Dr Hameeda* was home on 27 January, when she received a telephone call from the J&K health minister’s office summoning her. On the other side was the minister’s personal assistant (PA), Mazhar Khan. The minister, Shabir Ahmed Khan, wanted details on funds sought by the health centre where Hameeda worked as a block medical officer. Even as Hameeda told Mazhar that the information would be available with the director of the health department, the PA insisted on her presence at the minister’s office the next afternoon.
When she arrived at Shabir Khan’s office the next day, she was told to wait in his private cabin. Sensing her apprehension, the minister assured her that she had nothing to worry about. He arrived in the cabin moments later, shut its door and sat on the sofa next to her. In the course of the next 15 minutes, the lady doctor had to force open the cabin’s door and escape. The minister, she later said, “…acted like a sexual predator and made sickening verbal, physical advances towards me”.
In her complaint to the police, made seven days after the incident, the doctor accused the minister of seeking sexual favours from her in exchange for a bigger role in the state health department.
The complaint against the minister sent the National Conference-Congress coalition government into a tizzy, forcing Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to pressure the Congress into directing Khan to put in his papers. Khan resigned later that evening, and the day after, the Srinagar Chief Judicial Magistrate, Rajiv Gupta, issued an arrest warrant against him.
However, Khan is not the only politician implicated in a case of sexual misconduct. Two serving legislators in the state — Ghulam Ahmad Mir, the state’s tourism minister from the Congress, and Hakim Yaseen, an MLA of the People’s Democratic Front — also faced similar charges. Mir was one of the main accused in the infamous Srinagar sex scandal, which involved nearly 100 young girls and scores of police officers, leading to an uproar in the state in 2006. He was arrested in June 2006 and released in July 2007.
Yaseen was named by the J&K High Court in its judgment in August 2007 in another sex scandal. The order, which named several politicians, bureaucrats and senior policemen, said the leaders doled out favours to women in exchange for sex.
Similarly, two more Congress leaders — Tara Chand, the deputy chief minister of the state, and Peerzada Muhammad Sayeed, MLA and former state Congress president — have been accused by a fellow Congress leader of being involved in the 2006 sex scandal. In 2008, Congress MP Madan Lal Sharma told a rally at Akhnoor in Jammu that Congress president Sonia Gandhi and the then J&K chief minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, had intervened to save Tara Chand and Peerzada Sayeed from arrest for their involvement in the scandal.
Minutes before she escaped from Shabir Khan’s private office, Hameeda was offered a cushy position in the state AIDS Prevention and Control Society if she served Kehwa (green tea) to the minister at his guesthouse. According to the FIR, Khan told her, “The Kehwa that you served at your health institution was very delicious. Did you get that from home or elsewhere? It was tasty. I want to come by your office again to taste it. When and where can I have it again because I cannot come to your house. Do you want to get some higher position in the AIDS department? What is your length of service?”
At a time when the Congress is looking to consolidate its political base in the state and emerge as the single largest party in the forthcoming Assembly election, allegations of sexual misconduct against its leaders are likely to hit the party hard. Besides, complaints of sexual misconduct, six Congress legislators — Taj Mohiudin, GM Saroori, Rajinder Singh Chib, Raman Bhalla, Sham Lal Sharma Tara Chand and Peerzada Sayeed — face serious charges of corruption against them.
*Name changed to protect identity