J&K human rights groups release report documenting decade-long torture of civilians by security forces

Editor's note: The following report contains graphic descriptions of physical violence. Reader discretion advised.

The list is long: 432 names. All of them were subject to varying degrees of torture, even waterboarding and shocks to the private parts, in the last decade or earlier by security forces in Jammu and Kashmir and some in New Delhi's Tihar Jail. Those who survived bear the painful physical and mental aftermath.

The question of Kashmir evokes more nationalistic fervour than perhaps any other issue in India. Yet the same people who clamour that it is our “atoot ang” (inseparable limb) are blind to the torture and mayhem unleashed on its citizens. After the indiscriminate use of the pellet gun in 2016, which killed many and injured thousands, including children, there was a brief outrage. Often, the exile of Kashmiri Pandits and their deaths by armed groups is used to counter the narrative of human rights violations. And so the suffering in Jammu and Kashmir — either of the Pandits or the Muslims, both characterised by a lack of investigation and apathy — oscillates for credibility between arguments and counter-arguments of who has been victimised more.

Despite all that is already known about the deplorable human rights situation in the state, a new reportTorture: Indian State’s Instrument of Control in Indian Administered Jammu and Kashmir”, launched on 20 May, by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) and the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCSS), must make the rest of the country take a hard look at what is going on there. Though that would be expecting too much. The cover page says it all — with a picture of Qalander Khatana from Kalaroos, Kupwara, whose legs were amputated as a result of the torture he underwent.

This report is the tip of the iceberg and there could be tens of thousands of cases, says Shazia Ahad, an activist from JKCSS. Torture is the most underrepresented human rights violation in Kashmir and there is complete silence over it, even in the local media. The main reason for this report is to break that silence. The activist hopes that more people will come forward to tell their stories and there will be pressure on the Indian government from the international community.

This is the first comprehensive report on torture since 1990, in Jammu and Kashmir, which has testimonies of 432 victims recorded over a period of 10 years. The findings provide a face to the many who survived brutal torture, and the case studies are exceedingly shocking and point to the fact that India is on par with other nefarious centres of torture in the world, for instance, Guantanamo Bay and the erstwhile CIA’s black sites.

 J&K human rights groups release report documenting decade-long torture of civilians by security forces

Representational image. Reuters

Cases of torture are rarely registered or punished and reports on human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir tend to be wilfully ignored or flatly denied by the government and security forces. In February 2018, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs informed the Parliament that since 1990 the Jammu and Kashmir Government had sought the sanction of the central government for prosecution of members of the security forces in 50 cases [which is needed under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act]. The central government refused to sanction prosecution in 47 cases, while decisions remained pending in relation to three cases as of April 2018.**

Take the case of Saqib Ahmad Bhat, a student and resident of Khudwani, Kulgam. He was arrested in June, 2017 and allegedly tortured for nine days, with electric shocks at Reshipora police station and then the Special Operations Group (SOG)(of the Jammu and Kashmir police) at Camp Cargo, Awantipora before he was released on 13 October, 2017. He was among those sexually harassed as well, the report said. He named his alleged perpetrators: all belonging to the security forces — the Indian army, the SOG, the police and the Central Reserve Police (CRPF).

Mehmood Ahmad from Lathung, Surankote, was studying to be a laboratory technician when he was arrested in August, 2002. He was part of the team that had won a cricket tournament against the SOG but the SOG labelled the team anti-national. He was blindfolded and taken to a ‘safe house’ in Jammu (undesignated places, run by SOG, which are not police stations and are purely meant for interrogation and torture), the report said. Along with eight cricket team members, he was kept there for 25 days and tortured severely. Ahmad was chained for 24 hours and couldn’t even go to the toilet. Finally, another human rights activist who was also brought to the safe house, helped him to file a case. He and the others were presented in court, where they were released on bail after six months. However, they were rearrested and booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA), with two years in jail. They were in and out of prison until their cases ended in 2017. Mahmood runs a pathology laboratory in Poonch now.

