Abdul Qayoom Bhat, a beleaguered father who recently shouldered his 17-year-old son’s coffin, is not surprised at the state government disallowing a group of legislators from tabling a bill providing for punishment for torture inflicted by “public servants”. He got the answer in the same session of the legislature that concluded last week. His son Umar Qayoom’s death has not been counted in the list of civilians killed in Kashmir Valley since June 11.
Umar died of respiratory hypertension with severely deranged blood gases, diffuse intrapulmonary hemorrhage and blunt trauma on chest, 51 hours after he was admitted to Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, which is at a stone’s throw from his house in Soura locality of Srinagar. Before landing in the hospital, Umar had been freed from the local police station where he was lodged for indulging in stone-pelting on police and paramilitaries.
Umar was part of a crowd that pelted stones at police and paramilitary CRPF with shortly after conclusion of Friday prayers on August 20. While being chased by police, Umar fell down only to be overpowered by a group of angry policemen in riot-gear. “He was given first bout of punishment with rifle butts, bamboo sticks and helmets. His head was banged several times against (iron) shutter of a closed shop. Then, he was almost dragged to police station,” say eyewitnesses.
Bhat’s three daughters wailed at home for their lone brother, compelling him to move from pillar to post to get his son released. Next day, he got bail for his son from the district magistrate but police refused to honour it. When he was persuading the policemen to release his son, he was only offered a chance to speak to him for a moment. “He (Umar) wept profusely and pleaded to take him to hospital. He complained that he was beaten up severely during the night and electric shocks were given at the blood-oozing wounds” said Bhat.
When finally Umar was released (on bail), his father took him to hospital for a check-up and then they went to their home. However, during the night, blood started oozing out of his mouth amid shooting abdominal pain. He was quickly taken to the nearby SKIMS hospital where he was put on ventilator. Next, he slipped into coma and succumbed to his internal injuries without gaining consciousness again. Bhat’s predicament is that the system requires him to register a case at a place where his son was tortured and, with those who he accuses of “murdering” his son. He could not get an FIR registered.
Umar is, perhaps the latest victim of intragation, a mispronounced word for interrogation in custody, which, in Kashmir, invariably means being subject to brutal, inhuman torture. Hundreds of people have died in torture centers in the Valley during past two decades. Human Rights activists say that torture has been widely used as a “war-weapon to suppress people, curb rebellion and to force them into submission. Most of the estimated 10,000 persons subjected to enforced disappearance are believed to have been victims of torture in custody. “Their bodies have been buried in inquisition camps, torture cells or mass graves found all across the Valley,” said a noted human rights activist.
Umar’s case points to the state use of torture as a weapon to crush dissent and may explain why state’s Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ali Muhammad Sagar scuttled a private members’ bill – “Jammu and Kashmir Prevention of Torture Act, 2010”- in the state assembly. The bill seeks punishment for torture inflicted by public servants or any person inflicting torture with the consent or acquiescence of any public servant. Incidentally, one of the pleaders for the enactment was the ruling National Conference lawmaker Chowdhary Muhammad Ramzan besides Marxist legislator MY Tarigami and Independent member Engineer Abdur Rashid.
Sagar opposed the bill at the stage of introduction. His plea was that central government was formulating a similar law – Prevention of Torture Act. “The law would be copied in Jammu and Kashmir in due course of time,” Sagar told the House.
As torture in custody is widely prevalent in Jammu and Kashmir, and number of custodial deaths being much higher in proportion as compared to other places, legal experts say, the state government should have woken up to the crises much before the areas where the phenomenon occurs on a lesser scale. The J&K legislature has distinction to enact laws, which are not necessarily approved by the central government. Even, the implementation part if government’s own prerogative. J&K was the first state to enact central Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). Even, the Farooq Abdullah regime, confiscated the property of a suspected over-ground militant in 2001 in old Srinagar.
The bill intended to establish state level jurisdiction to try cases of torture where an alleged torturer is not a resident of state; to provide a mechanism to promptly investigate any allegation of torture and to provide an enforceable right to compensation to the victims of torture and ban the use of evidence obtained via torture in the courts. Coincidentally, the people living in areas these legislators belong to – Kulgam, Langate and Handwara – have been the worst victims of the torture.
