Russian woman who sneaked into Kashmir jailed

A Russian woman, who sneaked into Jammu and Kashmir illegally to participate in a highly guarded Hindu pilgrimage in the conflict-torn Himalayan region, has been sentenced to one-year in prison by a court here.

An official told Kashmir Dispatch that a sub inspector of police, who was posted on duty for protection of Hindu pilgrims to Amarnath Cave Shrine on August 24, this year, had found the Russian woman in ‘mysterious circumstances’ under Kakran bridge, which falls on the road to Sonmarg—one of the routes to the Hindu shrine located at an altitude of 3,888 m, about 141 km from Srinagar, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir.

Every year, thousands of Indian paramilitary police and local police are deployed to provide ‘security’ to pilgrims from potential threats from armed rebels in the region where an anti-India insurgency erupted in late 1980s. The forces position at various halts and also in the perimeter of the shrine.

The pilgrimage was banned from 1991 to 1995. In 1996, the ant-India rebels assured that they would not interfere allowing a resumed pilgrimage with far greater numbers than in previous years.

The woman was found in suspicious conditions and she disclosed her name as Bonetekia Zoia, 44, a resident of Lenningard— historically and currently known as Saint Petersburg— in Russia.

People travelling on a tourist visa do not need to register in India, however, special requirements are in place for Jammu and Kashmir. Travelers to Kashmir by airplane are registered at the airport on arrival and those coming by road need to fill in a registration form at a police checkpoint.

But on investigation, the official told Kashmir Dispatch, that the woman couldn’t produce her passport or visa and she had not registered herself with the police anywhere.

“We detained her. She was charged under the section 14 of the foreigners act and a First Information Report was filed on August 25,” he said.

The woman told her interrogators that she had ‘sneaked in to India through the Nepal border’ to participate in the annual heavily guarded pilgrimage which sees participation of hundreds of thousand Hindus from the Indian mainland  to the Amarnath cave on challenging mountainous terrain to see an ice stalagmite formed inside the cave.

“She first said that she had lost the visa, but admitted that she had sneaked in illegally via Nepal without a passport and visa in the court,” an official at a court in Jammu and Kashmir’s Ganderbal told Kashmir Dispatch.

“…I am satisfied that the accused has confessed the guilt out of her own voluntariness. There doesn’t seem any force or corrosion upon the accused,” the court said in its judgment on December 17.

“Accordingly the court sentences the convict to one-year in prison,” the order further read.  The woman is lodged in Central Jail in the summer capital Srinagar.

The court asked the jail superintendent to process the case of her deportation once she serves the sentence.

During the course of investigation, the police in September, this year, had contacted Russian embassy in New Delhi but there was no response, the investigating officer of the case said.

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