Wounds that never heal: what torture in Kashmir says about India

Torture may shatter the world of its Kashmiri victims, but it is Indian society that is becoming irretrievably corroded.

In the 2012 UK Channel Four documentary film Kashmir’s Torture Trail by Jezza Neumann, an older-looking Kashmiri man Qalandar Khatana enters a room supported on crutches.

Both his feet are missing, and his legs just above where his ankles should be are heavily bandaged. The bandages look damp with a mix of betadine disinfectant, dirt, and coagulated blood. The wounds look old but still raw, and you feel the twinge as he struggles to sit down with pain visible on his face.

A local Kashmiri interviewer asks him to tell his account. Twenty years previously in 1992, Khatana was grabbed by the Indian paramilitary Border Security Force from his native village in North Kashmir and brought to the capital Srinagar for “interrogation.”

They accused him of being a “guide” for local militants crossing over the border that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan. His world-shattering ordeal had just begun.

“These don’t move at all,” Khatana tells his interviewer, showing his hooked fingers, which, he says, the soldiers had beaten out of shape. The soldiers stomped on him, and then one of them just took out a knife and chopped Khatana’s feet off from above his ankles. Khatana tells of how he saw his detached feet quivering in front of him as the blood squirted out of his legs. As if this wasn’t enough, the soldiers cut off chunks of flesh from his thighs and forced him to eat it. As he lifts his kameez to show knotted skin on his cratered side, Khatana’s voice rises, and he assumes the tone of his torturers. The soldiers, while feeding him his own flesh, were jeering at him: “Bastard, don’t you ever dare again mention Kashmir will be free!”

Khatana’s experience is gruesome but not singular. Many others in Kashmir share similar experiences at the hands of the Indian military. The 550-page new report titled Torture: Indian State’s Instrument of Control in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmirby two Kashmir-based human rights organizations, Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) and Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), has found trends and patterns in its examination of 432 other cases to reveal that torture is “routine, intrinsic to the very existence of the Indian state in Kashmir.”

It is worthwhile to quote from the report to show the extent to which this is the case:

“Apart from verbal abuse, the other forms of torture that we have come across during this research include stripping the detainees naked (or down to bare minimum), beatings with wooden sticks, iron rods or leather belts, roller treatment whereby a heavy wooden log or an iron rod is rolled over the legs of the detainee, with extra weight applied to it by forces personnel who sit on the opposite sides of this rod, water-boarding, electrocution, hanging from the ceiling, dunking detainees’ head in water (which is sometimes mixed with chilli powder), burning of the body with iron rods, heaters or cigarette butts, solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, sexualized torture including rape and sodomy, among others.”


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