A torturous nightmare

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Torture is not just a physical pain, it is a constant psychological trauma. Ibrahim Wani narrates the ordeal of a youth who underwent brutal torture inside a police station

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When protests broke out in Islamabad, South Kashmir in June,  police went searching for him. He was not home at that time; so his family was given an ultimatum to bring him to the police station, or else?? Some things are left unsaid. “Not again,” he thought. He had a university exam approaching.

On July 2, his family brought him to the police station. When he entered, all the memoires came bursting forth. A shiver went through his spine. He felt pain in his back. “A reminder,” he thought. Standing in front of him, in uniform, was one of the persons who had been there the first time round. Their eyes met. Azhar closed his eyes.
He was led to a cell, where he would be the 36th inmate. The cell was meant for 10. “Little had changed in the cell,” says Azhar. But when his eyes fell on two of his to be companions, his heart sank. “One was 11 years old, the other only 9.” The SHO asked him to take care of the two.

“They were so young that I could not believe it,” says Azhar, “What where they doing behind bars?” when Azhar observed them, he noticed both had bruises. They had been beaten and herded into the cell. “They had even been kicked on the private parts,” he says. Azhar trembled. The memories were taking hold of him. He was brought back to the situation only when one of the children repeated the one word he had been crying all along – “mummy”. What if my mother knew what happened to me here, he thought. He had not gathered the courage to tell her, what had happened to him here. And he would never. “It will be too much for her. She will not be able to tolerate it.” What would be the condition of their mothers at this time, he pondered.

“The children had to be accompanied even to the bathroom. They had to be nursed. I was everything they had in the cell. They even feared talking to other inmates, who in spite of their own problems tried to cheer them up,” he says. “But the younger one hardly talked. Most of the times, he confined himself to a corner of the room and kept weeping.”

Azhar tried to talk to the 9-year old, but most of the times he was unresponsive. “Unfortunately, whenever I was able to elicit some response from him, some inmate would be taken out and beaten. Hearing the cries, he would again go back into his fold. His every action portrayed fear and nothing else.” The beatings continued. With the exception of Azhar and the two kids, the inmates were not even spared at the time of dinner.

At night, he kept the two close to him. The visits to the bathroom-a ramshackle tin shed inside the room itself were frequent. During the day they were allowed to use the bathroom outside.

Azhar remained awake most of the night. All the nightmares had returned. He was restless. This was the same place where it had happened.  His thoughts went back to the time, “when all hell had broken loose.” He remembered every small detail.

It was the summer of 2008. He was 21 years old then. Stone pelting was going on. He too had joined. CRPF fired into the air, and the crowd dispersed. While most of the protesters managed to run away, Azhar was caught in one of the bye-lanes into which he had run. He was kicked, beaten and caned. Then he was dragged onto the main road and taken to the police station.

There he was made to kneel and look down. Gun butts struck his shoulders. He felt a sharp pain. Then a gun butt fell on his head. His head started bleeding. The blood started oozing out, and covered all his face. “The blood went into my eyes,” says Azhar, “and I was not able to see.” He fell down unconscious.

When he woke up, he saw that he was being taken into a room. Once inside the room, he was stripped. When he was completely naked, he saw a policeman approaching. The policeman was smoking cigarettes.

“They asked me who else was with me. They wanted names and addresses,” says Azhar. With all the courage left, he answered that he knew none. Then what seems fiction in movies became a reality, a painful one. He was held more firmly. “There was no escape,” they said.

His skin burned with cigarette butts. A smell of burning flesh combined with cigarette smoke, permeated the air. A cry of agony escaped his lips. He did not know he could cry so loud. The policeman then put the cigarette again to his lips and smoked a long puff. The lighted end of the cigarette combined with his skin again. This continued for more than 20 minutes. “It was as if he was enjoying my pain.” Azhar went unconscious again. “The agony cannot be expressed,” says Azhar who even today has those burn marks all over the body. He is not able to stand the sight of anyone smoking a cigarette in front of him.

When he regained consciousness, hell awaited him. The policeman was still standing in front of him. He could see around eight cigarette butts on the floor. He lighted another cigarette. He asked the same question again, Azhar had the same reply.

Torture was not something new to Azhar. His great grandfather, he says, had been tortured by gangs of NC workers, when Bhutto was hanged in Pakistan. He was a Jamat-e-Islami supporter. His own father had been tortured in the nineties by the police. He had seen militants torture his neighbours, when he was still a child. Then he had witnessed the Ikhwanis, and then the STF. But one memory stood out of all this. “I was in third grade, when our school bus came to an abrupt halt. I saw my nieghbour Dr Mehmood being dragged out by Ikhwanis in front of everyone. Then in front of us they shot him.” That Azhar can never forget.

Then there were his nightmares. “A decade later two of my friends had been picked up and killed in a fake encounter. They always come in my dreams,” states Azhar.