Torture is defined as infliction of severe physical pain upon a person in order to force him or her to (do something) against will or to punish. So many believe torture is used to punish or to extract confessions. The practice has been prevalent in Kashmir for centuries. With the change of systems and rulers, the phenomenon remained unchanged though its magnitude varied with time. In fact, many regimes in Kashmir have been known by the police officers or generals who terrorized people with their abrasive torture methods.
Tarigami in his statement of Objects and Reasons tracks down the history of suppression and subjugation to alien rules but decries the perpetuity even after 1947. “It is unfortunate that there has been no significant let up in the abuse of legitimate rights of people since 1947”.
As a matter of fact custodial deaths, extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances have considerably increased during the period of ongoing turmoil. “While genuine democracies across the world take all possible steps to ensure protection of human rights of their people, absolutely disallow impunity for violation of any right and public servants are under constant scrutiny to ensure human rights, torture has become rampantly institutionalized in the state of Jammu and Kashmir,” Tarigami said in the assembly. Courtesy Public Safety Act and other draconian laws, he says, people here are hounded and condemned to incarceration for indefinite periods without trial.
Tarigami narrated his own ordeal when he was kept at notorious pre-militancy interrogation center Red-16. The memory of the torture center haunts many Kashmiris who happened to be young and on the wrong side of establishment in mid-1970’s to late 1980s. “Police and other security forces catch hold of men with snow white beards, wrinkled visages, rickety bodies on the street and shamelessly brutalize them at bayonet points.
A new culture of impunity for violation of basic human rights under different draconian laws including AFSPA is being perpetuated in the name of security.” Tarigami pleaded that in order to safeguard the fundamental rights of the people as enshrined in the Constitution of India as well as the Constitution of J&K, it is important to punish the perpetrators of torture.
Engineer Rashid while pleading for the passage of bill stated that torture and use of third degree methods have become a routine procedure for police personnel to extract forced confessions from the accused. “The police authorities resort to barbaric and inhuman methods just to give an impression that they have solved the case irrespective of the fact whether such person has committed any wrong or not”. Rashid says that the forced confessions fail to withstand the legal scrutiny.“The statistics of criminal cases challaned (lodged) by the police on the basis of forced confessions would reveal that such accused persons have invariably been acquitted by the courts as the police ultimately fail to prove them guilty and the forced confessions do not stand the scrutiny of courts”.
Interestingly, the lawmakers have not taken the failed initiative by their own ingenuity and wisdom. In fact, it is the Lok Sabha’s passage of bill, which was sent to select committee by the upper house of the parliament for more scrutiny. The Parliament has observed that there have been 16836 instances of reported deaths in police and judicial custody between 1994 and 2009, apart from a much higher number of cases of custodial torture and cruel treatment. This is so, in spite of the fact that the Supreme Court has repeatedly described torture, cruel and degrading treatment of persons in custody as a blatant and uncondonable violation of the human and fundamental rights of our citizens. The Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010, is intended to align the administration of criminal justice system with constitutional standards and also with the principles enshrined in the UN Convention against Torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
The Kashmiri legislators have not attached statistics on torture in the bill nor have mentioned the number of torture centers run by the police and security agencies in the state. They have highlighted the general theme of torture, which is known to almost every individual in Kashmir. During the last twenty years, tens of thousands of people have undergone torture in custody in Kashmir.
Nazir Ahmad, a 35-year-old separatist activist in north Kashmir’s Pattan area seems to be a normal young man but his close acquaintances know that he lives a hellish life since troopers tortured him inside an interrogation centre in mid 1990’s. He is compelled to stuff his underwear with thick folds of a cloth – like a diaper. He has lost control over urination due to the electric shocks he was administered during the torture. “This is a continuous torture. I do not venture out of my house and whenever I do go out, it takes a lot of time to prepare for it,” he says. The doctors have advised surgery but that costs Rs 40,000. “I don’t have money to go for the treatment. Therefore, I have to live with this defect, till I manage something,” he says.
