Thursday, April 28, 2011

Horrific Brutality in Kashmir

Kashmiris protest Indian armed forces brutality

Youth and children as young as 10 are tortured and sometimes disappear completely

"I will never be the same," says Sameer Khan (name changed), a student in his early twenties. Khan at his age has endured plenty. Behind his soft-spoken exterior lies a resilient interior that surfaces with time and trust. In his late teens, Khan was put through physical and psychological torture by the Indian security agencies in the disturbed region of Kashmir.

"I was thrown into a dark room and tortured. They used gun butts to break my back. While I was still in pain, a stream of blood ran through my nose and head… and when it clotted in my left eye, I went blind. An hour later, some policemen came and began to torture my private parts. This was and will be most shameful experience for me for the rest of my life. When electric shocks were given to my private parts, I felt this is the end of world and it was perhaps,” Khan revealed details after a few months.

The United Nation's Convention Against Torture states that torture cannot be "justified under any exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency”.

Last summer, non-government organizations said several youth and underage boys were picked up by the authorities for participating in street demonstrations against the killings of street protesters in the Kashmir Valley.

Regardless of their age or their role in the freedom struggle in Kashmir, detainees are isolated for days in dark dingy, unhygienic and cramped spaces. Often, under draconian and unconstitutional laws, youth and children as young as 10 are hunted down, held and then not produced in court. Human rights lawyers in Kashmir complain that the details of the detention of these cases are not recorded, giving the forces involved impunity from prosecution.

"Torture is a routine practice that has been going on in interrogation centers, police stations, and army camps throughout Kashmir since the beginning of the conflict in the early 1990s, said Shafat N Ahmad, an advocate and human rights researcher. "However, a different pattern of torture was inflicted on people especially in villages and hills."

Ahmad found during his course of research that the forces would allege that families were supporting the militancy, providing food and shelter and bedding etc, especially targeting the families whose sons had joined.

"Mothers and wives of militants were also targeted and interrogated during search operations. In many cases, parents or other relatives of militants were called to camps, tortured and pressured them to surrender their sons,” he said. "But things are better since the nineties."

Survivors report methods such as choking in water, electric shocks, leg stretching, rolling heavy objects over the body, burning by red hot irons, suspension by cord, and beating on the soles of the feet, Ahmad said. No First Information Report was lodged against the torturer and also special laws like J&K Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Section 4) authorize the arrest without warrant adds to this menace, he added.

US officials had evidence of widespread torture by Indian police and security forces and were secretly briefed about the systematic abuse of detainees in Kashmir, according to leaked diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks released last December. The dispatches revealed that US diplomats in Delhi were briefed in 2005 by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) about the use of electrocution, beatings, sexual humiliation against hundreds of detainees. Other cables show that as recently as 2007 American diplomats were concerned about widespread human rights abuses by Indian security forces, who they said relied on torture for confessions.

SM Sahai, Inspector General of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, when asked how booking juveniles and putting them in jail with adults contributes to radicalizing them, he replied, "Sending a impressionable boy to Central Jail can only bring out a more hardened criminal. But we are also stuck in a situation where we have to make a difficult choice. We tell the government what are the kinds of problems we are facing. This is definitely being taken into consideration."

On the other hand, Sahai added, "It’s unfortunate that the parents have allowed their children to step out. Kashmir has a very severe parenting problem. You can’t blame the system for everything. This is the basis of fascism. They always use impressionable youth to drive the society in a particular direction, using the fear factor, to their own disaster. It’s a conscious choice that people have to make. It’s not about juvenile homes. The best home for a child is a parents’ home. If they cannot control their children, then what can the state do?"

While the government mulls over finding better ways to deal with the situation, families of most of the 123 killed in this summer's protests reject state compensation.

Khan, who just completed his post-graduation, recalls what he underwent when the authorities finally decided to let him go. "After a month of being released, I recovered from my injuries but everything changed for me. My smile had disappeared. I lost sleep. When I was alone, strange thoughts came to my mind. It was horrible. Then people from the security agencies began to bother me. They made my life hell. I had to give minute details about myself to them every time. This, again, made me depressed.”

For Khan, things got so out of hand that he had to seek help from his cousin, a psychiatrist. In Kashmir, where sexual torture is never discussed due to social stigma, Khan was left with no choice but to confide in his family. "I had to tell my brother how they had tortured my private parts with cigarette butts, electric shocks, copper wire and how much pain I felt while urinating. He took me to a doctor and finally, I was put on medication."

"On one hand, I had to take psychiatric drugs and on other hand, I had to take antibiotics, healers, etc. I recovered after almost a year... but still I get nightmares about it almost every week,” Khan murmured. He feels that his close relationships have been affected because of the torture, "I hate pity. I just hate it when people do that," he says, as he looks away.

In the Valley, even in the 1990s, at the height of the insurgency, stories of torture were passed on from generation to generation, along with accounts of intimidation and humiliation faced by other family members who frequent police stations, military and paramilitary camps and well-known places of interrogation. Written by Dilnaz Boga

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