SRINAGAR: Agreeing to the plea that a fair trial in Kashmir is challenging for him, the High Court has transferred the trial of erstwhile health minister Shabir Khan to Jammu. He has been accused of molesting a lady doctor, who happens to be the wife of a separatist politician.

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“It is not in dispute that respondent No 2, (complainant) who happens to be wife of a separatist leader, wields some influence amongst certain sections of people living in the valley who subscribe to his ideology,” the transfer order issued on February 22, 2023, by the court of Mr Justice Sanjay Dhar reads. “It is a fact of common knowledge that incidents of attacks on mainstream politicians and the people who do not subscribe to the separatist’s ideology are still taking place in Kashmir Valley. Therefore, it cannot be stated that apprehension expressed by the petitioner to his life at Srinagar while facing trial before the court is unfounded.”

In his plea, Shabir Ahmad Khan, the Congress party’s minister of state for health in Jammu and Kashmir has said that his defence lawyer, Mohammad Abdullah Pandit, refused to represent him in the court after he received a threat to his life. Later, Khan stated that he approached two more lawyers – Maroof Kha and Showkat, but they refused to plead his case.

Shabir A Khan (Congress)

“It is further submitted that the atmosphere surrounding the court premises is highly surcharged and hostile and whenever, he appears before the court, slogans are being raised against him inside and outside the court premises,” the order details Khan’s plea. “It is averred that at the time when the case is being taken up for hearing, the court remains jam-packed and the petitioner apprehends grave and serious bodily attack from the crowd which gathers over there, upon the instigation of the separatists.”

The court found merit in the plea and transferred the case to a Jammu court. The transfer was directed on basis of the status of the petitioner and background of the complainant as the court observed that “it appears that fair and impartial trial of the case that has been filed against the petitioner on the basis of the complaint lodged by respondent No 2, may not be possible at Srinagar”.

The case is an older one. On basis of the complaint filed by the lady doctor, the Jammu and Kashmir Police registered a case against Khan on February 6, 2014, at Shaheed Gunj police station for offences punishable under section 354 (outraging modesty of woman) and 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) of the Ranbir Penal Code (RPC). Khan resigned from the ministry within days.

This also led to his resignation as health minister in Omar Abdullah government on February 7, 2014. His party had advised him to put in his papers till an inquiry will find out the details about the allegations levelled against him. Khan, then represented Rajouri in the erstwhile state assembly.

In her complaint, the lady doctor had alleged that she was repeatedly summoned by Khan’s staff to meet the minister about some announcements made by the health minister in Delhi. The complainant claimed that even though she insisted the minister must get details from senior officials, still, she was compelled to report at the minister’s office on January 28.

The woman alleged that when she reached Khan’s office at the Secretariat, he acted like a “sexual predator” and made provocative advances – both verbal and physical. Besides, the minister offered her many favours despite her resentment. Later the police registered a case on basis of the complaint.

Police investigated the case and submitted the charge sheet. Now, Khan moved the High Court and sought the case transfer to Jammu. His petition claims that he is a politician was “falsely implicated” “due to political rivalry”, in order “to tarnish his image”.

The case is listed for trial on April 12, 2023, in the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate Jammu

The transfer of the case, interestingly, has off-court implications as well. “The ruling came at a time the Centre has been hard-selling an all-is-well line on Kashmir,” Kolkata-based newspaper Telegraph reported.

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