The Ganderbal Harassment Video: When ‘due process’ made culprits out of ‘saviours’

As news about harassment of women and the backlash faced by those who stand up is creating debate, a viral video showing a Ganderbal cop being tied to a chair, after being caught while photographing a woman, triggered a fierce reaction on social media on Oct 14, 2017. But what happened after the video ended, is a real twist in the law and a classic example of ‘due process’.

In her highland hamlet, scores of crimson Chinars are poetically shedding their leaves in the backdrop of the blue azure peaks. This is where the hushed home of Nasreen (not her real name) makes one feel as if the fall is fast fading into frosty winters.

But in contrast to her chilly vicinity, the lively—at times animated—Nasreen remembers the incident of the day in detail when on a town trip she found a cop filming her and promptly turning the street mood militant.

She wears a fierce attitude on her sleeve when recalling how she was being secretly photographed by a policeman and how she recovered her pictures from his phone.

“That day on Oct 14,” says Nasreen, a sleek girl in her early twenties, “I was waiting for a bus at Manigam when the person accompanying me alerted me, saying: ‘Hey, the cop standing behind the Rakshak is clicking your pictures.’ ”

Nasreen could instantly conclude that there was nothing sleazy about the bearded cop. But then, she now says, appearances can be deceptive.

She tried to ignore it. But when she continuously heard the shutter sound and saw the camera flash, she decided to confront the cop.

“As I approached him,” says Nasreen, as if reliving the moment, “he stepped into the Rakshak and slammed shut the door. But I banged it, repeatedly.” Sensing the public outrage, the cop threw it open.

Nasreen at once sought explanation from the cop caught on the wrong foot. The situation threatened to cut loose after the crowd started building up at the spot.

Fearing the public backlash, the cop driver tried to drive the Rakshak—whose number-plate was invisible and covered with adhesive—away, but people derailed the desperate ride.

It was then Nasreen snatched the erring cop’s phone and asked him to unlock the pattern. Once he did that, she found her multiple shots in his ‘stuffed’ phone gallery.

“When I asked him to explain the situation, he replied: ‘I was only testing my new phone.’ But his phone wasn’t new.”

After that, the people turned vigilante on the ground. Among them, a lady stood by her side and asked her to fight back: If not for your sake, then for those who’ll continue to suffer in silence. Make an example of him.

“I then realized that if I’ll stay silent today,” she says, “then many more will suffer. Our silence will make them stronger.”

Once the street chaos thawed, Nasreen grew bold enough to file an FIR. But a couple of days later, she got the shock of her life when she heard that the lady seen tying the cop with the chair on the viral video has been detained.

Being an eye-witness in the case, she was booked by an investigating officer under Section 341 (“Punishment for wrongful restraint”), 147 (“Punishment for rioting”), 153 (“Punishment for wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot”) and 342 (“Punishment for wrongful confinement”).

For the townspeople, the swift police action in the case—apparently giving bad press to the 100 thousand strong JKP—was a clear desperate attempt to salvage the image.

At her home, Nasreen is unable to make sense of the charges slapped on the lady who tried to help her out.

“She was not there to cause a riot for what she has been booked,” she says, fuming. “By framing her, the police have once again reaffirmed the fact that they are a law unto themselves in Kashmir.”

Following the charges, the lady savior was sent behind bars for several days. Her bail plea was rejected multiple times before finally she was bailed out on Nov 1.

Down her residence, in Ganderbal Police Station, a star-studded police official talks tough on the whole incident. For him, the guilty are those who took the law in their own hands that day.

“We’ve arrested five people so far in this case,” the officer says, “in which four people including the lady who tied the policeman has been bailed out.”

Apparently, one of those persons—seen helping to tie the cop with a chair—happened to commit such a grave offense that police had to book him under the Public Safety Act (PSA).

Mohammad Shafi Khan of Arhama village has now been shifted to Kotbalwal Jail in Jammu, where he shares space with criminals. “None of them is a culprit,” Nasreen says. “They’re saviours.”

On the contrary, the accused cop is out on bail—and now, attached with PCR Srinagar. He has been only booked under section 294 of RPC (“Punishment for any obscene act in any public place”), when the legal experts opine that the accused could have also been booked under Section 354 (“Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty”), 509 (“Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman”) and Section 18 in The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

“We’re investigating the matter,” the police official says. “Necessary actions will be taken after proper investigation.”

But as the law has indeed taken its own course in this case, Nasreen vows to continue her fight till the accused is convicted.

“Men in uniform are supposed to be the guardians of society,” she says. “If we don’t feel safe in their presence, then how can women working in the police department be safe?”

But now, she fears for the lady saviour.

“I’m more worried about that poor soul, who was booked for supporting me.”

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