He told Kashmir Life that he was subjected to inhuman torture in custody. “An electric wire was inserted deep into my private parts and then shocks of electric current were given. There were four soldiers on my body rolling a wooden pole when the electric shocks were given”, he narrated.
During the initial years of militancy in Kashmir, the security agencies lost the intelligence network, effectively if not completely. This left the security agencies to pick up threads from nowhere, virtually throwing arrows in air. The operations were carried on gut-feeling rather than specific tip-off. This led to massive cordon and search operations, sometimes spanning for a week in a particular area. The security forces would summon people to an open ground (usually they were flocked on gun-point or dragged out of homes).
The usual suspects were youngsters and bearded persons. Even a slip of tongue or a misunderstanding would land people in trouble. The soldiers would randomly check heartbeat or pulse rate. If someone seemed to be nervous, he was taken to be a militant fit for torture to “reveal information”. The security forces had makeshift interrogation centers on the site where the “suspects” were tortured to elicit information about militants and their sympathizers. Usually, they agreed to point fingers to save their own skin. The method triggered an unending cycle of torture.
People who have gone through the ordeal of witnessing cordon and search operations, remember how they were paraded before rows of green Gypsy vehicles. “I remember once being paraded before 14 cars at Sarafwari playground in Rainawari. Fortunately, the horn did not blow when I passed in front of the vehicle row,” said Muhammad Ashraf, a government employee, “But everyone was not lucky. The forces picked up around 20 youngsters and subjected them to inhuman torture.”
The method sometimes netted the right fish and even helped the security forces rear their sources. After the intelligence network revived completely and even outfits of surrogate soldiers were launched, torture continued unabated. Security forces are a ubiquitous species and wherever they are, they have quarters for “questioning” in addition to the quarter guards and the detention rooms. People traveling from south Kashmir to Srinagar in early 1990’s remember how detained youth were flocked blindfolded in Kashmir’s biggest interrogation centre at Badamibagh Cantonment, the headquarters of Army’s XV Corps.
The Fair View Guest House at Gupkar Road, which is now the official residence of former Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, was the notorious Papa-2 torture center. Another former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad transformed Cheshma Shahi Interrogation center, a multi-crore feudal property into CM’s official residence. It was later changed into a multi-star sate guest house. “The walls of these palatial houses are witness to hundreds of custodial deaths and inhuman methods of torture,” said Abdul Qayoom, who has spent a week in the notorious camp. Much later came the infamous Kot Balwal Joint Interrogation Center in Jammu where victims were exported for “advanced methods of torture”.
A senor journalist says that it is debatable whether or not the twin laws – Disturbed Areas Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, permit the army and various paramilitaries to operate their own interrogation centres and to disobey the apex court guidelines about arrests and the subsequent follow-up, but it is a fact that all the agencies ran their own network of lock-ups and interrogation centres in the past, and the practice continues. Joint Interrogation Centres (JIC) and the prisons of various status are only a part of the wider prison network that operates in Kashmir, he said.
The Bollywood highlights many a police’s maltreatment to victims in spine-chilling enactments of torture. But the people who have gone through the experience say that the actual act is more horrendous and atrocious. Qayoom, who has been through brutal tortures five times in a span of ten years, says that the torture includes every possible inhuman act. The series includes – roller treatment, administrating electric shocks at the most sensitive spots, hanging upside down, forcing of take a lot of water with genitals tied tightly, four to six persons trampling over him, had chilies in rectum and sometimes a rod as well (cog needle method), made to stand without closing eyes for days together, get nails, hair and beard forked out, body singed with cigarette butts, sometime buttocks ironed, and remain naked for days together with a small pot for his fecal matter.
The detainees are supposed to maintain the time table of going to bathroom and there are cases when there is no permission to take baths for months together. They would sometimes be provided a beltless trouser. Qayoom developed non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma after the maltreatment at the interrogation centers. Though doctors have no specific proof to link the malignancy with torture, he believes that the death of cells in his body has triggered somewhere in the torture cell. He is fortunate that the chemotherapy has worked on him. In Kashmir, the methods of interrogation would change with weather, places, individuals and even forces.
