The ordeal is not over for the 16-year-old girl, whose allegation of being molested by an army man sparked violent clashes in Jammu and Kashmir's Handwara, leading to the death of four protestors, and imposition of an eight-day curfew. The teenager faces stiff hostility at her school from classmates suspicious of her recorded statement that later cleared the army of the charges and instead pinned the blame on two locals who she said sexually assaulted her on her way back from a toilet.
Schools opened in the small town, torn by violence, yesterday, and at the Government Girls Higher Secondary School in Handwara, only 20 students out of the 1,150 were present, reported the Mail Online. The teachers are worried about her future and the principal has assured that she will be given all the help needed to return to her normal life of a teen, but her classmates are not so sure.
“I don’t think she will ever come back to this school,” a classmate, who refused to be identified, told Mail Online.
“She is not even 16. We don’t know anything that has happened outside the school in the afternoon of April 12. But if she returns to the school, we will try to create a congenial atmosphere for her and we hope other students of the school will treat as they used to,” principal of the school, Mir Manzoor Ahmad, told the online newspaper.
Last week, the police released a recorded statement of the girl, in which she said that it was not a soldier, but a shopkeeper and another youth who tried to assault her as she came out of a public toilet on her way home from school.
The hostility of her classmates is palpable, even though her distraught parents have accused the Indian state of being careless in recording her statement -- her face was not masked when her statement was released to the media. Identities of victims of sexual abuse are protected under Indian law. Her mother has said the girl was pressured into changing her statement.
Her classmates accused her of "suppressing reality". "She should have spoken the truth," they said, according to a report in the NDTV that also claimed that most of the other students did not want to mingle with her if she returned to school.
In all of the media attention surrounding the case, and the violence that has ravaged the peaceful town that votes during elections defying separatists' calls, the plight of the girl, a teen whose life has been abruptly disrupted, is forgotten.
Cast in the leading role of the victim, she has been described as the girl at the centre of the storm as political parties rushed to appropriate the latest controversy to hit the Valley since the protests between Kashmiri and non-local students at the NIT, Srinagar.
Three persons — two youths and a woman — were killed when security forces opened fire to disperse a stone-pelting mob. A curfew was imposed after the girl initially accused an army personnel of harassing her. Army released a video statement in which she said she went to nearby washroom along with her friend when a youth appeared before her and took her bag away.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has sought from Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar a “time-bound inquiry” into the Handwara firing.