Indian authorities are using torture in a “systematic and institutional” manner in restive, Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, and civilians make up the majority of the victims, according to a leading civil rights group in the disputed Himalayan region.
The Jammu-Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) – a federation of human rights organisations and individuals – released a 550-page report titled Torture: Indian State’s Instrument of Control in Indian Administered Jammu and Kashmir earlier this month. The Srinagar-based coalition has documented as many as 432 case studies involving torture and charted the trends and patterns, targets, perpetrators, locations and other details of the incidents.
The JKCCS has been investigating and documenting human rights violations in Kashmir. It said the report focuses on the torture perpetrated in the region by Indian state agencies, including legislature, executive, judiciary and armed forces, since 1990. It also provides a contextual understanding of various phases of torture being perpetrated in Jammu and Kashmir since 1947. “Due to legal, political and moral impunity extended to the armed forces, not a single prosecution has taken place in any case of human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir,” it said.
Former United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on torture Juan E Méndez wrote in his prologue for the report that the document will help “enormously” in drawing attention among the international community to the need to express concern about India’s human rights record, and prompt the Indian authorities to take the matter of torture seriously.
“Some inevitable conclusions about the context of torture are painfully familiar to those of us who have studied torture in other countries and in societies of vastly different legal cultures,” wrote Méndez, who teaches human rights law at the American University in Washington. “Impunity for the acts of torture that are well documented, even by state agencies and courts, is undoubtedly the principal factor in the recurrence of the practice.”
The Kashmiri rights group has recommended an international investigation on torture in Kashmir led by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It urged the international community to intervene diplomatically to force India to cease the violations. Additionally, the coalition has put forward that the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations blacklist any personnel from the Indian armed forces that have been accused of rights violations from deployment for international peacekeeping operations.
It has also insisted that India ratify the UN Convention against Torture human rights treaty, allow international human rights organisations unhindered access to the region, repeal laws that are in contravention to the international human rights framework and adopt rehabilitation policies for victims to overcome the physical, psychological, economic and social consequences of torture.
The torture trail
“The widespread use of torture continues unabatedly in Jammu and Kashmir,” said the JKCCS. On 19 March, 29-year-old school principal Rizwan Pandith was killed while being detained illegally in the Cargo camp controlled by the Special Operations Group of the Jammu and Kashmir Police. “Three days later, the police filed a case against deceased Rizwan, alleging that he was trying to escape from the police custody while no case was filed against police officials under whose custody he was killed.”
The JKCCS report establishes a large number of torture methods and other “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment” meted out by state law enforcement agencies in Kashmir. The forms of torture documented include stripping detainees naked, in 190 of the 432 cases studied; beating with sticks, iron rods or leather belts, 326 cases; roller treatment in which a heavy log or iron rod is rolled over the legs of the detainee and weighed down, 169 cases; waterboarding, 24 cases; dunking detainees’ heads in water, 101 cases; electrocution, including of the genitals, 231 cases; hanging from the ceiling, mostly upside down, 121 cases; burning the body with hot objects, 35 cases; solitary confinement, 11 cases; sleep deprivation, 21 cases; and sexual torture, 238 cases, including rape and sodomy.
The report highlights that the majority of the torture victims are civilians (301 out of 432), including women, students and juveniles, political activists, human rights activists and journalists. “Entire populations have also been subjected to collective punishments like cordon and search operations (CASOs) during which torture and sexual violence has been common,” the JKCCS said.
The report details cases of survivors suffering from chronic ailments resulting from torture. Apart from physical ailments, there are those who have been tortured or witnessed torture taking place who suffer from psychological issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Of the 432 victims documented, 49 died post-torture, 40 of them as a result of injuries received while being tortured.
“Since many deaths due to torture-related injuries are not immediate but may occur after years or even decades, accurate figures of such fatalities and morbidity are extremely hard to estimate,” says the report.
Through reports, articles, documentation, litigation and public events, the JKCCS has been instrumental in investigating and raising awareness about human rights violations in Kashmir. It has released scathing reports, including Buried Evidence, Alleged Perpetrators and Structures of Violence, about rights abuses by the Indian state forces in advocating for civil, political, economic and social rights, including the right to self-determination, of those living in the disputed Himalayan region.
The UN, in its first report on Kashmir, called in 2018 for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations such as rape, torture and extrajudicial killings in the region. The JKCCS did field research for the 49-page report, in which the UN heavily condemns Indian troops for firing shotgun pellets at protesters, blinding and maiming hundreds of people, including children. The report also highlights a situation of chronic impunity for violations committed by Indian security forces.
Delhi rejected the UN’s report as “fallacious, tendentious and motivated”, adding that the report was a “selective” compilation of largely unverified information. “It is overtly prejudiced and seeks to build a false narrative.” Last week, India further informed the UN OHCR it will no longer entertain any communication with the body’s Special Rapporteurs on its report.
Indian forces have been accused of gross human rights violations since the armed uprising erupted in 1990, with Delhi launching a brutal counterinsurgency operation to contain the dissenting population who resented Indian rule in the region. India’s military operations have been marked by an excessive and disproportionate use of force.
Rights group say more than 70 000 people have been killed in the state, with more than 8 000 subjected to enforced disappearances, thousands subjected to arbitrary arrests and detained under repressive laws, and the widespread use of torture.
Although militancy had declined after 2002, with people in the valley resorting to a non-violent political movement, Delhi clamped down on demonstrators with the use of excessive military force. In the aftermath of the killing of popular militant commander Burhan Wani in July 2016, civilian protests against state violence, demanding the right of self-determination, were met with excessive force, resulting in numerous human rights violations.
Delhi has continued to deny international human rights bodies access to Jammu and Kashmir.
In 2016, the government denied a request by then UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussain to investigate allegations of human rights violations in the region. It again denied the UN access in 2017 and 2018.
Pakistan has offered conditional access to Pakistan-administered Kashmir, but maintains that access will be granted only after the Indian government provides access to Indian-administered areas.
Likewise, international human rights organisations have been denied permission to visit Kashmir and the few foreign journalists and activists who have tried to make trips there as tourists have been deported.
Foreign journalists based in India received an official warning from the Indian government in May 2018 about “travelling to certain areas” without permission.