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Umar Lateef Misgar

Don't let India turn a blind eye to Kashmir torture report

The Kashmiri Association of Parents of the Disappeared demand information on their missing relatives [Getty]

Date of publication: 28 June, 2019

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Comment: Suppressing popular demands through torture and other human rights abuses will only exacerbate the conflict in Kashmir, writes Umar Lateef Misgar.
By the time one of my family members was released after months of confinement inside a torture centre in Indian-controlled Kashmir, lice had occupied his body, he told me.

After being detained outside a mosque in the early 1990s by the Indian army, he was shuffled from one torture center to the another.

While in detention, his days started with physical assaults and ended with electric shocks running through his genitals.

To this day, he cannot eat or sit properly, and shies away from all discussions of politics. The outrageous part of his story, however is that in the end, he - a civilian - was released in exchange for a fake cashmere shawl and a bag of almonds.                

In retrospect, it appears that this relative of mine got lucky in comparison to countless others who were never to emerge from these torture centres which were stablished by the Indian security forces as a part of an effort to crush the popular armed insurgency that took root in Kashmir during the late 1980s.

Kashmir, known as the most militarised zone in the world, is claimed by both Pakistan and India in full, but the nuclear-armed neighbours only control parts of the region. 

The nature of survivor testimonies contained in this report makes it a horrifying read

The Indian-controlled side has witnessed political turbulence ever since New Delhi established control over the region in 1947.

To quell political dissent, the Indian security forces have been repeatedly accused of perpetrating systematic human rights abuses in Kashmir, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, sexual violence, arbitrary detentions and use of torture against both armed insurgents as well as civilians.      

Now, a report released jointly by the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) - two influential human rights groups - details how torture has been systematically used by the Indian state as an instrument of "social control" in Kashmir.

The report, published after 10 years of meticulous research and interviews with 432 victims, according to Juan E. Mendez, the former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, constitutes a landmark for the worldwide struggle against torture.

 Nazir Ahmad Sheikh, 46, a torture victim poses with his amputated and prosthetic legs in front of Indian government forces razor wire,
on 19 October 2016, Srinagar [Getty]

Mendez goes on to write, in the prologue of this report, that the tolerance for torture displayed by different state institutions, including the judiciary, in Kashmir represents an "abdication of democratic authority" on their part.

The nature of survivor testimonies contained in this report makes it a horrifying read.

The report makes for truly disturbing reading, and it's impossible not to choke at the brutal methods of torture. These include waterboarding, sodomy, electrocution and stripping, as well as solitary confinement, physical mutilation, rape and sleep-deprivation all meted out to Kashmiris regardless of age, gender, occupation or political affiliation.

The victims include journalists, students, paramedics, traders, farmers and even employees of the state. Many of the survivors have been permanently disabled and suffer various physical and mental health disorders.

While some estimates suggest that one in every six Kashmiris has been tortured, Indian army and paramilitary forces deployed in the region continue operating with complete judicial impunity.

Indian army and paramilitary forces deployed in the region continue operating with complete judicial impunity

In the past three decades of a fierce anti-insurgency campaign, not a single member of the Indian security forces has been prosecuted in a civilian court, let alone sentenced, for alleged human rights abuses in Kashmir.

A 2014 report put the number of torture centres still operational in Kashmir at 471. This doesn't include makeshift sites like schools, health centres, armoured vehicles, military bunkers and checkpoints, used to subject Kashmiris to routine torture and harassment.    

Despite being signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture since 1997, India is yet to ratify the treaty, and its attempt at introducing an anti-torture legislation failed in 2010.

Read more: Kashmir group seeks UN probe into torture by India troops

Regardless, the Customary International Law obliges all members of the international community to prevent torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment against civilians as well as armed combatants.

While the JKCCS and APDP recommends that India give unhindered access to both United Nations Special Rapporteurs and international human rights organisations inside Indian-controlled Kashmir, New Delhi's response to the report has been quite the opposite.

On the same day it was released, Indian media revealed that the country's mission to the United Nations, while accusing them of "individual bias", had already vowed to stop all communication with the Special Rapporteurs on the issue of human rights violations in Kashmir.

Besides, given the ultranationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that has always advocated a militaristic approach to suppress the popular secessionist sentiment in Kashmir has returned to power with a historic electoral mandate, it seems highly unlikely that India will change course for now and allow impartial investigations into these alleged cases of brutal torture in the region.

In the past three decades of a fierce anti-insurgency campaign, not a single member of the Indian security forces has been prosecuted in a civilian court

The BJP's long-held policy towards Kashmir has been forcefully integrationist, at any cost. The Rashtriya Svayamsevak Sangh, BJP's ideological parent, regards the region as a crucial part of Akhand Bharat, a mythological geographic entity that encompasses the entire South Asia under Hindu-majoritarian polity.

Kashmiris, meanwhile, will continue to endure the trampling of their rights under the march of "the world's largest democracy".

In addition, the Indian political establishment and media maintain a belligerent attitude towards Kashmiris, often portraying them as either terrorists or terrorist sympathisers. This translates into popular resentment against the Indian rule, further fanning the flames of a decades-long, deadly conflict.

Rather than engaging with all sections of Kashmiri population, to work towards a sustainable solution to the issue, New Delhi appears adamant to dismiss the political aspirations of Kashmiris as "Pakistan-sponsored terrorism", and constantly tries to assimilate the region into mainland India through militaristic means. 

The only real resolution to the conflict lies in politically engaging with the region's diverse population, and listening to their urgent grievances.

Suppressing popular demands through torture and other human rights abuses will not only exacerbate the conflict in Kashmir and further alienate the population, but also continue hurting India's standing in the international community.

Setting up an impartial investigation into these alleged cases of serious abuse would go a long way in reassuring Kashmiris that, in Indian polity, their lives matter too.


Umar Lateef Misgar is a political analyst focusing on Kashmir and the Middle East. His work has appeared in The Independent, Truthout.org, London School of Economics Human Rights Centre blog, and elsewhere.

Follow him on Twitter: @Kaashur

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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