Armed forces

Kashmir Man Who Lost His Legs to Torture in 1990s Keeps Up Fight for Justice

Having exhausted all domestic means of protest, Qalandar Khatana now wants the UN to look into allegations of gross human rights violations in J&K.

Qalandar Khatana. Credit: worldwithouttorture.org

Srinagar: On a recent May morning, Qalandar Khatana stepped out of his home in Kothiya village, located near the border, after carefully strapping on his prosthetic legs. He picked up his crude wooden crutches, slung a small makeshift backpack over his shoulder and proceeded painfully on foot to Halkamori – the closest roadhead some four kilometres away.

From there he found some transport to Kalaroos. He then took a shared Sumo service to Kupwara and onward to Srinagar, his arduous journey reflecting his commitment to an informal group called ‘Survivors for Truth and Justice’.

Khatana, who lost both his legs after enduring torture, allegedly at the hands of the security forces, is a member of this group, which also comprises victims of sexual assault and families who’ve faced enforced disappearances and civilian killings in Kashmir. He joined the group on May 10 to make an appeal to the international community, pleading for the UN to look into allegations of gross human rights violations in the state.

These victims claim they have exhausted all domestic means of protest in their struggle for justice. They have carried out demonstrations in parks and other public spaces, have doggedly pursued their cases with the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), a quasi-judicial human rights body formed in 1997, in the local courts, in the Jammu and Kashmir high court and even in the Supreme Court of India. However, not even a single case has been resolved and the denial of justice has left them dispirited.

Qalandar Khatana (centre), a victim of severe torture, with two other members of the group ‘Survivors for Truth and Justice’, who are appealing to the international community as they have exhausted all available means of peaceful struggle for justice. Credit: Freny Manecksha

Khatana’s ordeal

For Khatana, who underwent multiple incidents of torture for four years, the ordeal began in the 1990s, shortly after militancy erupted in Kashmir. A member of the Gujjar community, his home is located in one of the five villages in the remote highlands near the Line of Control. The conflict has had an especially adverse impact on the life of residents of the region.

Khatana says he and other villagers were often accused of crossing the border by Border Security Force (BSF) personnel but, up until the 1990s, the borders had been permeable and fluid.

“We used to roam with our livestock freely and could go into the forests. There was no one telling us where we could go or not go. Then they fenced off a portion of our own lands and began calling it the border and clamped down on us ferociously.”

One night in 1992, there was a knock on his door and Khatana was dragged away by BSF personnel to their camp at Mori. He was then accused of being a guide who had helped militants across the border.

“They kept interrogating me, beating me, even hanging me upside down,” Khatana said.

Torture by the security forces

In the months that followed, he claims he was taken from one camp to another, where he was tortured by the BSF and Special Task Force personnel. He claims they would take him atop a mountain and roll him down the slope. He was forced to do hard labour and even held in solitary confinement.

Six months later, he was brought to Srinagar’s Papa II, an interrogation and torture centre. He claims that the flesh from his waist and elsewhere was sliced with a blade, and that he was then forced to eat bits of it.

One day, a crude attempt was made to hack off his legs.

“I passed out and when I regained consciousness, I found my blood-stained limbs had been tied with strips of cloth. I learnt fellow inmates at the torture centre had torn off the sleeves of their shirts and had tried to stop the bleeding.”

He was then sent to the Kot Balwal jail in Jammu where he stayed for about four years. His wounds had gotten infected with maggots and eventually his legs had to be amputated. He was then released and received treatment at the Bone and Joints Hospital in Barzulla in 1996.

Devastated by his experiences, and lacking education and any other means of support, he returned home, too frightened to approach the police or file any complaint.

“I was terrified. It was almost as if it had been drummed into me that I had no right to life. I wasn’t sure if I would be allowed to live even after my release.”

Anthropologist Mohamad Junaid, who also grew up in Kashmir in the 1990s, observes that security force personnel use torture not so much to extract information but to send out a message through the broken and defiled bodies, and to break the people’s will and determination.

“This [is] psychosomatic warfare,” he adds.

Khatana’s worries were further intensified after he learnt that his wife too had been tortured. Being kicked violently in the chest left her with broken ribs that did not heal properly. She remained confined to her bed until her death a few years later, leaving Khatana to provide for and look after their three children – two girls and a boy.

Unwilling to be obligated to any organisation, Khatana believed his only option was to beg. People would hoist him on their shoulders and he would sit outside various mosques appealing for alms.

It was outside one such mosque that human rights activists came upon him and helped him file a plea with the SHRC.

After an inquiry, the panel concluded that he had been severely tortured and that his case was only one among a bunch where similar amputations had to be carried out because of the hacking methods used.

