Politics

After WikiLeaks Report, Torture Victims Speak out in Kashmir

 

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SRINAGAR, INDIAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR – Masooda Parveen, 49, says she is dead.

“I died several years back when my husband was murdered,” Parveen says.

Parveen accuses Indian security forces of murdering her husband, Ghulam Mohi-ud-din Regoo, 13 years ago because they thought he was a Pakistan-trained fighter. Parveen says their actions were based on a false rumor. Regoo, she insists, was in the saffron business.

Parveen says a local business rivalry led neighbors to label Regoo as a fighter.

“They were running an extortionist racket in the area and had been demanding money from my husband,” she says.

Parveen says it was around 8:30 p.m. when personnel from the 17 Jat regiment of the Indian army and two surrendered fighters entered their home in Chandhara-Pampore, in south Kashmir, and grabbed her husband by his collar.

“We were locked in [the] kitchen, and Regoo was dragged from one room to [the] other,” she says. “There were bloodstains on [the] wall. Our neighbors after some time opened the door of our house. By that time, they had left and carried Regoo along.”

Parveen says they tortured him at Lethpora army camp, where he was killed. She suggests that security forces tied bombs to his body and detonated them to make his death appear an accident. But police declined to comment on the veracity of this claim.

The next day she went to the army camp to inquire about her husband, but she says officials denied having arrested him. Eventually, Parveen took her case to the Supreme Court, but the court sided with the army, ruling her husband’s death an accident by explosion. 

“I will never forget this incident,” she says. “These things give me sleepless nights. I want my voice to reach somewhere.”

Now, she says she is determined to speak up.

Earlier this month she shared her story with Margaret Sekaggya, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights, when she visited Srinagar on Jan. 19 to assess the conditions faced by human rights defenders in the area.

In December, WikiLeaks released security reports that revealed Indian security forces tortured Kashmiri prisoners. When the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights visited Srinagar earlier this month on the invitation of the Indian government, victims and their family members, like Parveen, say they were empowered to come forward. But while disappeared bodies continue to surface, advocates say more needs to be done to end the violence.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, visited detention centers in Kashmir from 2002 to 2004 and sent evidence to U.S. diplomats that they witnessed widespread torture, such as beatings, electric shocks and sexual abuse. WikiLeaks, an international nonprofit organization that publishes secret documents, made this evidence public in December.

Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, told India’s NDTV channel that he was not in office at the time the ICRC collected its evidence, according to BBC News. SM Sohai, inspector general of police of Indian-administered Kashmir, called the reports propaganda.

The ICRC reported that out of the 1,296 detainees it had interviewed during the visits, 681 had said that they had been tortured, according to the WikiLeaks documents. Of those, 498 said they had been electrocuted, 381 said they had been suspended from the ceiling and 304 cases were described as “sexual.” More specifically, 294 detainees described a procedure in which guards crushed their legs by putting a bar across their thighs and sitting on it, and 181 said their legs had been pulled apart into splits.

According to the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, JKCCS, which works to build local alliances among various civil society groups, the information published by WikiLeaks may have been new to the world, but it was not new to Kashimiris. Torture has long been used as one of the major weapons for breaking the “will of people and silencing and exhausting [the] dissenting population,” according to a JKCCS statement from December.

“The recent WikiLeaks disclosures about ICRC’s information-sharing with U.S. diplomats in New Delhi isn’t a discovery for [the] people of Jammu and Kashmir, who themselves are witnessing and bearing various forms of torture being practiced on them by security forces and police from [the] last two decades,” the statement said.

The JKCCS founder and president, Pervez Imroz, a human rights lawyer and civil rights activist in Srinagar, says it is time that people outside Kashmir take notice.

“Torture forms a part of oppressive and repressive measures adopted by [the] government of India against [the] people of Kashmir,” he says. “International human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch have not covered torture as they should have done vis-à-vis Kashmir.”

Torture is used to fragment society and discourage political formations, according to the Kashmir International Research Centre, KIRC, an independent nonprofit research organization. Various methods of torture include stripping off clothes, beating, stretching legs and arms, hanging victims upside down, rolling the body with a roller, electrocuting private parts, abusing victims sexually, water boarding, denying sleep for long periods, and sprinkling salt or pepper on wounds.

Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, a resident of the Baramulla district in north Kashmir, says he was whisked away by security forces to their camps in Watergam in 1995 and tortured for having ties with armed groups. Bhat admits he had ties with such groups but says he doesn’t anymore and is still occasionally harassed.

“During custody, the barrel of self-loading rifle was pumped into my mouth, and I was forced to drink water containing pepper,” Bhat says. “When I refused to drink it, they coerced and forced me to drink the solution.”

The KIRC estimates there have been more than 100,000 torture survivors in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the last two decades. Survivors have reported amputation of limbs, loss of vision, impotency, psychological disorders and kidney failures.

Mufti Abdul Ahad, a resident of the Baramulla district in north Kashmir, says many people couldn’t withstand torture and died in custody. Ahad was tortured after being arrested on the charges of militancy. Like Bhat, he admits he had ties with armed groups but says he doesn’t anymore but is still harassed. Ahad suggests that international humanitarian organizations should speak up on behalf of voiceless Kashmiris.

“Every fifth Kashmiri has been subjected to torture,” says Abdul Qadeer Dar, president of People’s Rights Movement, a group of released militants and people who say they were subjected to torture. “Almost every Kashmiri suffers from mental torture.”

Dar says that in addition to the statistics from torture centers, there were also mobile torture centers that were created during search operations. But figures regarding these mobile centers are not yet available.

Mohammad Ahsan Untoo, 49, a human rights activist, says he lost a tooth while being tortured. A resident of the Kupwara district, north of Baramulla, Untoo was arrested in 2004 and charged with sharing official secrets with a man who was accused of attacking Parliament. After more than four years, he was released, then was arrested again last year and booked under the Public Safety Act, which enables a person to be detained without a trial for two years. He is currently in detention and did not comment whether he was guilty or innocent.

“The U.N. special rapporteur against torture should visit the state of Jammu and Kashmir to report on [the] phenomenon of torture,” says Untoo, who is also the chairman of Human Rights Forum, a group working for human rights issues here. “Indian civil society should take initiatives for stopping torture against Kashmiri detainees in different jails across India.”

Answering his call, Sekaggya and two colleagues arrived in India on Jan. 11. and visited Srinagar on Jan. 19.

“We are here to look at the issues faced by human rights defenders,” she said. “A report will be submitted to [the] U.N. Human Rights Council on challenges faced by human rights defenders. We’ll also make recommendations to improve functioning of human rights groups.”

In addition to meeting with Parveen to hear about the death of her husband, Sekaggya met with members of civil society, human rights defenders, representatives of student unions and members of the High Court Bar Association. Parveena Ahangar, chairwoman of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, APDP, informed Sekaggya about some cases of enforced disappearances. Representatives of the JKCCS highlighted threats to human rights defenders in the valley. And Sanjay Tickoo, president of Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti, an organization that represents Hindus in the Muslim-dominated state, informed her about the reasons that led to an exodus of the Pandit community, a sect of Hindusim, from the valley in 1989.

Sekaggya also held discussions with representatives of various nongovernmental organizations, as well as with a delegation of local journalists, who explained the problems they’ve faced while reporting on human rights in the valley.

Sekaggya was invited to India by the government. Her visit was also coordinated by the APDP and the Working Group of Human Rights in India and the United Nations, a Delhi-based association established by a group of NGOs and independent experts working in the human rights field in India.

Police and government officials refused to go on record for this article.