Kashmir activists demand international probe into alleged torture and abuse by Indian police

Campaigners say thousands of civilians have been summarily arrested and abused in the region – claims India denies

Sameer Yasir,Kai Schultz
Sunday 07 July 2019 19:58
Comments
Accusations of abuse by Indian soldiers have hiked as the government has clamped down on protests
Accusations of abuse by Indian soldiers have hiked as the government has clamped down on protests

Mohammad Ishaq Lone got a call from the Indian army one February night, ordering him to meet soldiers at an outpost near his house in Kashmir. It was only after he was hauled off to a brightly lit room, bound and beaten that he discovered why.

A soldier began by punching him in the face, drawing blood, Lone said. Another smacked him with a metal rod and began demanding that he disclose the whereabouts of his brother, who had left home months earlier to join militants waging a campaign to separate Kashmir from Indian rule.

Mr Lone, a pharmacist with two young children, begged them to stop, saying he did not know where his brother had gone. He recalled screaming for help before losing consciousness.

“The world around me was collapsing,” he said.

As tensions with the Indian authorities in Kashmir have sharply increased, Kashmiris are calling for an international investigation into accounts of abuse and torture by the security forces.

According to a lengthy new report from Kashmiri activists, thousands of civilians have been summarily arrested and then abused in Kashmir, the centre of a long and bitter territorial dispute between India and Pakistan.

Released in May by rights groups in Srinagar, the capital of the Indian-administered part of Kashmir, the report profiles 432 victims of torture in detention since 1990.

It includes accounts alleging that Indian security forces had hung Kashmiris by their wrists, shocked them, forced them to stare at high-voltage lamps and dunked them in water mixed with chilli powder. Most were civilians accused of having information about militants, the report said, and 49 of them died during or after being tortured.

In interviews with The New York Times, more than two dozen Kashmiris, including 15 whose cases are included in the report, shared similar accounts. The Times reviewed hospital documents and spoke with victims’ relatives to help verify their stories.

Though some forms of torture are explicitly illegal in India, the report found that security personnel got away with their actions in every case because of laws that give them broad impunity.

India has emphatically denied accusations of abuses in Kashmir. In an interview, Dilbag Singh, director general of the police in the region, said the report was “generalising things based on data that is fake or fuzzed.”

In a written response, Lt. Col. Mohit Vaishnava, a spokesman for the Indian army, said last month that allegations of abuse were “false and fabricated propaganda.”

According to data he sent, the Indian army was aware of 1,052 alleged human rights abuses between 1994 and May 31, 2019, in Jammu and Kashmir.

Every case was investigated, the data showed, with 997 of them found by the army to be “false” or “baseless,” and punishment meted out to 70 personnel in other cases.

Last year, the United Nations also raised grave human rights concerns in Kashmir, logging cases of torture, among other issues, while detainees were in the custody of Indian security forces from June 2016 to April 2018.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs wrote in a statement that the United Nations’ findings played down wrongdoing by Pakistan in spreading terror and were “fallacious, tendentious and motivated".

Kashmir is at the heart of the fraught situation on the India-Pakistan border, where protests and violence are a weekly occurance

Accusations of abuses have intensified as the Indian government has hardened its crackdown against militants and protesters in recent years.

To disperse crowds of protesters, security forces have injured thousands of people with pellet-firing shotguns. Civilian deaths rose over 200 per cent from 2013 through 2018, when at least 160 people were killed, including from interrogations, activists say. And this year is on track to become one of the deadliest, overall, in the last decade.

Parvez Imroz, president of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, a group that co-wrote the 550-page report on torture, said the scope of abuse was even larger than the United Nations had reported.

The accusations have come amid a wave of detentions in Kashmir. A briefing released June 12 from Amnesty International found that in the last few years, Indian armed forces had detained many hundreds of civilians – including journalists, activists and children – without charge or trial.

The arrests were made under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, which activists say violates international human rights law.

'Torture' in Kashmir

  • Since 1990, 432 victims of torture in detention in Indan-administered part of Kashmir
  • 49 of them died during or after being tortured
  • 1,052 alleged human rights abuses between 1994 and May 2019 in Jammu and Kashmir, according to private data
  • 70 personnel disciplined for this following an army investigation, which also deemed 997 of the cases to be 'false' or 'baseless'
  • Civilian deaths rose over 200 per cent between 2013 and 2018

 

Data from human rights groups and the Indian army (seen by the New York Times)

“Fear is used as a weapon,” Imroz said.

Hundreds of Kashmiris have joined homegrown insurgency groups since 2016. And tensions reached a breaking point in February, when a suicide vehicle bombing struck a convoy of Indian paramilitary forces, killing at least 40 of them. It set off a tense military standoff between India and Pakistan, where a banned terrorist group, Jaish-e-Muhammed, claimed responsibility.

Over the past year, activists say, the hunt for separatists has intensified, pulling ordinary Kashmiris into the fold.

Feroz Ahmad Hajam said he was on the way to meet a friend in September when the police abducted him, locked him in an interrogation cell in southern Kashmir and burned his feet and shoulders with cigarettes.

Kashmir explosion: Chaotic scene after blast at bus station in Jammu near Pakistan border

When Hajam, 25, a laborer, said he had no affiliation with militants, an officer walked up behind him and cut his throat.

The police have denied his claim and accused him of attempting to kill himself.

“I feel the knife in my dreams, slitting my throat again and again,” he said in an interview, writing his answers on a piece of paper because his vocal cords were so damaged that he can no longer speak.

“I want to talk just once,” he wrote, tears rolling down his cheeks.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, whose Bharatiya Janata Party won a resounding victory during national elections in May, has vowed to ease tensions in Kashmir.

But many worry that the government will further alienate locals by removing special protections that grant the population, which is majority Muslim, a certain degree of autonomy. Hostility towards the Indian security forces has only increased. Almost every day, life is disrupted by gunbattles, bombings or street protests.

Lone, 39, who said he was tortured for more than two hours while being questioned by Indian soldiers in February, said peace was unlikely.

When Lone regained consciousness at the army camp in the village of Rawalpora, he said three soldiers standing on him stomped on his thighs, struck him with bamboo sticks and screamed at him to get up and walk. He could not manage even one step.

“It was as if someone was taking me to a butcher’s shop to have me chopped into small pieces,” he said.

The New York Times

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in