Khatana has also been featured in the Channel Four film Kashmir’s Torture Trail directed by Jezza Neumann.

Freny Manecksha is an independent journalist from Mumbai who is interested in human rights and development issues.

  • Prashant Dutta

    Incidents like these are reasons for the unrest in Kashmir, the BSF officers should be punished for this inhuman act

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    Mr Khatana is just one among thousands.
    Tortures, fake encounters, extra-judicial killings, staged surrenders….Kashmir, the North East and the Naxal areas have seen it all. The state police, the BSF and the army are all together in this, with the blessings of governments past and present. One should read “Blood on my hands – Confessions of Staged Encounters” by Kishalay Bhattacharjee, to get a glimpse of the inhumanity and cruelty ordinary people have been subjected to in these places at the hands of those who are supposed to be protectors.

    Not only would the neo-nationalists be unperturbed and sing praises for the BSF just as you described, they would also execute a neat pivot and indulge in whataboutery like “Where were you when Kashmiri Pandits were being driven out”, or “what about the violence that the army faces everyday”, or some such spin (btw, have you noticed how our brave army is now being painted as the victim after the human shield incident?).
    All good for hysterical discussion, but as a means to go to the heart of the problem and try to find a solution that’s compassionate, just and agreeable to everyone – complete zilch.

    ” If so, is only the land of Kashmir that we value and not at all the people who inhabit the region?”

    Certainly looks like it, doesnt it. Kashmir is prime real estate, waiting to be taken over by the corporates to construct golf courses and glitzy resorts. Now if only these pesky Kashmiris could be driven out…….

  • Amitabha Basu

    The extent of the tortures and humiliations inflicted on the people of Kashmir by the various organs of the Indian state are truly mind-numbing …. And in the rest of India, the impression is created by the state that the Kashmiris want AZADI from India, that they are Pakistani enemy agents, despite Kashmir being ‘an integral part of India’, etc etc When will the rest of India recognise the reality of the people of Kashmir and stand with them against the atrocities committed on them by the India state ?

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    Where was I? I will give you the literal answer first.
    Well, it was the early 90s, I was just finishing off my post grad studies, blissfully unaware of most of the stuff going on around me except the girls! I had zero political views or preferences, didnt even know what being a “liberal” meant etc etc. You get it, I think. All of us have gone through that stage of life, havent we.
    That’s why I didnt write about the horrors that befell the Kashmiri Pandits, leading to their exodus from the Valley. I didnt even know they existed. I became aware only later, and was appalled – as I still am.
    So – does the lack of awareness THEN disqualify me from writing about the situation NOW? Of raising my voice in dissent against all that is going on at present? Of course not. (If that logic had any merit and were applied universally, then there would be no protests against anything at all, ever!)
    Do the injustices done to the Pandits THEN cancel out the injustices being done against others NOW? Of course not.
    Two wrongs NEVER make a right, but they can be MADE right if BOTH wrongs are acknowledged and redeemed.
    We must surely keep past injustices in mind, but not as a defense or an excuse for present ones – rather, we must take ALL injustices into account and find a solution that is acceptable to everyone who suffered from those injustices, including the Pandits and Mr Khatana.
    Only then can we call ourselves a truly JUST society.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    Oh, and one more thing Mr Rahul Bhat: you (and many others) seem to use the word “liberal” as an abusive adjective. Are you aware of its meaning? It is: “Willing to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas.” That’s the dictionary meaning. That doesnt sound too bad, does it?
    And if you are interested, here’s an engaging exposition of the word:
    https://scroll.in/article/836133/being-liberal-in-india-a-manifesto-for-violent-times
    I suggest you take a walk through this article – it might just change your opinion about “liberals”, which I unashamedly am.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    You are ignoring my explanation of why I did not (rather, could not) raise my voice against the Kashmiri Pandits suffering at that time, which is that I simply wasnt aware enough then.
    What would you say to someone who was a 5-year old in the early 90s?
    Since this article was about the injustice done to a Kashmiri Muslim, the discussion is about that. Grievous wrong has indeed been done to the Pandits and they must be taken into account for any solution that may be considered. But do I need to say this every time I raise my voice against an injustice done to a Kashmiri Muslim to balance my opinion? No.
    Trading injustices has no end, no one wins. It just keeps the bitterness and the “us versus them” alive without ever making anything right.
    And no, its NOT “odd cases” or “one or two incidents here and there”. Just inform yourself of how the army is perceived in Kashmir by the locals, and why. And in the North East as well. You must be aware of the Supreme Court ruling on the PIL alleging more than 1500 fake encounter deaths in Manipur.
    Under the protection of AFSPA, the army is indeed pretty barbaric.