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24 Dec 2010

Peoples Union for Democratic Rights welcomes the Wikileaks disclosure of the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) briefing to US diplomats that the Indian government condoned ‘rampant use of torture’ in Jammu and Kashmir, North East and elsewhere.

The scale and extent of torture used in J&K——where the number of victims varies between 60,000 to several hundred thousands, if torture is understood in accordance with the international Convention against Torture——shows how the Indian State and civil society have been complicit in allowing this practice to carry on unmindful of its consequence for India’s Constitutional democracy and for vitiating chances of a peaceful, democratic resolution.

It must be remembered that ICRC was allowed in Kashmir under a ‘limited mandate’ in 1995 and could visit prisoners in designated centres, jails, but was barred from interrogation centres such as the notorious Cargo Building (Humhama) near Srinagar airport. While ICRC shared data for 2002—2004 with US diplomats, which shows that 45% of 1491 detainees/prisoners interviewed by them in 177 visits were tortured, they point out that conditions, in contrast to 1990s, had improved, but torture as a practice continues. In the five months of 2010, eight children died due to torture and out of the 3000 detained, a very large number were juvenile (Hindu, 18 December 2010). Incidence of sexual abuse of boys too has surfaced from time-to-time, the most recent being from 2009. On 29 October 2009, when eleven boys were produced before the sessions court, some of them narrated how they were forced to commit sodomy and how their photographs were taken by their torturers. The boys were threatened that the photos would be leaked out if they did not quit the movement. The Court ordered medical examination and doctors in their report confirmed that there were bruises on the victims’ buttocks. (Hindustan Times, 6 November 2009). But no action resulted.

Torture in J&K has been physical, mental and sexual. Besides beatings with belts and lathis, other forms of torture such as—‘aeroplane’ or hanging upside down, beating on the soles of the feet, ‘180 degree’ stretch (where feet are stretched apart), the ‘roller’ where a heavy log is rolled over a prone prisoner’s legs, sometimes weighed down by one or more persons, forced drinking of buckets of water, water boarding (where a head is shoved into water), suffocation by tightly covering the head with a wet sack, squeezing the nose, inserting iron rods, sometimes covered with chilli powder, into penis or rectum, or passing current or giving electric shocks to the testicles—such methods have been practiced. Conditions in custody are filthy and degrading; often only one bucket was given for urinating and defecating which is shared by several prisoners; and the same space was meant for eating and sleeping. Mental torture involved watching somebody else being tortured, or hearing screams of a victim. In Srinagar alone, people who suffered torture have identified sixty-three torture centres from their own experience of physical abuse during interrogations.

The Wikileaks are a strong reminder of how the Indian state has conveniently kept the issue of torture outside the ambit of law and justice. India has refused to be a signatory to the Convention against Torture and the present Bill against torture is yet to receive the consent of the Lok Sabha. No real action ever happens on the issue of torture as the conditions laid out in existing law are so elaborate and, even if they are met, the end result is never justice but a paltry sum of money by way of compensation. Since life is cheap and judiciary is on a regressive course, justice is an elusive entity. What makes it worse is that democratic voices fall silent when incidence of torture occur in ‘disturbed areas’ at the hands of India’s military or paramilitary forces on the grounds that the morale of the forces would suffer if such crimes are prosecuted. In other words, Indian law and politics are marked by their silence on the issue of torture as well as abridgement of constitutional freedoms.

PUDR believes that the use of torture is widespread and acquires epidemic proportions in ‘disturbed areas’. PUDR is also convinced that the Indian State is guilty of ‘crimes against humanity’ and must be held accountable by the domestic and international public opinion and made to prosecute those guilty of these crimes.

Paramjeet Singh and Harish Dhawan