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Unrest in Jammu and Kashmir over sex racket

People across the valley took to the streets to protest against police inaction in the alleged sex racket.

May 7, 2006

An angry mob in Srinagar razed two houses of Sabeena, who was arrested along with four others for allegedly running a prostitution racket that provided teenage girls to politicians, police officials, and government officials. Demonstrators clashed with the police as the Kashmir valley observed a total bandh to protest against police inaction against the accused. The mob threw stones and burned tyres.

Around 20 people were injured and over 50 people detained after nearly 2,000 protesters demolished a house at Habbakadal owned by Sabeena in downtown Srinagar. In Chinkral Mohalla, protesters attacked a property owned by Sabeena. 

Police fired warning shots in the air and tear gas to disperse the mobs.

A strike was called by separatist women's group, Dukhtaran-e-Millat, or Daughters of the Community, traders, and lawyers. Shops and businesses were closed in Srinagar in response to the strike. Attendance was low in government offices, while educational institutions, banks, and courts remained closed across the valley. There were massive demonstrations called by various political and non-political organisations, including the hardline faction of the Hurriyat Conference, in protest of police inaction against big names involved in the scandal. They were demanding that those involved be named. 

Demonstrations were held at Lal Chowk, Residency Road, Jehangir Chowk, Nowhatta, Hazratbal, Bemina and Batmaloo in Srinagar.

Reports of peaceful demonstrations were also received from almost all the five other districts of the Kashmir Valley.

Last week, Sabeena and four others were arrested last week after videos on mobile phones showing nude girls began circulating in Srinagar. Sabina had been arrested on similar charges in 2004 from the adjoining Chinkral Mohalla, but was later let off. Sabeena's police remand has been extended till May 13. 

Earlier this week, Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad asked the CBI to probe the matter. The decision was instigated by a letter written to the Chief Minister by the Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig asking him to hand over the case to the CBI. Baig insisted that police investigations may not be credible considering some police officials had been named by the girls who had been arrested. 

Meanwhile, the J&K High Court took suo motu cognisance of media reports and asked the state police to reveal the names of police officials and politicians allegedly involved in the racket.

The scandal broke when two months ago, some people from a locality in Srinagar handed over a CD. Investigations revealed a nude shot taken with a mobile phone. The young girl figuring in the shot was arrested. She was a class 8 student who had been drugged, raped, and forced into prostitution. 

In the meantime, two other minor girls, who had also been forcibly filmed, claimed that two former ministers, bureaucrats, prominent businessmen and police officials (SPs and DSPs) are involved in the racket. According to the two girls, around 43 young girls were forced into prositution. The J & K High Court has taken up the case, taking suo moto cognizance of blackmail and coercion of teenaged girls into prostitution. 

Across the valley, the outrage is palpable. Dukhtaran-e-Millat chief Asiya Andrabi has accused the Government of patronising the "flesh trade". 

One of the girls who had been forced into prostitution said that most of the girls are either forced or blackmailed into the trade or lured by promises of employment. She further added that she had volunteered all help to the police, but it wasn't of any use as those involved in the trade were influential. She claimed the racket was a nexus of politicians, surrendered militants, and police. She also said that the group operated through beauty parlours, offices, and official residences. 

The CBI team will reach Srinagar on Saturday and take over the case.

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