Institutionalized Infliction of Torture by Security Forces in Kashmir: Rights Groups’ Report

On February, 2019, a 560-page report titled ‘Torture: Indian State’s Instrument of Control in Indian Administered Jammu and Kashmir’ was published jointly by the Srinagar-based ‘Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society’ (JKCCS) and ‘Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons’ (APDP) that provided a comprehensive account of the acute repressive measures taken by the Indian security forces for the past three decades in the form of torture. This report documents 432 cases of torture of which 24 have been women and 27 minors. Such a comprehensive report has not been previously drawn up rendering the rampant human rights violations invisible to the civil society and media at large.

The Indian administered region of Jammu and Kashmir is the most densely militarized zone in the world. It has been a hotbed of state-sponsored violence post the full-fledged insurrection led by the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) that was brutally suppressed by the Indian state. The report says, “Torture is the most underreported human rights violation perpetrated by the State, carried out with complete impunity for the perpetrators, and without a single prosecution ever having taken place”. In the 432 testimonies, at least 144 Indian armed forces camps (Army and paramilitary), 52 Police Station/Posts, 19 SOG (Special Operations Group) camps, 15 JICs (Joint Interrogation Centres) and 9 Ikhwan (state-backed militia) camps were identified where torture has been perpetrated on detainees. Two of the most infamous torture-centres were Papa-II and Hari Niwas that were specifically designed to serve this purpose during the 90’s.

According to this report, the security forces freely employ various methods of torture on the detained persons, both physical and psychological, that continue to impact them and their families throughout their lives. It has been difficult to accumulate information on the use of torture as a matter of policy by the Indian state as the victims prefer not to disclose the trauma they suffered through due to the impunity extended to the entire state machinery as well as from fear of future repercussions. Hence the actual number of victims is much higher than whatever testimonials have been obtained.

The report says that the common forms of torture inflicted are forced labour, burning of limbs, head dunking in water mixed with chilli powder, waterboarding, electrocution, roller treatment, and beating. In some cases the victim has been raped or sodomised in custody by the security forces. There have been instances of collective torture with utter disregard for individual involvement during Cordon And Search Operations (CASO) carried out during the 1990’s and also during the present decade for example. One such incident was the mass rape perpetrated at the Kunan Poshpora villages of Kupwara district by army personnel belonging to the 4th Rajputana rifles on February 23, 1991. The report also points out that India is a signatory of the United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) which is an international human rights treaty aiming to prevent torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment around the world.

Of the reported 432 cases, about 222 continue to suffer from cardiac problems, nephrological problems, sensory organ issues, amputations, and many of them are dependent on medications. About 40 victims died from the injuries inflicted on them during custody. One of the casualties of the inflicted torture was Umer Qayoom Bhat, a class XI student and Srinagar resident who was arrested in August, 2010 by the police. He was released within a few days under a court directive. According to the report, Umer was rushed to a hospital where his wounds inflicted in custody were treated and he was let off. The following morning he vomited blood. A CT scan revealed that his lungs had collapsed. Within a few days he died as blood had poured into his chest cavity from the ruptured lungs. It cost his family 8 years in court just to get an FIR filed. The report also talks about the plight of Qalandar Khatana, a native of a village in North Kashmir. He was picked up from his village and brought to Srinagar for interrogation by the Border Security Forces. Khatana was accused of being a local guide for militants crossing the Indo-Pakistan border. His feet were chopped off in custody. He was also force fed his own flesh. Later his legs had to be amputated on being infected by maggots.

The report has been a result of painstaking research and monitoring that have continued for decades. The numerous instances of torture hardly ever reach the public eye unless they result in custodial death as in the case of the school-teacher Rizwan Pandith. The rights groups helming this effort have called for an independent international investigation by the UN Human Rights Office. The report contains a prologue by the former UN special rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Mendez where he reiterates the need for India to allow special rapporteurs and working groups to conduct fact-finding missions in Kashmir.

Relevantly, in June 2018, the UN Human Rights Office released the first-ever report on human rights violations and abuses in Indian administered Kashmir as well as Pakistan administered Kashmir, and highlighted a situation of chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces. At that time, the Ministry of External Affairs of India was quick to reject the report calling it to be overtly prejudiced. Instead of addressing the core issue of human rights violation, the UN report was further berated to be a selective compilation of unverified information by the Ministry. Such oblivious attitude of the government on the reign of terror orchestrated by their machinery in Kashmir further reaffirms the fascist tendencies of the Indian state since decades.

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