Remembering Victims of Torture in Kashmir

June 22, 2021
Author: Dr. Ghulam N. Mir
June 26 is the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. It is easy to believe that state-sponsored violence and torture is something that happens only in movies or in a long-forgotten part of history. However, torture by governments is still very much a problem in the 21st century and it is a weapon of terror that is continuously levied upon the people of Kashmir.

A call to eliminate torture and inhumanity

The June 26 date is important for two reasons. First, June 26 is remembered as the day the UN charter was signed. The mandate of the United Nations was to prevent war and a reoccurrence of the atrocities committed during the Second World War, as well as to establish the first international framework obliging member states to respect human rights.

Second, on June 26, 1987, the United Nations Convention on Torture came into force. The convention created a framework to eliminate torture and cruel and unusual punishment throughout the world. Currently, it has over 170 state parties, including all members of the U.N Security Council.

India has never ratified the convention

India is a signatory to the framework but has never formally ratified the treaty. This is a significant and convenient oversight, on the part of the Indian government, that even the Indian Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice J. S. Khehar chastised the government for its inaction, noting, “We do understand that the legislative process can take time, but tell us why can’t you (Centre) make a ‘good faith commitment’ on the law before us.”

Efforts to ratify the convention seemed to have floundered with a 2010 anti-torture bill passing the lower house of the Indian parliament before expiring in 2014. A quarter century later, India is one of a handful of countries that has failed to ratify the convention. No further efforts have been made to revive this legislation, and in Modi’s India, it seems unlikely it would be, not when the Indian government can wield it against Kashmir.

The terror inflicted upon the people of Kashmir

Torture when inflicted upon civilians is terrorism. It’s a weapon designed to dehumanize, silence, and break a population. A report from the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) found that from 1990 to 2017, 432 cases of documented cases of torture have been confirmed. Of these, 70 percent have been inflicted upon civilians.

The report went on to find that most were tortured as a way to coerce information regarding militants. Often the victim will provide false information as a way to gain a reprieve from the torture. One documented case in 1993 was that of Mohammad Shafi Hajam, a barber from Anantnag who was detained and questioned about weapons. He was detained and beaten. Finally, he told his captors that there were weapons stored in a ditch. When he and others were made to dig through the ditch, which was filled with human refuse, no weapons were discovered. Hajam’s tormentor, in retaliation, slammed his head into a rock knocking out several teeth.
Hajam was then detained again for the torture to begin again.

Living in fear

Since the latest lockdown began in August 2019, thousands of Kashmiris have been detained and an untold number subjected to torture and abuse by the Indian authorities. An explosive report by Aljazeera detailed the accounts of survivors of the lockdown. Most, fearing reprisal, did not give their names. Some only showed the extent of their injuries.

A young man in his late 20s was detained after attending a local protest. During his detention, he was beaten with sticks and rifle butts until he passed out, whereupon he was shocked awake. His tormentors demanded the name of those throwing rocks at security forces, but the man had no information.

The beatings continued. They pulled his beard and set it on fire. He was struck on the head so severely, his captors thought he might die and he was released. He was unconscious for over two days and still has difficulty walking.

Crimes against humanity

Physical beatings are the most common form of torture that most victims suffer, but by no means is it the only one. Electric shocks to the body and genitals are also used. Humiliation, sleep deprivation, being kept in uncomfortable conditions for extended periods, as well as waterboarding are all other common methods of torture.

These methods are barbaric, inhuman, and should make everyone recoil in horror that man can be so cruel.

These actions are illegal, but for too many in Kashmir, these crimes are never punished.

The effects of torture are often permanent

Too many victims of torture do not live to tell their stories. Often it is up to families and friends of the victims to dig through the stream of lies to find justice for their loved ones. Of the 432 documented cases of torture presented by the JKCCS, 49 died of their injuries.

Over 220 of the survivors reported lasting complications, among them frequent issues with joint pain, aches, fatigue, and sexual impotency. More severe complications from torture included internal injuries and bleeding to vital organs as well as amputations.

None of the survivors were provided medical care after experiencing torture and were expected to pay for their medical treatments.

Finally, while many of the scars are physical, others cannot be seen. Today, in Jammu and Kashmir, up to 20 percent of the population is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with few options for treatment.

Final thoughts

Torture is abhorrent, and it unconscionable that the world’s largest democracy continues to employ it as a means of terror against the people of Kashmir. Please remember those who have suffered and share the stories of their tourture to bring awareness to their stories. It is up to us to continue to call for an end to the illegal occupation of Jammu and Kashmir and bring about the end of this scourge of torture and inhumanity.