Survivors of torture in Kashmir Part 2: 28 years later, Manzoor Ahmad Naikoo says he's been reduced to 'less than zero'

Editor's note: In a first such report compiled over a span of 10 years, Srinagar-based rights body Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) has documented accounts of 432 survivors of torture since 1989, when armed militancy took root in the Valley. Safwat Zargar met four of these survivors to document their stories. This is part two of a four-part series.

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When militancy erupted in Kashmir in 1989, Palhallan town of North Kashmir’s Baramulla district became one of its bastions with dozens of boys crossing the Line of Control for arms training.

But Manzoor Ahmad Naikoo, 30, one of the flourishing shopkeepers in Palhallan, wasn’t among them. Naikoo, who came from an impoverished background, opened a general grocery store in 1983. Over the years, the shop ensured financial stability for his family.

However, all of that came crashing down on 28 September, 1991.

 Survivors of torture in Kashmir Part 2: 28 years later, Manzoor Ahmad Naikoo says hes been reduced to less than zero

The report, released on 20 May, demanded a probe commissioned by the United Nations into the allegations of torture in Jammu and Kashmir. Image courtesy: JKCCS

Naikoo was picked up during a crackdown by the personnel of 2 Dogra Regiment stationed at Hyderbeigh area of Pattan. He, along with another local Lateef Mir, was tortured inside a government school building and then at his Palhallan home.

In fact, mentions of Naikoo’s case in Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) report on torture crop up repeatedly.

Naikoo is one of 432 victims of torture documented by Srinagar-based JKCCS over a ten-year span. The report, released on 20 May, was the first of its kind, and demanded a probe commissioned by the United Nations into the allegations of torture in the conflict-riddled state.

The report triggered a strong reaction from the Government of India, which decided  it would no longer entertain any communications from the UN's Geneva-based Human Rights Council (HRC) on the alleged human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir.

Among the total 432 cases studies, 301 victims were civilians, 119 militants, five were ex-militants, while two belonged to the Jammu and Kashmir Police. Twenty-seven victims were minors. According to the JKCCS report, 49 victims died during or after torture.

'Wished for death'

“First, they stripped me and tied my hands behind my back," Naikoo recalled. "After that, they put a cloth around my penis and set it on fire. When I started screaming, they put my pajama inside my mouth to muffle my cries. It didn’t end there: they brought a bucket of water and thrust my head into it. While my head was in the water, they inserted a stick into my rectum and moved it back and forth till I started bleeding. I was in so much pain that I wished for death.” Naikoo was 30 at the time.

Naikoo’s neighbour Lateef Mir, a government school teacher, was subjected to similar torture. He didn't survive. A day after the torture, Palhallan was put under strict curfew. “It took hours of negotiations with army personnel deployed on the road to allow me to visit a hospital. From my house, I was brought in a hand-driven cart to the main road in order to be taken to the hospital,” Naikoo added.

At Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, Naikoo was subjected to an emergency colostomy. While his injuries eventually healed, a colostomy closure surgery conducted on Naikoo failed.

“The surgery failed to close the opening near my stomach. As a result, all the waste material produced in my body kept leaking from it. I lived with this condition for 22 years because doctors advised me against another surgery,” Naikoo explained.

Living with trauma

But Naikoo’s condition didn’t impact his health alone. Due to his condition, Naikoo avoided meeting people, attending functions or travelling. For many years, he didn’t go to the mosque. “My clothes would always smell bad because urine and feces that would continue to leak from the opening in my stomach. I couldn’t control it. You can’t imagine what I went through,” Naikoo said.

Naikoo's failing health made him desperate for a solution. But there was hardly one in sight. “I sold my cows, sheep, land and my wife’s jewellery for my treatment, but I didn’t get better,” he stated.

Naikoo’s ordeal coincided with a grueling legal battle for justice. Seventeen years after his torture, that battle eventually paid fruit, although very little. In 2007, a local court in Srinagar hearing a plea on behalf of Naikoo decided in his favour and ordered the state as well as the Centre to pay him Rs 5 lakh as compensation. While the court proceedings confirmed Naikoo’s torture, it didn’t identify the perpetrators. Naikoo was left aghast.

“I spent nearly five times more on my treatment. The compensation went to pay my lawyer’s fees and expenses of eyewitnesses who had to travel all the way to Srinagar,” Naikoo said. Meanwhile, in 2013, Naikoo finally got a ray of hope when doctors at a private hospital agreed to make another attempt at colostomy closure. This time, the surgery was successful. But by then, Naikoo’s life had undergone some irreversible changes.

“I lost my business. My daughter developed mental health problems and had to undergo psychiatric treatment. One of my sons is a post-graduate and another is a graduate, but instead of doing decent jobs, they are now running my shop. The shop is all we have,” Naikoo rued.

Now, 28 years later, Naikoo is still reeling from the consequences of that day. “I don’t go out at all. I sleep throughout the day. My bones have become weaker and I get tired quickly,” he said. “I became old in my youth.”

Ruined families

Researchers at JKCCS, who led the first ever study on the widespread use of torture by state forces in Jammu and Kashmir, assert that it isn't the torture victims alone who bear the consequences of the aftermath. Entire families have been ruined.

“According to some data on mental health, children have developed psychological issues as a result of the torture of the elder members of the family,” Shazia Ahad, one of the researchers behind the report, told Firstpost. “And there are economic losses as well in cases where someone is rendered unable to work due to torture.”

Torture, researchers said, also takes a toll on the mental health of victims.

“Torture affects people psychologically. We have seen that victims of torture suffer from different mental health related issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, insomnia, and depression,” Shazia added.

Naikoo doesn’t know if he’s suffering from any of these because he never consulted doctors regarding his mental health. The 60-year-old reflects on how torture changed his life, "Torture took me from being a member of the middle class to less than zero.” ​

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Updated Date: Jun 28, 2019 19:17:34 IST