The infamous torture centre of 90s Papa 2 and Hariniwas may have been converted into palatial mansions, but the inhuman practices have not ended even with decline in violence. Majid Maqbool narrates some recent instances of torture in police custody.
Two men turn up at Abdul Majid Beigh’s shop at Hari Singh High Street in Srinagar. “Your brother has been arrested by SOG Cargo. He is in SMHS hospital now,” they tell Beigh. A panicked Beigh rushes to hospital to find his brother dead.
On the morning of May 18, the 40-year-old Manzoor Ahmad Beigh had left his home in Alochi Bagh, as usual on a scooter. He dropped his 16 year old daughter at school on his way to work. In the afternoon his brother Majeed was staring at his body lying on a stretcher in hospital.
Father of three children, Manzoor was a dealer of used cars. “He was picked up an SOG inspector on his way to work, and later killed,” alleged Majeed, puffing cigarette after cigarette in the lawn of their home filled with mourners. “It’s a custodial murder. I saw torture marks on his body in the hospital. His throat had a torture mark, his underarms were swollen,” he said.
Outside their home, Manzoor’s sister is surrounded by women trying to pacify her. Lying inconsolable on the concrete path leading to the door of their home, she is unable to make sense of her brother’s death.
“Bahe lage balaye mayane bayooo (Let me shield you my brother) …” she lets out a cry, repeatedly. “Ye chuna apuz, mayne bayooo… yehagasena apuz aasun maynea bayoo… (tell me this is a lie, shouldn’t this be a lie)”
Government ordered an enquiry into the incident, a routine course taken after such deaths. Several others, who are being tortured despite decline in violence, cause the government little concern.
Last year, in the wake of Amarnath land row, many youth were arrested and tortured. Abid Beigh, 21, of Habbakadal is one of them.
In the past one year, Abid was hit by a bullet – thrice. He survived to be arrested – twice and tortured each time.
The first bullet, says Abid, came from the Army when protesters were fired at. And the bullet hit his right leg. Another bullet, when he was part of another protest rally, hit his left arm. On third occasion, the same year, the third bullet hit him on the back, above hips. But Abid survived to tell the tale. Not of three narrow escapes from death but of torture.
First arrested in September 2008, Abid was lodged in Nowhatta police station for one month. “That day the CRPF came to my house and beat up my parents before arresting me,” he recalls. “In the police station, instead of police, CRPF tortures the inmates,” he said.
This month he was released from Central Jail after one and a half month detention. “They would beat me continuously. They would hang me, at times keep me standing on one leg,” recalls Abid.
He developed kidney problems soon after his release. “For nine days, they kept a brick on my crotch,” he says. “My right kidney is damaged and doctors had to insert a pipe to make it functional.”
After his release from Nowhatta police station, Abid was arrested again on February 16 from his shop in Lal Chowk. “The STF, concerned Police Station and Maisuma Police Station came and told me that SSP wants to talk to you,” says Abid.
“Then they put me in custody again for 46 days. I was taken to different places like MR Gunj, then to Cargo camp, Nowhatta Police Station, Karan Nagar and then to the jail in Rainawari.”
His parents were allowed to see him only thrice during this period. He vividly remembers the places where he and youth like him were tortured. The wounds might have healed but the memories are fresh.
“In Cargo camp there is one lock up, a small hall that has only one small window where they interrogate and ruthlessly beat up people,” Abid recalls.
He knows many youth like him who were tortured in custody but are reluctant to talk about it for fear of reprisals. His parents, says Abid, had to give in writing to police after his release that he “won’t indulge in stone pelting for a year.”
“When I was in custody, they would tell my parents that if they (parents) approach media, they will never let me free,” he said. “They would tell my parents that ‘your son is our target as he indulges is stone pelting’,” he adds.
Dr Zaid A Wani, consultant psychiatrist at the Government Medical College, Srinagar, has treated many torture victims over the years. Wani says that torture victims do not come directly to psychiatrists.
“They go to other places, to surgeons, and after four months they come to us because of the recurring symptoms,” says Dr Wani.
In November, a torture victim who came to Dr Wani for consultation, was reluctant to talk about it at first but opened up after his second visit.
“He was a 30 year old man and complained of headaches, appetite loss, sleeping disorders, concentration loss and nightmares,” the doctor recalls. On investigation, and in subsequent visits, the man started talking about his torture in custody. “He told us how he was kept hooded in custody, kept on his feet all the time, regularly beaten, and he also said how he was tortured with cigarette butts on his body,” says Dr Wani.
“The man said they would tell him in custody that they are going to kill him. And in the middle of the night he would be suddenly forced to wake up, and taken out in the open.”
After release the man had recurrent nightmares, increased startle reflexes, and would rarely come out of his home.
Torture is considered to be an international crime and violation of human rights, declared unacceptable by Article 5 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Signatories of the Third Geneva Convention and Fourth Geneva Convention officially agree not to torture prisoners in armed conflicts. United Nations Convention Against Torture, which has been ratified by 145 states, prohibits torture.
But in Kashmir, torture cases – both physical and mental – have largely gone undocumented.
At a seminar “Campaign against Torture” organized in April by Jammu and Kashmir People’s Rights’ Movement (PRM) and the J&K Coalition of Civil Society (CCS), lawyers, human rights activists and torture victims, spoke about the futility of approaching the law because ‘there is no law in Indian constitution which can deliver justice to the victims of torture.’
PRM is a group of former militants advocating their concerns. It has documented about 250 cases of torture cases so far.
Rights activists said that for lack of evidence mental torture is not even considered in law.
Abdul Qadeer, Chairman PRM says there are more than 60,000 people who have been subjected to torture in Kashmir. “Every fifth Kashmiri is a victim of physical or mental torture but not many victims come forward to talk about it, and hence most of the torture cases are undocumented,” he said.
And then there are people who have been subjected to torture outside the jails. “You might get a record of those tortured in jails but there are many people who have been tortured in different buildings, in the open fields, playing ground, schools etc, of which there is no available record,” said Qadeer.