It took three months for the nation’s conscience to wake up to the grisly rape and murder of an eight-year-old in Kathua, Jammu. Around the same time as when the Bakerwal girl’s body was recovered in January, another minor girl from Kulgam, Kashmir, came out with her story: she had been kidnapped, drugged and raped multiple times, and forced to be part of a sex racket.
Shockingly, in her case, too, there seems to be the involvement of a police official. She also spoke to the media and named a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) but his name was dropped in the court proceedings.
With four days left for the chargesheet to be filed in the case, why haven’t the policeman and the MLA been interrogated even after the girl has repeatedly named them?
On January 21, 2018, the aggrieved parents of Abda* rushed to the Kulgam police station to file a first information report (FIR). Their daughter had been missing for seven days. The same day, the police managed to trace a terrified 16-year-old Abda in Banihal.
As the police began their probe, a sex racket was unearthed. This is what we know of it from the police investigation and conversations with the victim.
Abda and Shaziya* went to the same Government High School in Kulgam. The 16-year-old girls befriended each other in early November, 2017. Just like any other high school girls, they giggled over boys and passed notes in the class. Abda even brought her home once in a while. “I loved her like my own daughter and felt so sad for her because she didn’t have a father. I even made chicken for her,” said Abda’s mother.
One day, Shaziya confessed to Abda that she was pregnant. “I was shocked. Shaziya also told me that she had threatened the father that if he didn’t pay her Rs 20,000, she would ruin his house,” said Abda.
Eventually, Abda said Shaziya also confessed to her that she wasn’t sure who the father was since she had had sex with many men. Nevertheless, she needed the money and hence threatened a man who she had sex with recently.
Shaziya took Abda to a medical shop where Abda was made to stand outside, while Shaziya bought abortion pills. Then Shaziya took her to her house.
This is where Abda met Meema, Shaziya’s mother.
When Meema found out about the abortion pills, she told Abda not to tell anyone. “Me being a woman, I understand the shame that comes with abortion at such a young age. So, I promised Meema that I wouldn’t tell anyone,” said Abda. Initially, she said, Meema and Shaziya were very kind to her.
Little did she know of horror that awaited her.
Meema, a widow, lived with her three children — Shaziya, Soni and Aashiq. Her fourth son studies in Pulwama.
Abda claimed that one day, Meema pressured her to accompany them to Jammu. “I didn’t know how far Jammu was. They told me that we would return the same day, so I went,” said Abda. On reaching Jammu, Abda was asked to call her mother and tell her that she wouldn’t be coming home for a few days. Meema sternly told her not to mention that they were in Jammu.
That night, Abda’s mother peacefully went to bed thinking that Abda was just a few kilometres away studying in her friend’s house.
On returning from Jammu, Abda said she met one Shabir Ahmad in Meema’s house in Kulgam. Shabir who was Meema’s friend had been drinking heavily when they met. “I wanted to go home but they forced me to stay for few more hours and drink a soft drink with them. I started to feel drowsy as soon as I drank it. All I remember was Shabir taking me upstairs and making me lie on a bed. I lost consciousness immediately,” she said.
When Abda woke up, Shabir and Meema told her that they had taken “dirty videos” of her. “They only showed me a small bit of the video and told me that if I told anyone, they would post it on Facebook and show the world what a dirty girl I am. I got scared,” said Abda.
Ever since that day in late November, Abda, Meema, Shaziya, Aashiq and Shabir made at least six trips to Jammu, each for three to four days. In Jammu, Abda said, they always stayed at Hotel Sahara, in room number 101 or 102.
Abda was given a new name by Meema – Seerat.
On every trip to Jammu Abda would be drugged and raped before being brought back to Kulgam. She says she was raped at least eight to nine times.
Abda was never given money. She would be served rice and sometimes they bought her second-hand clothes. She also added that at one point, she had met two other girls like her who had been “brought for the same reason but all their faces were covered” so that they couldn’t see each other. They were also “warned against talking to each other”.
