Talking Torture

At a time when the three United Nations officials are engaged in a tense situation with Government of India on the state of human rights in Kashmir, NGO JKCCS released a long report on the use of torture in the state, thus reopening an era that Delhi sees a ‘closed chapter’, reports Durdana Bhat

Article 3 of the Geneva Convention requires that persons not actively involved in “hostilities” must “be treated humanely”. It prohibits “violence to life and person, in particular…cruel treatment and torture” and bars “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliation and degrading treatment.”

In its 560- page report Torture: Indian State’s Instrument of Control in Indian Administered Jammu and Kashmir, the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) has maintained that security grid deployed in Kashmir is routinely engaged in peoples’ torture in custody. The cases, the report has documented include 190 cases in which prisoners were stripped naked; 231 cases of electrocution including on genitals; 238 cases of sexual torture; and 121 cases of hanging from the ceiling.

The report has listed different methods of torture and degrading treatments including beaten electrocuted, stripped naked, roller, electrocuted in genitals, hanged upside down (aeroplane), stress position – hands tied, feet tied, restrained to ground, head dunked in (chilli) water, dragged, slapped, kicked, punched, glass bottles broke, body (parts) burnt, legs stretched, blindfolded, forced labour in detention, forced to over-drink (chilli) water, trampled over flesh cut, skinned, nails plucked out, beard (hair), forced to drink or eat (unacceptable) things, verbally abused, forced starvation, adulterated food, scarce food, water-boarding, foreign objects inserted into the rectum, house ransacked, looted, blown up, burnt, sleep deprivation, kept in dark, underground, poorly ventilated rooms, Chilli, salt, petrol rubbed on wounds, eyes, genitals, animals (dogs, rats, piglets, snakes) rubbed with the body, slits, incisions, cuts made with sharp objects, solitary confinement, made to face harsh weather conditions directly, threatened, made to stare at high voltage lamp.

This report includes 432 case studies details their torture (both physical and psychological), targets, perpetrators, locations and other details. Of them, 293 are civilians and 119 militants. Interestingly, 27 were minors when tortured. Almost 40 people listed in the report later succumbed to their injuries.

The report maintains that in Jammu and Kashmir, stripping a victim naked appears to be a part of the standard procedure for perpetrators. Sexual torture as a weapon of war has been applied to both men and women, it alleged. This form of torture not only has physical and sexual health consequences but has a great mental impact on the victims.

The report has mentioned the case of the bride whose baraat was intercepted and fired upon on May 18, 1990, night. The bride and her bridesmaid were dragged out of the bus and gang-raped as her husband was fighting a battle for survival. He was hit by many bullets that BSF fired upon the bus and the baratis. One guest died in the firing. Before leaving, the border guard pumped five bullets into her body.

In the absence of any law criminalizing torture and the absolute impunity that the armed forces enjoy in Kashmir, the report noted insists the torture continues unabated.

The report mentions the case of a civilian, named Mushtaq Ahmed Sheikh, who was tortured by Doda-based 10 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) for more than four occasions. “He was electrocuted, trampled on and beaten with canes,” the report said. “The continuous and repeated torture has rendered him incapable of doing any heavy work. The repeated electrocution has made him physically weak which doesn’t permit him to work long hours.” The repeated torture left Mushtaq literally paralysed, with the left half of his body in bad condition. His elder brother has been subjected to enforced disappearance for more than seven years now, the report added.

The report also documented the cases in which detainees were put under behavioural coercion where they were forced into activities that were against their “religious beliefs” like rubbing piglets on their bodies or forcing them to consume alcohol. It has 33 victims admitting they were forced to eat or drink filthy and harmful substances like human excreta, chilli powder, dirt, gravel, chilli powder mixed water, petrol, urine and dirty water.

Mentioning about Tariq Ahmad Dar, a resident of Solina Bala (Srinagar), the report said: “Rats were put inside of his trousers, which were tied on both ends. Hair was plucked out from his body. He was forced to drink urine, faeces were rubbed over his body, and piglets were rubbed on his body.”

After going through the trauma for years, Tariq was acquitted of all charges under which he was arrested and was finally released from Tihar Jail in February 2017. Although Tariq lost 12 years of his life proving his innocence, the report said.

The report suggests that most of the civilian victims were usually reluctant to report the atrocities due to the fear of reprisals. Even though torture is widespread, and severe in many cases, only a minuscule number of survivors opt for medical help, fearing investigation that can lead them to unending episodes of reprisal and interrogation at the hands of the State, the report insists.

The report talks at length about Abdul Jabbar Mir, a Jamaat-e-Islami activist, from Rafiabad. He was picked up when a mukhbir (informer) reported that he was instigating people for the Jihad.

“He was dunked in water, forced to drink excessive water, a roller was applied over his legs, his legs were stretched, and he was stabbed in the left leg with a knife,” the report said. “Despite knowing that he was a religious man, in a form of mental torture Captain Rathore made Mir drink alcohol, despite his telling the captain that Islam did not permit him to drink alcohol.”

In September 1997, Mir’s three brothers-in-law (aged 17, 20 and 30 years) were picked up by armed forces. Their dead bodies were returned that night. Mir later filed a case but was forced to revoke it, because the Army coerced him to do so, alleges the report, insisting the harassment continues and the Army visits his home at night.

The report came at a time when the various rapporteurs have been seeking information from the Government of India in various cases of human rights. This has ended in a sort of diplomatic crisis as Delhi has refused point blank to cooperate with the UN bodies concerned with human rights.

Three special rapporteurs’ including Agnes Callamard (extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions), Dainius Puras (the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health), and Nils Melzer (on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) had referred to a June 2018 report of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) and sought details on steps taken to punish or provide justice to victims in 76 cases. These cases, some of them belonging to 1990s, were a mixed bag of torture and executions from all sides including militants.

Delhi’s response revolved around the bare mention of the OHCHR report alone. Delhi asserted that it has already rejected the report.

The special rapporteurs’ made the letter public on the UNHRC website on May 18 after a scheduled interval of 60 days, along with India’s reply that refused to provide any clarifications.

“India rejects any reference whether implicit or explicit or any quote by any human rights mechanisms or bodies from the remote report published by the OHCHR on the situation of human rights in Kashmir in June 2018, India rejects the remote report and doubts on its credibility and objectivity,” India’s Permanent Mission to UN offices, based in Geneva, said. “The Report begets the question of whether individual prejudices should be allowed to undermine the dignity and standing of the high office.” The letter relates to 76 cases of torture and killings of civilians, which include 13 cases of 2018. These 2018 cases included eight civilian killings allegedly by security forces and the rest by militants.

Insisting the report was “false and motivated”, India said that it was now a “closed chapter”. The JKCCS report has reopened the festering wound yet again.

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