Tasveer Hussain died in 2003 as a result of torture in Jammu and his is one of the few cases where the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) passed an order on a complaint from his brother Mohammed. The SHRC in its ruling observed that, “This is a brute type of Human Rights Violation committed by Taranveer Singh Randawa or Captain Toor [from Poonch].” The SHRC recommended the government pay a compensation of Rs 1 lakh and give job benefits under government rules to the next of kin. A case was registered against Captain Toor which was transferred to Crime Branch Jammu for further investigation.

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The 560-page report says that 238 of 432 victims were given electric shocks during detention; 127 of them reported that the shocks were administered to their genitals. During the Cordon and Search Operations (CASO)s in the 1990s, the armed forces would carry a portable battery along with them and it was used to administer shocks to people who were tortured during these operations. At least 24 of the 432 cases were subjected to waterboarding: Jan Mohammad Parray from Doda said that water was poured on his face, which went in through his nostrils. Mohammad Altaf Sheikh from Srinagar said that during torture, his face was covered with a cloth and a bucketful of water was poured over it. Mohammad Ramzan Shoosha from Sopore said that he was gagged and a bucketful of water was poured on his face. About 101 victims said that their head was dunked in water repeatedly. Often, this water would be filthy or mixed with chilli powder. Abdul Rashid Dar from Pulwama said that he was arrested by the Border Security Force (BSF) in 1992 and taken to a nearby river in Nilora. Here, they took his shirt off and put his head in and out of water for two hours.

The report noted that one of the least vocalised aspects of torture in Kashmir is the widespread use of “sexualised torture and humiliation techniques such as stripping, parading people naked, photographing them, electric shocks to the private parts, and forced sexual acts including rape and sodomy." About 190 people were stripped naked, foreign objects like rods, petrol, chilli powder and needles were inserted into the rectum of 23 of the victims, two of whom were Muzaffer Ahmed Mirza and Manzoor Ahmad Naikoo, causing multiple ruptures to their internal organs. While Mirza died after a few days in hospital of a ruptured lung, Naikoo had to undergo five surgeries. A cloth had been wrapped around Naikoo's genitals and then set afire.

Others, like Mohammad Ahsan Untoo, who is a prominent human rights activist from Kashmir, said in his testimony that he was sodomised when he was detained in Tihar Jail in Delhi. On 27 October, 2009, 11 boys between the age of 13 and 19 were arrested in Srinagar on the charges of throwing stones. During their detention, the boys were forced to sodomise each other. Not only did the perpetrators watch the whole incident, they even recorded it on their mobile phone, verbally abused the victims and spat on them.

The report records the case studies of 24 women, of whom twelve had been allegedly raped by Indian armed personnel. A bride from Anantnag was travelling to her husband’s house on 18 May, 1990, along with her aunt and some other relatives. They were stopped by BSF personnel and indiscriminately fired upon, in which one person was killed. The bride and her aunt were dragged into the nearby field and gang raped. A case was registered at Dooru police station against the BSF personnel which was closed for some reason. Cases involving rape rarely get punished, for instance, the Kunan Poshpora case.

However, the number of women on record is not proportionate to the actual number tortured, as the victims were reluctant to speak up. Of the cases documented, 27 were minors (one girl, and the rest boys). The report points to “the arbitrary detention of minors under the Public Safety Act which has seen an unprecedented increase in numbers since the onset of the non-violent mass uprising of 2008. These arrests are usually made on the charges of stone throwing.”

According to the data obtained through a Right to Information Act application, 623 juveniles were arrested for stone-throwing and lodged in the Srinagar juvenile home between 23 September 2011 and 21 April 2017. They comprised nearly 50 percent of the total 1,086 detentions. Since 2008, at least seven minors have died due to custodial torture and another six have died due to beating by the state forces, the report said. However, in 2012, the Jammu and Kashmir State Assembly amended PSA to prohibit the detention of people under 18 years of age.