According to Abda, the employees of Hotel Sahara knew exactly what was going on. In fact, she said that one of the hotel workers, Chottu, also raped her. “He once brought along another friend who seemed rich. When Chottu raped me, I wasn’t drugged. They hit me and threatened to show my videos to Abbu, then I kept quiet,” said Abda.
She said whenever she woke up after being drugged, she found herself undressed with a man in her bed. She never found any marks on her body but her vagina and stomach would constantly hurt. Whenever she resisted anything Meema wanted her to do, she would hit her.
“Police zyada badmaash hoti hai, Seerat”
During one of her trips to Jammu, Abda claimed that she had been raped by an SHO from Jammu. One night at Hotel Sahara when everyone was sitting for their “usual round of drinks” a “fat man with a moustache joined them”. Abda managed to steal a glance at his ID card and saw his name. But she can’t recall it now. She also saw a picture on it of him wearing a police uniform that had three stars on his shoulder. “When I saw the same three stars on the SHO Kulgam, I realised that this was an SHO from Jammu,” she said.
According to Abda, the SHO joined them for drinks where she was yet again served a drink laced with drugs. The next morning, she woke up to find herself stark naked. Next to her, lay the SHO from Jammu, also naked. “When I started crying he told me not to worry and that nothing had happened to me. He gave me his number and told me to call him,” she said.
The phone in which Abda saved his contact number is currently with the police.
In a fit of rage she had told him that he should be ashamed of himself for doing this, especially because he was a policeman. “He laughed and told me, “Tum police ko nahi jante ho. Police hi zyada badmaash hoti hai [You don’t know the police, it’s worst],” said Abda.
Abda’s worried parents
During all this time, Abda parents were worried. “My daughter would disappear for days saying she was going to her friend’s house. I was very angry when I noticed that she had lost interest in studies. Whenever she came back from ‘her trips’, she wouldn’t talk to anyone but sit quietly in her dark room,” said Abda’s mother.
One time, Abda’s father got so angry that he tied her up and refused to let her go outside. “I was scared Meema would upload the video. So, I threatened Abbu that I would commit suicide if he didn’t untie me,” said Abda.
Nevertheless, after this incident Abda wrote down the names and numbers of Meema, Shabir, Shaziya and few others involved in the case in a notebook in her room. “I kept thinking that if they kill me at least Abbu will know who did it,” she said.
This act of Abda is what eventually saved her.
The last time Abda went to Jammu, Shaziya snatched her phone because she had objected to going with them. “She told me she is going to the shop and never returned. I again thought she went to her friend’s house. But this time she didn’t answer her phone for days,” said Abda’s mother.
Finally, Abda’s mother started searching her daughter’s room for clues. That’s when she found the notebook with the names and numbers.
On January 21, Abda’s father filed a missing person’s FIR at the Kulgam police station.
At the police station: Meema hits her, the SHO warns her
From Banihal, Abda was brought straight to the Kulgam police station. Meema had also been summoned to the station. “When Meema saw me, she quickly slipped me one of her gold earrings and told me that she would give me the other one once I tell the court that she was innocent,” said Abda. Nevertheless, in court Abda testified against Meema.
Back in the police station, Meema caught Abda alone and hit her. “While she was hitting me, Shaziya was calling me dirty names. She told me she would ruin my life. Until the SHO came in and hit Meema, she didn’t stop beating me,” said Abda.
The initial investigation had been conducted by Kulgam SHO, Gowhar Ali.
Abda claimed that Gowhar Ali was very ‘kind’ to her and asked her to tell the truth in court. Except, he asked her to leave one name out — Abdul Majid Paddar, PDP MLA, Noorabad. He said “it would cause too much hungama [uproar]”.
“The SHO would tell me this in Kashmiri and the DSP and SSP who were non-locals would get angry with him and ask him to talk to me in Hindi/Urdu. Before I went to court, the SHO made me practice what I would say few times,” said Abda.
Abda alleged that Majid Paddar was in close contact with Meema.
