The first incumbent of the infamous torture centre turned guest house PAPA 2 arranged its exorcism to ward off the evils of its past. But nothing heals the wounds on the body and psyche of thousands of Kashmiri youth who survived torture in security camps across the state. Muhammad Afzal Sofi meets a few such men.
The story of Nazir Ahmad Shiekh, 35, is one of victimization and violation. He claims to have been severely tortured by troops for days and in the dead of the night being left on the roadside – to die. Though he survived, he lost both his legs and four fingers. There are numerous such stories where youth were picked up by troopers and tortured. Some say that one in every five Kashmiri male has been picked up at some point of time. Some of whom survived and others lost their limbs and the less fortunate ones never returned.
A human rights group chronicled the methods of torture used by state security agencies on detainees in a report released in 2005. The report, State of Human Rights In Kashmir, says methods of torture included repeated beating for hours, suspension of person from ceiling upright or upside down accompanying by beating, applying wooden or iron roller over legs weighted down by several interrogators on both sides thus crushing thigh muscles, inserting petrol or chilli powder or rods into the anus of person causing raptures and hemorrhages inside, applying electric current to private and other body parts etc.
Though UN conventions strictly prohibit torture, stories of third degree and inhuman torture are rampant in Kashmir especially rural areas, where people especially youth find themselves more vulnerable to human rights violations.
Hailing from Yahama, Handwara, Shiekh was picked up by 14 Dogra Regiment in December 1994, while on his way to Marwar. He was later taken to several army camps where he was tortured, which rendered him handicapped.
“I don’t know why they picked me up. It was 2:00 pm when I was going to Mawar market. They (army) called me, checked my identity card, blindfolded me and took me to Qalamabad Camp without saying anything,” said Shiekh.
He was detained in Qalamabad Camp for eight days during which Shiekh says he was “ruthlessly tortured”. Meanwhile his family did not know his whereabouts and nobody among the authorities cared to inform them.
“On reaching the camp they put me into a small torture room with a small single window covered with wooden planks at the top. Five soldiers entered the room and made me remove all my clothes even the underwear. That was painful. They tied my hands behind my back and started beating me up with bamboo sticks till my body turned black (Blue). Afterwards they forced me to the floor, one mounting my chest and another one sitting on my feet. The rest rolled a six-cm-thick spiky iron rod over my legs, from ankles to thighs with two of them weighing it down from both sides,” said Shiekh.
He says that the roller displaced his knee joints and its spikes created deep wounds. After that hot water was spilled over his legs scorched his wounds. “For seven successive days they (troops) used same methods of torture of at least two hours daily,” Shiekh adds. After the torture he was given a ragged blanket and put into a room having cemented floor, where he shivered with cold.
“During torture they told me that they had information about my links with militants and that I possessed ammunition. I had no affiliation with militants. They tortured me seeking weapons I never possessed,” Shiekh says.
On eighth day he was shifted to Langate Camp, Handwara where a ten day detention along with continuous torture followed. “At Langate camp I was tortured regularly by Major Maltani with assistance of five other men. Everyday I was beaten with sticks. My legs were stretched in opposite direction to 180 degree.
Electricity shocks were given to my private and other body parts. A spiky heavy iron rod was rolled over my legs and later hot water was spilled over the wounds,” said Shiekh.
He said that everyday he was forced to crawl on ice at least for two hours and later forced to sit near the Bukhari (coal fired heating stove). “One day Major Maltani was in foul mood and pushed my left hand into the Bukhari, burning my four fingers completely,” Shiekh said.
For rest of the time he was put into a trench covered with tin sheets where it was difficult to breathe and stretch legs. Bereft of any medical attention his wounds deteriorated and started oozing puss.
As his condition worsened he was shifted to Military hospital, Badami Bagh, Srinagar. However, Shiekh says that he was not treated “seriously” there.
Shiekh recalls, “During the twenty-day stay in the hospital, they only dressed my wounds and gave me painkillers while the Infection in my legs gained severity. I thought, I was about to die.
“Reeling under pain and cold I waited and prayed for death.
“Anticipating my death, the army threw me out on the ice-covered road outside the camp at 11:00 in the night. Almost an hour after a passing by taxi driver took me to Police Control Room Srinagar. Police took me to Bone and Joint Hospital, Barzulla and informed my family,” Shiekh said.
Both his legs and four fingers of left hand were amputated at the hospital and it took him eight months to recover enough to leave hospital.
Shiekh used to be a mason but cannot do anything now. He sold all his land to pay for his treatment. His wife sought divorce within six months of his operation. He is today living with his son (is the son minor?), sister and mother with no source of income except the Social Welfare Department’s paltry Rs. 300 a month. He can’t afford the Rs 50,000 needed to repair his artificial limbs.
Shiekh is one among the hundreds, both combatants and civilians, in Kashmir who were picked up by various security agencies and subsequently tortured either for being militants or suspected of supporting militants.
Another grim example of torture at the hands of troops is that of Abdul Rasheed Parray of Sopore.
Passion and enthusiasm drew Parray, 35, towards militancy. But little of those sprits remain in the man he now is. The torture he has been subjected to has incapacitated him.
