"I will never be the same," says Raheel Ali (name changed), a student in his early twenties. In his late teens, Ali was put through physical and psychological torture by the Indian security agencies in the disturbed region of Kashmir.
Currently pursuing his post-graduation, Ali recalled what he went through. "I was thrown into a dark room and tortured. They used gun butts to break my back. While I was still in pain, a stream of blood ran through my nose and head… and when it clotted in my left eye, I went blind. An hour later, some policemen came and began to torture my private parts. This was and will be the most shameful experience for me for the rest of my life. When electric shocks were given to my private parts, I felt that was the end of world and it was perhaps," he said.
"I recovered from my injuries but everything changed for me. My smile had disappeared, I lost sleep. When I was alone, strange thoughts came to my mind. It was horrible. Then people from the security agencies began to bother me. They made my life hell. I had to give minute details about myself to them every time. This, again, depressed me.”
For Ali, things got out of hand and he sought help from his cousin, a psychiatrist. In Kashmir, where sexual torture is never discussed because of social stigma, Ali was left with no choice but to confide to his family. “I had to tell my brother how they had tortured my private parts with cigarette butts, electric shocks, copper wire and how much pain I felt while urinating. He took me to a doctor and finally, I was put on medication," says Ali. "On one hand, I had to take psychiatric drugs and on other hand, I had to take antibiotics, healers, etc. I recovered after almost a year... but still I get nightmares about it almost every week.”
Ali feels that his close relationships have been affected because of the torture. "I hate pity. I just hate it when people do that," he says, as he looks away.
The United Nation's Convention Against Torture states that torture cannot be "justified under any exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency".
According to NGOs working in the Indian administrated Kashmir, last summer several youth and underage boys were picked up by the authorities for participating in street demonstrations against the 'Indian occupation'. Often, under the ambit of draconian laws, youth and children as young as ten are held, even in isolation, and not produced in court. Human rights lawyers in Kashmir complain that the details of these detention cases are not recorded, giving the forces involved impunity from prosecution. No First Information Report were lodged against the perpetrators and acts like Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) – Section 4 permit arrest without a warrant.
The armed forces enjoy impunity under AFSPA, which makes it mandatory to seek prior permission of the Central government to initiate any legal proceeding. Even the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) does not have the power to investigate the armed forces under Section 19 of the Human Rights Protection Act 1993 (as amended in 2006).
To make matters worse, most international human rights groups are barred from monitoring the situation in Kashmir. State-appointed commissions, that have investigated several killings and massacres after public outcries, have proven to be toothless. As a result, people no longer view the State as a justice-delivering entity and they have lost faith in all the democratic processes.
Last December, a WikiLeaks release disclosed that US officials had evidence of widespread torture by Indian police and security forces and were secretly briefed by Red Cross staff about the systematic abuse of detainees for extracting confessions in Kashmir, in their leaked diplomatic cables.
The dispatches revealed that in 2005, US diplomats in Delhi were briefed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) about the use of electrocution, beatings and sexual humiliation against hundreds of detainees. Other cables show that as recently as 2007, American diplomats were concerned about widespread human rights abuses by Indian security forces who, they said, relied on torture for confessions.
Inspector General Jammu and Kashmir Police S. M. Sahai, when asked if booking juveniles and putting them in jail with adults would radicalise them, said, "Sending a impressionable boy to Central Jail can only bring out a more hardened criminal. But we are also stuck in a situation where we have to make a difficult choice. We tell the government what are the kinds of problems we are facing. This is definitely being taken into consideration."
"It is unfortunate that the parents have allowed their children to step out,” Sahai added. “Kashmir has a very severe parenting problem. You can’t blame the system for everything. This is the basis of fascism. They always use impressionable youth to drive the society in a particular direction, using the fear factor to their own disaster. It’s a conscious choice that people have to make. It’s not about juvenile homes. The best home for a child is a parents’ home. If they cannot control their children, then what can the state do?"
Torture in police custody remains a widespread and systematic practice in India, especially in disturbed states such as Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, Chhattisgarh and Manipur. In a report, Suhas Chakma, Director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR), which has Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, states, “The NHRC has recorded 16,836 custodial deaths, or an average of 1,203 per year during the period 1994 to 2008; these included 2,207 deaths in police custody and 14,629 deaths in judicial custody.”
"Given well-established practices and consistent documentation of persons being tortured to death in police and prison custody, it is not unreasonable to conclude that a large number of those who died in custody were subjected to torture. Cases of torture not resulting in death are not recorded by the NHRC. Further, the Central para-military forces and the Indian army remain outside the purview of the NHRC under Section 19 of the Human Rights Protection Act, 1993. The actual cases of torture, in reality, run into thousands," elaborates the ACHR study.
Fasiha Qadri, lawyer and human rights activist who has fought cases in Kashmir, reveals what she has witnessed during her tenure. "In my field experience, the aftershocks of torture haunted the victims even years later. To narrate the shocking experiences made their trauma more intense. All the torture survivors were men, and at times were very reserved with her about narrating the full details of the torture, especially about the torture to their private parts, that has left many men incapacitated for life."
In her capacity as a lawyer, Qadri feels a majority of cases do not make it to court. "Most of the victims were unable to carry on normal work, seriously cutting down their livelihood prospects. Medical bills and the treatment expenses drain the victims and their families, economically. Most of victims suffer from severe anxiety and depression and their life is never normal again. With such destitution and survival priorities, victims are too pre-occupied to think of fighting a legal battle."
Dilnaz Boga is an Indian journalist and the recipient of Agence France-Presse Kate Webb Prize for her work in Indian-administered Kashmir.