“While they were torturing me, I wanted to say to them, I am protesting because of what you have done. I wanted to say, I pelted those stones not because I wanted Azaadi or anything. Those things are secondary. I first want to revenge. I want to avenge those who you killed and took away.”
But when the policeman asked the question again, he remained mum. Then the unexpected happened. His voice falters whilst he recalls, and relives the pain. “Then the lighted cigarette burned my private parts.” His cries and shrieks echoed in the police station.

They did not stop there. As if enough was not enough, they brought a battery pin, says Azhar. They opened it and stuck it to the tip of his penis. The teeth of the pin, pierced into him, and he started bleeding. The torture continued for two more days. He was released after that.

He hardly talked or felt any pain for the first two days after release. “All the thresholds of pain had been crossed.” But two days later, “it was hell again.” He started passing puss and blood with urine, and had unbearable pain all over the body. That was due to the burns. But he felt more pain in his back. One of the discs in his vertebral column had been dislocated.

During his detention, however, he was more worried about the 9-year old, who again had to go to the bathroom. Azhar accompanied him, again. He wonders whether the child too will get nightmares like him. He prays that he should not. But many of his prayers have been in vain.

Azhar had not  been able to sleep for three months after the incident. His mind kept taking him back, again and again, to the torture. He was finally left with no choice, but to visit a psychiatrist. He was the first person with whom he shared his ordeal. He gave Azhar medication. He too had become a part of the ever increasing crowd who were left with psychological wounds so deep, that they could never heal. The medicines for him like for many others were for temporary relief. After months, he was able to sleep.

The two children were released after four days – after protests from people. While leaving, the 9-year old, looked towards Azhar. “I understood the look. It was thanks,” he says. The 11-year old came to say bye to Azhar. “It was as if I developed a bond with them,” he says, “a very strong bond developed in suffering.”

Azhar too prepared to move. He was being shifted to the central jail. While moving out, he caught a glimpse of the policeman who was also part of the torture inflicted on him. “I came to know later that he was soon put under suspension. He had been part of the police team which had followed three youngsters into a house in Islamabad, and shot them dead in cold blood,” says Azhar. But I know that soon he will be reinstated without any action taken against him, he adds.

A police bus makes rounds of the police stations in the morning. It picks up people like Azhar, who have been marked for transport. He boards the bus. Some people from far off police stations have been brought to the national highway, and they are to be picked up from the road. When the last stop is reached, the bus takes a turn to Srinagar. By now the bus is full.

Most part of the journey to the Central Jail is uneventful. But when they reach Srinagar the bus is targeted by stone pelters. “They did it on first impulse. A police vehicle is seldom spared,” he says. The driver takes a different route. But everywhere he goes the situation is the same.

The bus comes under heavy stone pelting near the Natipora area. Azhar hears some pelters shouting that there are ‘Gaddar’ (traitors) in the bus. But they let us pass, when one of the prisoners in the bus stands up and shows his handcuffs. “These are our brothers,” say the stone pelters. The bus starts moving again.

Azhar spent two more days at the central jail. He was released on the third, on intervention of some influential people.  He is straightforward to accept, “if there would have been no sufarish (contacts) then I would still have been in jail,” he says. But there are hundreds of others who had no one to vouch for them, he adds. Many have been transferred to different jails where they will not be able to see their relatives for a long time. A bleak future awaits them.

My H.O.D (Head of Department) at the university still gets calls from the police, says Azhar. It was not as if everything was easy after I was released in 2008, he adds. For months, he was hounded by the CID after reports of his torture surfaced in a local newspaper.

The constant hounding by the CID was even more difficult. The torture did not break him, but this did. His family was pressurized, and his resolve gave way. He had to give in writing that he was not tortured and was released only after his card was checked. “This was a defeat,” he says. After he had given it in writing, he saw that the officer whom he handed it over to, changed his age from 21 to 24 on the paper. “There was no option. I could not see my family suffering because of me.”

Azhar’s family has lost all interest with news. “I don’t see the news now, nor does anyone else in our family. A number of my relatives have sealed their TV sets. They no longer watch it. The scars for the family who have been at the receiving end for four generations run deep.”

Azhar meets the 11-year old occasionally in Islamabad town. “He is like a younger brother now,” he says. The child does not have nightmares, he comes to know. Azhar is happy.

He has not still shared what happened to him with his family members. He has shared it with his friends though. “One of my friends had a relative who was a militant,” he says, “His skin was peeled off from his back.”

Azhar has come to know of similar stories from a number of his friends. “They have been subjected to things which can only be compared to what Nazis did,” he says. “When I look at these friends, I see hope, and forget what happened to me. They give me strength to live on.”

(Azhar is not his real name. His name has been changed on request.)

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About Author

A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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