In an unabashed denial that locals in Kashmir can be involved in harassment of the fairer sex, the opposition National Conference is trying to cover up the molestation incident in Srinagar's half marathon — in which local girls were eve-teased by local boys — as a regular anti-government protest. NC's chief spokesperson Aga Syed Ruhullah Mehdi on Thursday downplayed the incident, saying the boys involved in the incident were not "hooligans" but anti-government agitators. Mehdi even lambasted the ruling People's Democratic Party for having shown solidarity to the molested girls. "The PDP cannot brand the protesting youth as molesters. It is tragic and unacceptable. Hundreds of youth were protesting and raising anti-government slogans and they cannot be branded as hooligans," Mehdi said.
The reaction of the police, who are yet to arrest anybody in the case, is not any different. Although 12 persons have been booked for eve teasing and molestation of female participants of the half marathon, which was held in Srinagar last Sunday, arrests are yet to be made.
The police too is trying to give the impression that the marathon was primarily marred by anti-government demonstrations.
A senior police officer said on the condition of anonymity that soon after the half-marathon was flagged off by the authorities, some youth waved Pakistani flags and raised anti-India slogans. "The case is separate and we are investigating it," he said, while admitting that "no student has been arrested" for publicly shaming the female participants during the half-marathon. He said that the incident took place near Brain Nishat, when some hooligans halted the female participants and molested them.
"We identified 12 youth and they have been booked by us," the police official said. Some "eyewitnesses" too claimed that what happened was a mere protest against the two ministers and a bevy of bureaucrats who attended the event. They said that some participants who returned from the half marathon started hurling water bottles at the dais where the function was underway. The commotion resulted in chaos as people started looking for shelter.
These witnesses termed the groping and molestation as "some minor injuries to students who had come to participate in this event".
However, one of the participants, Sanna Hijabsta Naq shared her traumatic experience on Facebook. "I participated in Kashmir's first ever big marathon for 'change' this morning and I have been left traumatized... a mob of 20-30 boys aged 13-17 showed up and surrounded us out of nowhere... they had shoved and pushed my cousin and I was left in the middle of gawking, screaming, young men attacking and harassing me. I was pushed and shoved back and forth like fresh bait and then 2 or 3 of those teens started groping me while they shoved and pushed me around," she posted on the social networking site.
A witness told this newspaper that two female participants from a nearby school had to be hospitalised after they complained of breathlessness due to the use of teargas shells. PHE Minister Sukhnandan Kumar and Sports Minister Imran Raza Ansari along with senior police and civil officers had a narrow escape from the irate mob.
However, Inspector General of Police Kashmir Range S.J.M. Geelani told the media that they have enough evidence against the youth and have witnesses also to prove that they were involved in molesting female participants.
"We received complaints from a few girls and also talked to the girl who posted her experience on Facebook," an officer with Nageen Police Station told this newspaper.
PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said that "it was highly regrettable and condemnable that some miscreants assaulted our daughters and sisters who were among the participants in the half marathon."
The 21-kilometre half marathon titled "Big Kashmir Marathon and Run For Change" was conducted by 92.7 FM and Department of PHE and Irrigation. Thousands of participants passed through the banks of Dal Lake to the University of Kashmir campus.
International athletes from Kenya and other African countries too participated in the event.
The aim of the marathon was to raise awareness among the students on social issues including conservation of water-bodies, preserving the environment and learning the importance of following traffic rules.