New Delhi: Hilal Ahmad Akhoon, picked up for the first time from his home in November 1996, says he was subjected to multiple methods of torture in his detention of 40 days. He was then detained again, twice, in 1999 and 2006, under suspicion of being involved with militants.
In 2006, Akhoon says, after he failed to provide information about a grenade attack in Srinagar, he was not only stripped naked and beaten, but subjected to electrocution and other violence. It left him seriously wounded, and permanently suffering chronic knee and back-pain, and weak eyesight.
This is one of the 432 case studies of torture within a new report titled Torture: Indian State’s Instrument of Control in Indian Administered Jammu and Kashmir – which aims to expose what it calls the indiscriminate and systematic perpetration of torture by the Indian state.
The report – which has been endorsed by former UN special rapporteur, Juan E. Mendez – comes soon after the revelation that the Indian government refused to engage with special rapporteurs of the UNHCR on human rights in Jammu and Kashmir, accusing them of “individual prejudice”.
This new report was released by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) along with one of its constituents, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP). It claims to be the “first comprehensive report” of trends, perpetrators, sites, contexts and effects of torture in Jammu and Kashmir.
It defines torture broadly, as the “intentional infliction of pain on a powerless person to achieve a particular purpose”, and through 432 case-studies, describes it as a practice that is hidden, but rampant.
Founded in 2000, the JKCCS is a federation of individuals and human rights organisations. It is based on the belief that full civil, political and social rights should be guaranteed to the people of the state, including the right to self-determination, which the UN in a 2018 report recognised as essential for the promotion and strengthening of human rights. (The Indian government rejected this report.)
The coalition’s previous reports have examined conflict-related casualties, human rights violations, and the social and ecological impacts of the Amarnath Yatra.
Case studies of torture
The report relies centrally on 432 fieldwork-based case studies. Out of these, at least 50 victims were said to have been tortured as a measure of punishment, while 118 said they were tortured to extract information about relatives who were militants. In several instances, like that of Rouf Ahmed Bhat, torture victims were forced to confess to crimes they denied being involved in. The report says several victims provided false information to the interrogators to get respite from the suffering.
The report says that the majority of of forms of torture listed in the UN Istanbul Protocol have been used in Jammu and Kashmir. In 326 cases, the victims were reportedly beaten; in 231, they were electrocuted. More than a hundred victims said they were stripped naked, put through roller treatment (using a heavy roller to apply pressure on the legs), restrained in stress positions, or hung upside down. The report also mentions cases of forced labour.
People were usually subjected to more than one form of torture, carried out in tandem. More than 50% of the victims (252 cases) said they were tortured repeatedly. Abdul Hamid Bhat (Case 20) even after being released, was made to report to the Boniyar camp every Sunday for weekly attendance. If for any reason he failed to make it, he was severely punished and forced to work for hours.
There are also cases of collective punishment, where harsh punitive measures were imposed on a person or a group without regard to their individual culpability. This is most often done during cordon and search operations (CASO). At least 80 victims said they were tortured during CASOs or raids
Perpetrators and victims of torture
The report states that the Army, Central Armed Police Forces, Jammu and Kashmir Police, as well as state-sponsored gunmen (ikhwans) and Village Defence Committees have all been involved in perpetrating torture.
Kashmir is one of the most densely militarised regions in the world. According to the report, Army establishments, camps and cantonments are often used for illegal detentions and torture. Police stations, government schools and abandoned buildings are also used, it says. The report identifies 144 military camps, 52 police stations and at least 15 joint interrogation centres as places where victims have been tortured.
Out of the 432 cases examined, 301 victims were civilians, and 258 of them had no affiliations with political or other groups. Further, 24 cases were those of women, and 27 were minors. The report concludes that torture is inflicted indiscriminately – against civilians, militants, political workers, men, women, minors and the elderly.
But it stipulates that these numbers are an under-representation, as many of those affected are unwilling to openly talk about what they have undergone.
Life after torture
Torture has both short term and long term implications, not just for the survivors but also families and entire communities.
Out of the 432 cases, 49 people died during or after torture. Eight were shot dead after being tortured. 209 survivors suffer from enduring ailments like physical weakness and frequent aches, while 49 people reported acute ailments like cardiac and nephrological problems, partial or total paralysis, loss of eyesight, internal organ injuries or have become disabled for life.
The report further states that 42 survivors suffer from psychological disorders, like post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, insomnia, dementia and memory loss.
In 36 cases, victims and their families live in abject poverty, out of whom 27 have suffered from chronic health effects, rendering them incapable of doing physically exhausting work. People’s businesses have also suffered due to continued harassment, and many have had to pay exorbitant bribes or extortion money to secure their release.
There are also several cases of people having to relocate, to escape threats from state forces.
Most survivors are unable to initiate any action against the perpetrators. Filing an FIR is also made difficult by the “legal, political and moral impunity” extended to the armed forces. As a result, the report says that not a single person was prosecuted in cases of human rights violations in the state.
This, despite the fact that torture is prohibited across regional, national and international laws. The use of such methods by state actors “cannot be reconciled in any manner with a global order that is committed to basic respect and human dignity” the report says.
Cases of torture go largely unreported, even by the media. It is only when a case is followed by custodial death or disappearance – as in the case of Rizwan Pandith this year – that they gain some attention. Policies like Operation All Out continue in Kashmir, and the armed forces have a “free hand”, as declared by the prime minister in February 2019.
The report makes recommendations to the international community, civil society, and the government of India. It asks for an international investigation on torture in Kashmir, led by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
It also urges the Indian government to ratify the UN Convention Against Torture and end the practice of torture in the state. In addition, it demands impartial investigations into the allegations of rights violations.
Sreya Roychowdhury is an editorial intern at The Wire.