‘Squeezing’ Information of Interest
Zahid Mushtaq & Adil Altaf
“Torture is used as a matter of policy by the Indian State in Jammu and Kashmir in a systematic and institutional manner, as all the institutions of the State, be it a legislature, executive, judiciary and armed forces form a part”
Who’d want himself to be shot at, in the head, or in the chest, directly into the heart, or somewhere else, unless maddened? I did, I begged to be shot down to death to evade the torment of torture. The Indian government has long attempted to portray itself as an exemplar of non-violence, cloaking itself in the legacy of the Independence movement. But its record of addressing allegations of human rights violations, especially in conflict areas like Kashmir, has been abysmal.
The Jammu and Kashmir coalition of civil society released first comprehensive report on torture in Jammu and Kashmir titled: Indian states instrument of control in Indian Administered Jammu and Kashmir. The report focuses on the torture perpetuated in Jammu and Kashmir by Indian State, provides a contextual understanding of various phases and methods of torture being perpetrated in J&K since 1947. Using 432 case studies, the report charts out trends and patterns, targets, perpetrators, sites context and impacts of torture.
The report is aimed at breaking the silence around custodial violence, “Torture is used as a matter of policy by the Indian State in Jammu and Kashmir in a systematic and institutional manner, as all the institutions of the State, be it a legislature, executive, judiciary and armed forces form a part,” it says.
The report is monumental study of the state violence in Kashmir. The details of torture, significantly the same methods described and employed again and again in different testimonies from multiple locations suggests that, the use of torture in Kashmir to, ‘Suppress the dissent’ is not a matter of occasional abuse perpetuated by drunk, deranged or disobedient army officials but that it is a planned, systematic and is based on the standard methods that must have official sanction. It is also an insightful analysis of the institutional structures that underlie this violence – not only the army, the Para-military forces and the police but also sections of the judiciary and legislature. The analysis builds on the notion of “command responsibility”, that is, the idea that army and police officers are responsible for the actions of persons who act at their command. The report examines the command structures involved in the reported atrocities, and goes out of its way to identify and name responsible officers. Various strategies employed since 1947 which include the “Peace Brigade”, “Goggas”, and, ‘Ikhwanis”
Some aspects of the testimonies are extremely disturbing. The details of torture, for one, are unbearable. The forms of torture that have been documented in the report include — stripping the detainees naked (190 out of the 432 cases studied), beating with sticks, iron rods or leather belts (326 cases), roller treatment (169 cases), water boarding (24 cases), dunking detainees’ head in water (101 cases), electrocution including in genitals (231 cases), hanging from the ceiling, mostly upside down (121 cases), burning of the body with hot objects (35 cases), solitary confinement (11 cases), sleep deprivation (21 cases), sexual torture (238 cases) including rape and sodomy, among others.
Disturbing is the realisation that torture is not just a matter short term pains but also, quite often, a lifelong tragedy. The victims suffer long term health damage such as disability, impotence, depression or chronic pain. The costs of healthcare compound the economic loss due to reduced abilities. A study published in 2015 by Doctors Without Borders (known by its French initials MSF) said that 19 percent of the population in the region suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).To this must be added the cost of ransom money, prolonged litigation or protection from further harassment. Some victims had to sell their lands or other assets to cope with those losses and costs.
The report gives a brief understanding of the historical background in the use of torture in Jammu and Kashmir since 1947 “to curb any dissenting voices,” a practice which attained an unprecedented magnitude post-1990, when the armed insurgency began. Many of the victims quoted in the report mention being stripped naked, beaten with sticks, held under water, trampled under heavy rollers, hung upside down and electrocuted – not for a few minutes, but for hours on end. Other standard methods include pulling out nails, inflicting burns (with cigarettes, rods, stoves or melted polythene) and stretching legs at 180-degree angle. Once in a while, an innovation is reported. For instance, one victim states that a hot needle was inserted in his penis. It reminds one of the memories of German concentration camp survivors, or of a torture victim in Congo which we are taught in the history textbooks.
Castigating the harsh treatment of civilians during counter insurgency operations, it says “Since policies like Operation All Out continues in Kashmir and the army is given a “free hand as declared by the Prime Minister of India as recently as 15 February 2019, the armed forces are only emboldened to continue perpetrating torture,” it says. The report that entire populations have also been subjected to collective punishments like cordon and search operations (CASOs) during which torture and sexual violence have been common.
Eliminating torture is not merely an international obligation – it is a Constitutional mandate. Kashmiris – as indeed all other Indians – cannot be denied the right to live with dignity. This makes it a moral imperative for the Indian government to investigate cases of torture in the Valley seriously.
The authors are students of English Literature and Political science respectively at The Aligarh Muslim University and can be jointly mailed at email@example.com