Zahida Dar, implicated on charges of arson and attempt to murder, gets uncontested bail

Under threat from the separatist leadership, the Omar Abdullah government is dropping all charges — including attempt to murder — against a 24-year-old woman whose arrest in Anantnag on Friday last has stirred up a hornet’s nest. Zahida Dar of Botengo neighbourhood at the South Kashmir district headquarters had been called to the local station and detained for her alleged involvement in an incident of arson in 2010.

Authoritative sources revealed to The Hindu that under instructions from the top echelons of the Jammu and Kashmir government, the police is not only dropping charges against Ms. Zahida but also recommending her case for an ex gratia relief given to the civilians killed or injured in militancy-related incidents. On Saturday, sources said, officials directed a public prosecutor to “go slow” and also communicated a request to the judicial quarters, making clear that the prosecution had no objection to the woman’s enlargement on bail.

Ms. Zahida’s brother, Ghulam Nabi Dar, confirmed that all charges against her were being dropped. “Police officers and the SHO are now kind enough to prepare a case of relief in her favour. They were all helpful in getting her released on bail,” Mr. Dar told The Hindu.

She had been picked up along with 16 other youths with the allegation that she led a group of arsonists who torched a petrol filling station near Delhi Darbar restaurant at Khannabal and attempted to kill some uniformed men. An ambulance had been set on fire at the same spot overnight.

While two young men had died in the police firing on the mob, Ms. Zahida sustained gunshot wounds in her thigh. She remained incapacitated for six months but recovered fully.

‘No more wanted’

Officials wished not to speak to the media but confirmed that the woman was now at her home and “no more wanted.” They admitted that FIR No: 355, dated 18-09-2010, contained about a dozen charges, including section 307 Ranbir Penal Code (attempt to murder) but added that it was blank in terms of identification of the accused. One of them said that Ms. Zahida’s arrest was the result of a “mistaken identity”.

Sources said that the principal mainstream opposition outfit, People’s Democratic Party, had exerted substantial pressure on the police, seeking the woman’s release. Some leaders claimed she was their group’s activist. Significantly, PDP’s district youth president for Anantnag, Bilal Ahmad Najjar, and another civilian, Noor-ul-Amin Dagga, had died in the same shoot-out, while Zahida had a narrow escape.

Some political circles, however, insist that threats from separatist leaders, notably the Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani, worked and forced the police to go on the back foot. In a statement from New Delhi, Mr. Geelani had threatened the Omar government with “dire consequences” if Ms. Zahida was not released immediately.