Even young boys are not spared. A nine-year-old boy, Sameer Ahmad Rah, a resident of Batamaloo, Srinagar, was allegedly beaten to death by the CRPF on 2 August, 2010. According to his father, the CRPF personnel caught Sameer while he was on his way to his uncle’s house. They started beating him with long bamboo sticks and kicked him. The report said, “His head was repeatedly smashed on the right side due to which he fell down on the ground. The troopers then trampled (over) his chest and inserted a bamboo stick into his mouth to take out the toffee from his mouth. When his attackers thought that he had lost consciousness, they threw him into a nearby field full of stones, which caused his death.”

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Victims have been randomly picked up and tortured, like a 17-year-old boy, who was arrested in May 2017, taken to the Batamaloo police station, and beaten and verbally abused for two days without any reason given. At least 80 had been tortured during Cordon and Search Operation (CASO)s, raids or at checkpoints. In 2017 at least 540 CASOs were carried out in Jammu and Kashmir, which is more than one CASO per day. There were 128 in August 2018. During one such operation, which lasted for three and half hours, a school in Tral area of Pulwama district was cordoned off by the 42 Rashtriya Rifles. The students were paraded before the armed personnel and the school buses were also searched. In 2018, 275 CASOs were conducted in Jammu and Kashmir, the report said.

According to the data from APDP and JKCCS, a total of 4,042 people have been killed between 2008 and 2018 in Jammu and Kashmir, of which 1,067 were civilians, 1,898 militants and 1,077 armed forces personnel. The report said that detention, particularly prolonged, unrecorded detentions for the purpose of custodial interrogation, was a continuing and constant feature of the counter-insurgency policy. Cases of torture which make it to the Jammu and Kashmir SHRC also fail to get any closure. The report says that the Commission’s recommendations are often not implemented. In 2006, the SHRC chairperson justice (retd) AM Mir resigned from his post saying that “SHRC is just an eyewash to befool the international community that human rights of people are being respected. When our recommendations were not implemented, Commission’s credibility got eroded and people lost faith in it.”

In 2017, the government turned down almost 75 percent of the recommendations made by the Commission, only accepting a mere seven of the 44 recommendations for compensation and ex-gratia relief. The state government informed the Assembly in 2018, that out of the 229 recommendations made by the Commission since 2009, only 58 were accepted by the government. As few as 27 of the 432 cases documented in this report, were taken up by the SHRC. Of these cases, 20 were decided in favour of the complainants and six are pending.

During the unrest in 2016, the report said an estimated 8,000 and more civilians were illegally detained, including 582 under the PSA. According to estimates by the APDP, more than 8,000 people have been subjected to enforced or involuntary disappearance since 1990. On 22 June, 2016, the then Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, in her written reply to the state legislative assembly stated that there were 4,587 ‘missing’ persons. She claimed that these ‘missing’ persons had crossed over to Pakistan administered Kashmir for arms training, a claim strongly refuted by the relatives of the disappeared. Instead of probing the cases of disappeared persons, successive governments have repeatedly tried to obstruct inquiry and disseminate false and unverified information as to the whereabouts of the missing, the report pointed out.

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With laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Public Safety Act (PSA) used for prolonged detention, the report points out that “An environment where torture, both against combatants and non-combatants, is carried out with impunity, and irrespective of gender and age, is telling of the widespread prevalence of this practice as a ‘normal’ way of punishing a community to teach them a lesson and coerce them into falling in line.” The government is not keen to repeal or amend AFSPA in Jammu and Kashmir.

In 2017, during India’s Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council, despite the recommendation made by various member countries, India refused to accept the recommendation to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances which it had signed in 2007. More importantly, the report said the Indian government has tried to stop the reporting of human rights violations meted out in Kashmir by banning the entry of foreign journalists into Jammu and Kashmir, which has been denoted as a “protected area” under Foreigners’ (Protected Areas) Order, 1958.

The predictable silence so far on this report from the powers that be indicates that doubtless this document too will gather dust, while the political situation will be in a constant ferment. Torture and death have become part of everyday life in Jammu and Kashmir, with a few human rights groups taking the trouble to address and document it, with little help from the state or the law.

**(Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir: Developments in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir from June 2016 to April 2018, and General Human Rights Concerns in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights), (UN OCHR) June 2018). 

Updated Date: May 29, 2019 15:05:12 IST