‘Structures of Violence’ brings to light the horrors of past two decades

Haroon Mirani

The 800 page released recently by International Peoples’ Tribunal on Human Rights, Justice in Indian Administered Kashmir (IPTK) and Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) has it all:  the examples of killings, the human rights excesses, the accounts of the victims and the elaborate details of the massive security structure in place in the state since  1990.

The hard to miss detailed report titled ‘Structures of Violence’ punctures the oft quoted claims of peace by documenting the cases of  brutalities by the security forces and lingering cases of Human Rights Violations. The report lays it bare that nothing seems to have changed particularly the modus operandi of torture. Plucking of nails, stretching of legs 180 degree, electric shocks, stripping, beating, water boarding, sexual violence and associated humiliation. The report contains hundreds of cases of bone chilling torture. Some have come up in open and given their testimony and some have kept hidden their name. The nonchalance in their description is almost gripping.

Mushtaq Ahmad Wagay a milkman from Islamabad was arrested 1996 by army and during his torture a rod was inserted through his right leg. After that started his mental torture says the report. “He was asked to excrete in five minute and if he exceeded the time limit he was made to put his excretion over his body. The time limit for urination was a single minute and if he exceeded this he had to clean it with his own tongue.”

Sexual violence has been a part of any kind of torture in the state. There seems to be no distinction between male, female old or young. In Wagay’s case too, one line tells it all. “Army officers often came drunk and abused the boys sexually.”

Others like Mohammed Subhan Yatoo of Pattan were sodomised by sticks.

A woman from Palhalan was arrested as her neighbour was a militant and they wanted her to become an informer. The minor was stripped of her clothes, beaten and melted polythene was poured on her vagina. She never recovered from the torture and had multiple abortions after her marriage. Other women’s testimonies include incidents of beating, molestation and torture. The Kunan Poshpora mass rape is visited in detail as are other cases.

The army and Ikhwan hand has been shown to be in sex scandal too. As Ishfaq Ahmad Kotwal of Islamabad says, “in 2010 the Mona Lisa sex scandal was exposed. There was a photo studio called Mona Lisa where Tahir was involved in making pornographic films on CD. The studio was owned by Pinta Parray, but Tahir was fully involved in the whole business as Tahir had contacts with the army. The films were being made for the army and the women were also sent to the army personnel. Young women were being brought there and pornographic films were being made using them. This was going on since 1998. About 30-40 girls were involved.”

Ishfaq who was arrested multiple times right from the age of 12 describes the torture procedure as, “the methods of torture included removing my toenails, burning my back and beatings. They also stuck a heated needle into my penis.”

Stripping the arrested persons was part of standard torture procedure and sometimes it was the first thing which a victim was subjected to.

Fayaz Ahmad Bhat of Pattan recalls, “they stripped me and my brother in front of each other, they would hang me upside down for 20-25 minutes and put ice and freezing water on my body. Two to three persons would simultaneously beat me. For others they would put petrol in the anus and pass electric current through genital areas.”

In another case a father-son duo had to face the embarrassment of being stripped in front of each other. Afterwards they were made to slap each other.

Some powerful details like how a police party while arresting Showkat Zargar of Islamabad tossed five year old daughter of his brother into a latrine pit remain limited to one or two lines. “She was luckily saved. My brother then separated from us,” he adds to close the story.

The report also documents the extra judicial killings of 1080 persons most of whom were killed during or after the torture. But the hundreds more suffered life long ailments and died a slow death following their release after the torture. A case of lung cancer here, diabetes there, losing eyesight in one village, crippling legs in another are too common to be limited to few victims.

There have been four assembly elections since 1996 often termed as the harbinger of change but the reality seems to defy this famed indicator of peace. To this day the toleration level of dissent by government is remarkably the same as verbal protest often carries the same weightage as that of an armed insurgency.

Atif Hussain Sheikh of Islamabad has always been bearing the brunt of forces for mostly participating in non-violent protests. He was first arrested in 2006 and then continues to be arrested and tortured regularly. Be it a regular protest, participating in Yasin Malik’s Safar e Azadi, Amarnath Land row, Shopian protest, Tufail Mattoo protest, Afzal Guru hanging etc, Atif has been always arrested. “I am detained every time when ever there are any protests or killing. Now whenever I receive a call from police, I have to appear before them,” says Atif.

A standard procedure for the armed forces appears to be the victimisation of individuals, which gives credence to reports of current militants taking up arms after being repeatedly tortured.

