under police protection” along with her father.
The protests have spilled to other parts of Kashmir with clashes reported from Baramulla, Kangan and Tral, forcing the Board of School Education to cancel examinations scheduled Saturday. The hardline Hurriyat faction headed by Syed Ali Shah Geelani and the JKLF have called for a shutdown Saturday.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who took charge 11 days ago, called Arif’s death “extremely distressing”: “The circle of violence has consumed yet another young boy’s life. My heart goes out to the bereaved family of the boy.” Appealing for calm, she said people must “defeat the nefarious designs of those who want to disturb peace in the state”.
Arif died of injuries sustained in Natnusa, 12 km from Handwara town, where a protest began soon after the Friday prayers. “People were heading towards Shallpora were a youth was killed Tuesday. They clashed with jawans who were from a local camp. Four persons were injured in the firing,” Bashir Ahmad, who claimed to be an eyewitness, told The Indian Express.
A Defence spokesman said that after the Friday prayers, protesters started hurling stones at an Army post in Natnusa. “Although the troops there exercised restraint, a time came when the protesters stormed our camp. Limited force was used in which four persons sustained injuries, one of whom succumbed later,’’ the spokesman said.
For the third day, curfew continued in Kupwara and Handwara towns. In Tral in south Kashmir, villagers hurled stones at a CRPF camp and this led to clashes.
Meanwhile, J&K Law and Rural Development Minister Abdul Haq Khan, who is the PDP MLA from Lolab and is camping in Kupwara, said the girl at the centre of the protests is “under police protection”.
“The girl and her father are at the home of their relatives under police protection. The father had approached police seeking protection,’’ he said.
While the girl has been in police custody since the protests began Tuesday, her father was taken into “protective custody” Wednesday night.
As the protests intensified, the J&K police recorded the girl’s video statement in which she denied she was molested. The video statement was leaked on social media, revealing her identity.
The police, meanwhile, have been making conflicting statements on the whereabouts of the girl and her father.
DIG (North Kashmir) Uttam Chand said they are in “protective custody” but IG (Kashmir Zone) Javed Mujtaba Geelani told The Indian Express that “the girl is not in our custody and if she wants to meet anyone, she is free… there is curfew in the area, so nobody is allowed to go there”.
The police are also not saying who recorded the video statement of the girl and how it made it to the social media given that she was under police watch.
Minister Khan said the girl’s statement “was taken before a magistrate”. “It isn’t official. It is my information that the girl gave the statement before a magistrate,’’ he said.
Asked about her statement being videotaped and circulated on social media, Khan said: “Someone there must have recorded the video and circulated it. These days, anything is possible”. He said “a big institution was under target and they may have circulated it because it helped them”.
“For three days, I monitored the situation closely while camping here. And I can say without any doubt that the J&K Police did not commit excesses. There are 90 policemen who have been injured in stone-pelting. There are policemen with teeth broken by the stones. But they showed restraint and did not open fire,’’ he said.
“Two youths were killed near the bunker the very first day. A woman died 5 km away in Langate. It is a mystery how she was hit so far away. I don’t think she was hit by a bullet… I am sure we will know once there is investigation,’’ he said.
“The fourth person was killed on the second day (Wednesday) when a teargas shell hit him. I was told that the teargas shell ricocheted from a tin roof and hit the young man.” He said the government will probe the entire incident. “Only then will things be clear,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a rights group based in Srinagar, said the mother of the girl approached them for “urgent and immediate legal assistance” so that “they are immediately released and allowed to return to their residence”.
The rights group said the girl and her aunt have been with the police since April 12 and her father since April 14. “The mother of the minor girl fears that her family members, particularly her 16-year-old daughter, are under pressure to make false statements. Already a video has been released and circulated… that reveals her identity…,” a statement from the JKCCS said.
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