It’s been more than two months since a girl student from Zanskar area in Ladakh was allegedly molested by the head of the forensic department in the Government Medical College in Jammu. While the Buddhist girl is trying to overcome the shock and mental stress through meditation, the accused is out on bail. Amidst protests from students’ community demanding termination of the job of the accused, lawmakers from the region are disillusioned with the approach of the state government.
Cutting across party lines, students’ organisations including NSUI, ABVP, All India Students Federation-Gujjar Bakarwal Students Union, All Ladakh Students’ Organisation (Jammu) and others participated in a huge protest rally in Jammu recently under the banner of All Students of Jammu and Kashmir. The protesting students submitted a memorandum of demands to Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. They have demanded fast track court to ensure speedy and time bound justice to the victim on the lines of Uttar Pradesh government which constituted fast track court to sort out pending cases of violence against women.
They have also demanded for termination of the accused from his job unconditionally. “His attachment to any services under the J&K government should be revoked immediately, as we understand that the (alleged) molester is presently attached to the Directorate of Health Services” and that he should be barred from any responsibility that involves students. There is a strong demand for a 24x7 Helpline number and different police cells to handle cases related to sexual harassment of students on the lines of the provision for the northeastern students in Delhi.
The victim told Outlook that for the first one-and-half months it was painful and tough for her to get back to routine. Her strength in a way came from the patients in the hospital when she realized that their helplessness is much more than hers. “I told myself that I am not as helpless as they are. I had to gather a lot of courage to inform the authorities against the accused, but I didn't want my juniors to undergo similar situation and agony. It is my parents and close friends in the college who stood by me and gave me the strength to fight back. I do always have the nagging fear of being stalked but I suppose I have to go through this torturous phase until the court verdict. The accused should be permanently removed from the institution so that no student goes through this turmoil.”
The state commission for women chairperson Nayeema Mehjoor met the victim but there is no word from her as yet. Despite several attempts, Mehjoor could not be contacted. DGP Shesh Vaid told Outlook that an FIR was lodged and the accused was arrested. The court has granted him bail.
Cutting across party lines, lawmakers are fuming. Notwithstanding the fact that BJP is part of the ruling coalition in Jammu and Kashmir, BJP MP from Ladakh Thupstan Chhewang feels “ashamed” that not enough necessary action was taken in the case. “It is the responsibility of the state government to ensure that justice is met with the victim. I don’t care which political party is ruling the state, whether BJP, Congress, PDP or NC. Such incidents shouldn’t happen with any girl student; a Ladakhi girl studies outside her region because of non-availability of higher education institutions in Ladakh. I get a sense the case was not taken seriously because the victim belongs to this region. Had the same incident happened in Kashmir, the valley would have been on fire. Our region means nothing to others. This is the reason why we have been demanding a separate union territory for Ladakh so that we have our colleges, universities and hospitals, otherwise all the infrastructure facilities are extended to Jammu and the Valley.”
Chhewang wrote a letter to the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in mid-February seeking the minister’s personal intervention on the issue. In the letter, he wrote that the concerned authority in the state is “trying to protect him (the accused) and cause aspersion on the girl students from Ladakh. As a result of the incident, students community especially girl students from Ladakh studying in Srinagar, Jammu, Chandigarh, Dehradun and Delhi are feeling insecure and unsafe.”
Even the Congress MLA Rigzin Jora from Leh district felt that the current government has been ignoring Ladakh for long. For instance, when four girl students including three school-going girls climbed the Mount Everest as part of the NCC contingent in 2016, Mehbooba Mufti apparently didn’t honour them. “The whole issue has become betis of Ladakh vs betis of rest of the country.” MLAs from different parties including Omar Abdullah staged a walk out when the issue was raised in the assembly. “We have done whatever we could do in a democratic way by raising the issue in the house. What else can we do?” He poses the question with a sense of exasperation.
What happened in GMC is against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Beti Padao Beti Bachao slogan. If girl students from remote areas feel apprehensive to step out of their house for education then the whole purpose of overall development of girl child becomes meaningless and will remain only in policy papers. Another Congress MLA from Kargil district Asgar Karbalai appealed to the government to treat the victim at least as a girl student, if not a victim who belongs to the remotest village that remains cut off from the state for 10 months. “If the government doesn’t stand by the students how will they cultivate courage to study outside their village?” he questioned.
“It was only after all the legislators from Ladakh region approached Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti that the accused was put on suspension and later arrested. But now he is out on bail and the students at large are scared,” said Karbalai while pointing out with disenchantment that despite having a woman chief minister and a health minister who is from the BJP, girl students in the campus are feeling threatened.
It is alleged that there have been many more cases of harassment. Says Nubra legislator Deldan Nangyal “It takes a lot of courage to complain to the police and if this lone voice who gathered courage to go to the police and file an FIR against the accused is not given justice, then no girl student in future will ever have the guts to stand up for their rights and complaint against such heinous crimes. Ladakh didn’t reflect in the common minimum programme of PDP-BJP except making a passing reference of honouring it as apricot valley. We are not interested in all this. We need proper educational and health institutions. Why don’t we have central engineering or medical college in Ladakh, why everything is given to Jammu and Kashmir regions? If we have our own institutions, children won’t have to go out in distant places.”