“Often, when we returned from Jammu he used to call Meema and tell her that he wanted to see her as no one was in his house. We would wait outside his house while she went in. The guards knew her and never asked her anything. She would come back out in half an hour and we would go home,” said Abda. One time, Abda claimed that Majid Paddar called Meema at 2 am. She knew this because she said she saw the name appear on Meema’s phone. After a brief conversation with Majid Paddar, Meema hung up and asked Abda to go to his house. “She said that he wanted a girl and would offer 10,000 rupees,” said Abda. When Abda refused claiming to be sick, Meema went.
She also recalled that everytime someone threatened Meema with anything, she would threaten them that she “was well connected and even knew MLA Paddar”.
Abda has named the MLA in her statement to the local media, following which Paddar stated that she was lying and someone had forced her to name him. He remained unavailable for comment to Newslaundry.
When Newslaundry contacted Gowhar Ali, SHO Kulgam, he said: “Initially when I was conducting the investigation, she never mentioned Majid Paddar’s name. She only said his name later on when the case had been transferred to the Special Investigation Team (SIT). So, I don’t know.”
In response to this, Abda said: “Let him say this in front of me. He knew everything from the very beginning.”
It has been 86 days since the FIR has been filed by Abda’s father. During this time he has suffered intimidation and had to go into hiding for nearly a month. A special investigation team is now looking into the case.
When Newslaundry contacted SSP Kulgam, Shridhar Patil, he said: “We will file the chargesheet next week. As of now, we cannot divulge in the details.”
Ever since the probe was launched Meema has been lodged in Central Jail Srinagar, her daughter Shaziya is at a juvenile home, while Riyaz Admad Wani, Adil and Shabir Ahmad are at district jail, Anantnag. Aashiq, Meema’s son has not been taken into custody yet.
According to Abda’s lawyer, Irshad Ahmad Wani, the investigation has been extremely shoddy. On March 13, the lawyer filed an application for monitoring before the Kulgam district court stating that: “The police concerned is neither taking any action against the aforesaid Hotel (Hotel Sahara), its management, employees/ Incharge etc nor they tried to know all said persons who are responsible in using the minor victim for commercial sex in said hotel. Moreover, some police officer is also involved in the case, but police concerned is silent in investigating the matter thoroughly. The police concerned have not yet taken any action under immoral Traffic Prevention Act in the matter. Identification of many persons is required to be carried on in the matter.”
He added that after his application, the court had directed the SIT to file a case report with the progress of the investigation: “Due to constant hartals in Kulgam since then, they have not filed the report.”
Abda said she had been called for identification three times. During these identification parades, she identified Riyaz and Adil. During the third test, the police brought in several person’s named Bilal who she had named in court but Abda said she failed to identify any of them as the Bilal she knew.
Abda also confirmed that she was never called in to identify any SHO from Jammu, Chottu or any other employee from Hotel Sahara. A senior official within the Kulgam police who is closely associated with the case and did not wish to be named told Newslaundry, “Abda has not been taken to Jammu for identifying any of the accused there. The SHO from Jammu and Chottu need to be brought to Kashmir. That hasn’t been done yet.”
He refused to confirm whether Majid Paddar had been investigated or not.
According to the official case description, the FIR was registered used section 363 (Kidnapping) and 120B (Criminal conspiracy) of the Ranbir Penal Code. The document also mentions, “Offense under section 363, 376, 120B of RPC was proved against accused Shabir Ahmad”. That is, kidnapping, rape and criminal conspiracy. Riyaz Ahmad Wani has also been identified for committing a crime under section 376, that is rape and is being investigated for the same.
With just four days left for the chargesheet to be filed, it is surprising that no efforts have been made to investigate Abda’s statements that pertain to the involvement of a police official and PDP MLA. Moreover, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has issued no statement yet assuring Abda of a fair probe given that her own party member has been named. Perhaps the CM and the state machinery are waiting for another round of national outrage to act.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the minor girls.
This article was first published in Newslaundry.