During winters and more often on borders those detained would be asked to walk on snow barefooted. This would lead to frost bites and finally to the amputations. Preventing detainees from routine meetings with the family members and providing misleading information about his female relatives has all along been the worst psychological torture and it is yet in progress. After the government managed the revival of police and launched the Special Operations Group (SOG), a counterinsurgency force, the prevalence of torture only but scaled new heights. This is evident from the number of custodial deaths in police camps.
Any visitor to the SOG lock-ups can see a criss cross of nylon ropes dangling from the ceiling giving an impression of the worst human circus. In isolated cases heart rendering torture methods were used by the interrogators (belonging to any security agency) to get the confessions of their liking. During initial days of militancy, the detainees would be given food contaminated with dead insects and pebbles. A son, once, was ordered to suck the private parts of his father. Another man was forced to undress in front of his daughter and wife. A University employee told Kashmir Life that he was detained along-with a stranger. “An officer stripped us and asked to hold each other’s genitals. We had no option but to abide.
All we did was to hang our heads and evade eye contact,” he said. Worse, anyone would turn into an interrogator. Even the sentries detailed for night security turned into interrogators, mostly to draw “sadistic pleasure” out of the victim’s ordeal. In countless cases, the detained could not bear the torture and died. Against just four cases of deaths in custody in 1989, the prevalence of custodial deaths increased exponentially. Human rights organizations maintain that most of the people killed in fake encounters are actually the victims of torture. The security forces used to take them out of the interrogation centers and pumped bullets into their bodies. Actually, the death occurred during torture. Noted human rights activist and spokesman of Coalition of Civil Society, Khurram Parvez says that a conservative estimate suggests that around 100,000 people have been subjected to torture in Kashmir Valley during past two decades. “We are currently surveying 5,000 torture victims. The findings are horrible,” he said.
Khurram says that many of the torture victims have turned into drug-addicts or afflicted with torturous ailments, which would continue with them for rest of their life. He said that an uptown youngster was subjected to brutal torture 14 times. “He has developed an incurable skin disorder, which would haunt him for the entire life,” he said. Doctors at SKIMS and SMHS hospitals say that the cases of acute renal failure (Rabdomylasis) have increased. Even if the torture victims survived, they attained permanent or temporary disabilities and psychological problems. Almost every second person who was administered electric shocks had to be on specific medication for longer periods in order to avoid permanent impotency. Some of them were not fortunate to gain effective recovery. Khurram rues that torture has attained a sort of acceptability in the society.
“Most of the people do not protest against torture and avoid registering complaints after going through the ordeal,” he says. “It is taken as a blessing if someone is released from a torture center alive. Sometimes the victim is too terrified to file a complaint and most of the times his relatives force him to observe silence for the fear of reprisals,” he says. Khurram says that torture is a major weapon to spread scare and subjugate the people psychologically. “In the current uprising in Kashmir, the widespread arrest of youth in the Valley and subsequent maltreatment at police stations is aimed, primarily, at creating scare”, he said. Four months down the line, the method seems to be working.
Even as the police and security agencies together with their counterinsurgency militia of Ikhwanis have perpetrated the methods of torture, there are many cases when separatist militants have also resorted to the inhuman and brutal methods on civilians on one pretext or other. The militants have targeted mainstream political workers and suspected informers. Even the moral policing by militants have made many a civilians their targets. There have been cares where the method of burning stoves under captives’ buttocks was employed.
A suspected informer was blown into pieces with an explosive tied to his body in Srinagar. Several civilians’ throats were slit and parts of body chopped off. One person was freed after his tongue was cut. He later committed suicide. There are scores of unreported cases which would send tremors down the spines. In this backdrop, legislation in Jammu and Kashmir to prevent torture was all the more important. But, the government has always its own priorities, which are mostly contradicting the priorities of common people.
Volume 02 Issue 33