The report has also for the first time come up with a researched estimation of number of forces personnel stationed in the state. From platoons to brigades and strength of camps, the report estimates the strength of the armed forces in Jammu and Kashmir from a conservative 6,56,638 to 7,50,981 (depending on the number of battalions considered as the base for each brigade formation.) Going by the amount of research that has gone into its making, this is by no means a wild guess.

The report also details 172 cases of enforced disappearances and every story has some heart rending detail. One Ghulam Nabi Bhat of Bandipora was suffering from Leukemia and even that didn’t deter the Special Operations Group of police to arrest him. After his arrest, he took the SOG to SKIMS to show them his treatment files. Instead he was beaten in front of doctors, taken away and never to be found again.

The torture spree also seems to have turned some officials into maniacs, according to the report. Mushtaq Bhat of Pattan states, “there are famous officers of those times. Vishal Dubey was one of them. He was a big killer. He would want people to call him Kuta (dog) Major as he used to bite people like a dog. He was in Chura and then in Wusan. The period from 1995 to 2000 was bad with the army and then the SOG came into play. Again in 2009 when stone pelting started the army became bad.”

The report is perhaps the first in its kind to give details about the creation of Ikhwan and their brutal modus operandi. One gets a fairly good idea about the rivalry between Muslim Mujahideen (MM) and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM). The shrewdness of the Ikhwan and MM commanders like Ghulan Nabi Azad, Kuka Parray and Liyaqat is written in detail.  Their role in combating militancy is huge, as Liyaqat in one interview says it is we who made the elections of 1996 possible. But that came with a heavy cost of rights violations. The government gunmen had a license to kill, rape, loot and burn.

The report calls the work of government gunmen as akin to “outsourcing of counter-insurgency and human rights violations.”

The report eliminates doubts about the support base of Ikhwan. They got weapons, ammunition, money and “plenty of alcohol” from army. The strength of Ikhwan in South Kashmir is estimated to be around 500 and they were largely responsible for killing of hundreds of militants. After 2003 when their weapons were seized, most of the Ikhwans felt betrayed. Many of them are social outcasts and others live in penury and continuously fear for their lives, as is indicated from their testimonies.

The incidents of extortion are rampant too where people have to pay right from Rs 5000 to Rs 20000 plus luxury items like carpets and cars for their loved ones to be released. The counter kidnapping of family members of alleged militants also seems to be a favourite ploy of forces and Ikhwanies to force people to surrender.

There are some interesting anecdotes too. Like one gets to know both sides of the story of Bashir Dada as to what made him to contest elections for Ikhwanies in 1996. Surprisingly the corruption in Doordarshan gets the treatment of triggering a butterfly effect in Bashir Dada episode. The report has also minutely analysed the role of Shahidul Islam and Professor Abdul Gani Bhat during the days when militancy was at peak. Professor was accused of hobnobbing with an army officer, to which he clarifies as being an apolitical meeting at his office. The dilemma of Syed Ali Shah Geelani between neutrality of a Jamaati and support of militancy is evident from many testimonies. Geelani has also written the constitution of Hizbul Mujahideen according to one of the testimony.

Former Commander Chief of HM Ahsan Dar tells how they used to get weapons from Meerut before 1987 and the first attack was originally slated to be carried on 13 July 1989 but due to some delay the attack happened on 31 July 1989 as a grenade was lobbed on telegraph office.

For a student of Kashmir history the report doesn’t only give firsthand account of torture and other human rights violations, it also dissects the period of militancy right from its start to emergence of Ikhwan. Though the report is based on testimonies only, but one gets a fair share of idea of the happenings at that time.

The report has not shied away from naming the perpetrators. Among the alleged perpetrators are one major general and seven brigadiers of the Indian Army besides 31 Colonels, four Lieutenant Colonels, 115 Majors and 40 Captains. Add to this 54 senior officials of the paramilitary forces and the following Jammu and Kashmir police personnel: a retired Director General of Jammu and Kashmir police, a present Additional Director General of the Jammu and Kashmir police, a present additional director general of police, two Inspector Generals, two Deputy Inspector Generals, six Senior Superintendents of Police and three Superintendents of Police.

A total of 972 personnel were named in the report and none of them were brought to book despite glaring evidence against all of them. The state of impunity reflects from almost every page. The words like untraced, prosecution not allowed, slow investigation, lost files, not interested etc sum up their causes.

Such is the state of impunity that even the culprits involved in major massacres like  that of Sopore, Saderkoot Bala, Sailan and Mohra Bachai and Chittisinghpora continue to live a comfortable life without fear of any arrest.

The enquiry report into the enforced disappearance of Javed Ahmad Ahanger, son of Parveena Ahanger perhaps sums up the situation as it states ‘the authorities in this part of the country are playing the game of holocaust.