Parray joined a militant outfit, Muslim Janbaz Force, in 1992. He was arrested in September, 1993 by 9-Gorkha regiment.
Parray recalls, “I was part of a group of 12 militants. While trying to cross a rivulet at Abur, Tangmarg we were cordoned by troops. They fired upon us. I took shelter under rocks. When the firing ceased I looked out. All my companions were dead. During the encounter I received bullets in right hand, arms and neck. They took me to a nearby tin shed and beat me up with gun butts. They also cut my three fingers with razor. Later they tied my hands to their vehicle and dragged me for about 3 kilometres. I was taken to Sharifabad Army Camp, Srinagar.”
At Sharifabad camp he was again tortured. Parray says he was beaten continuously and electric shocks were given to his toes and temples. After three days he was taken to Military Hospital Badamibagh, where bullets were removed from his body. Two days later he was taken to Badamibagh Interrogation Center, where he was again tortured.
“I was tortured for two hours daily during which I was stripped and beaten with bamboo sticks and gun butts. Thin steel rod was inserted into my private part and subjected to electric shocks. I suffered erectile dysfunction for a long time. My head was immersed into water mixed with chilly powder till I felt chocked. After a lot of water would go into my belly several men would stamp on it making me vomit blood and water,” said Parray.
Parray says that he was released after ten days after his family paid the Army Commanding Officer Rupees one lakh rupees he demanded. His family raised the money by selling two kanals (0.1 hectare) of land. But on the second day of his release Rajput Rifles raided his house and he took him to their camp at Hamray, Pattan in Baramulla district.
Parray says that despite being wounded troops tied his hands and suspended him from a tree. He was beaten up until he was unconscious. After two days he was again shifted to Badamibagh Camp for two days and then to Kot Balwal jail for ten days and finally to a jail in Rajasthan for one year.
“I along with another detainee was kept in a six by six feet cell where two 1000 watt bulbs were always kept on raising the temperature to above 50 degrees. We had to defecate in a tin canister placed inside the cell. My hair had grown long and was infested with lice. Some inmates were stung by poisonous insects inside the cell and had to be removed to the hospital. The half an hour a day (when inmates were allowed) outside the cell was a luxury,” said Parray.
Two days after he was released from Jaipur Jail in November 1994, army’s Rajput Rifles picked him up and took him to their camp at Panzipora Sopore. Parray says he was stripped and suspended from the tree for an hour and simultaneously beaten with sticks.
“They asked me about my gun. I told them that army had already recovered it from the site I was arrested first and how could I possess gun when I had been released only two days back from jail? Later I came to know that they had picked me up only for money. My family sold the remaining land to pay them (army) forty thousand rupees they demanded. I was released after five days,” he said.
Parray was not arrested formally after that but he had to report at different army camps in his area every week. “After every militant attack or a grenade attack we were harassed, beaten up and forced to work in camp,” he added.
Nowadays Parray sells used garments on a footpath in Sopore for a living. The unbearable physical torture he underwent has left him frail, more aged than his age with a weak eyesight.
Besides security agencies, several state-sponsored groups tortured and killed people in 1990’s.
Enjoying state patronage such groups, known as Ikhwanis or renegades locally, tortured hundreds of people and resorted to extortion.
Rouf Ahmad Rather, 26, a resident of Hajjin in Baramulla district, was 12 when renegades picked him up from his home in 1995. They accused him of lobbing a grenade at Hajin chowk.
“They took me to a house and tortured me ruthlessly. They removed all my clothes and beat me with thick sticks for hours. After that they singed my body with hot iron rods. They tried to trample me with a horse cart, however due to intervention of villagers and incessant pleas of my family they let me go. I was rushed to SMHS hospital where I was wrapped in cotton for a month as I was unable to wear clothes,” Rather said.
After the incident Rather turned traumatic and did not leave his home for long periods. And he could not continue his studies. Now he works as a carpet weaver.
Torture is considered as worst form of human rights abuse. However those who have been picked up say it has been widely used in Jammu and Kashmir since the eruption of armed insurgency in 1989. Thousands of people have been arrested in the last 20 years including more than 20,000 under TADA or other substantive law.
Several human rights groups here believe that torture has been practiced in Jammu and Kashmir as a means of coercing confession, preventing people from political association, destroying the resolve of militants, disintegrating opposition and terrorizing communities.
“Torture has been most widely used and openly sanctioned method of extracting information regarding militant activities from anybody involved or suspected to be involved in militant activities,” said Abdul Qadeer Dar, chairman of People’s Rights Movement, a civil society group working for rehabilitation of ex-militants in Kashmir. His group recently launched campaign against torture in Kashmir.
He added, “Torture in Kashmir, to large extent, has gone unnoticed. We do not have exact figure of how many people have been tortured here but we believe that every fifth Kashmiri has been tortured.”
Qadeer also said that testimonies of released militants and civilians collected by his organization list extreme forms of physical and mental abuse that are defined as torture under UN conventions against torture.
He says that the immunity enjoyed by forces under Armed Forces Special powers Act in J&K has compounded the problem.