In video recorded interviews, the victims allege that the Indian army subjected them to immense physical pain and psychological pressure.
"What if they circulate the video and the video goes viral?" This fear often drives Abid Khan to suicidal thoughts, and for a month now, he has been resisting his family’s insistence on a comprehensive medical and psychiatric check-up.
Khan, 26, said that on the night of August 13, Indian army soldiers tortured him inside a camp and filmed parts of it. He had passed out after being administered electric shocks. What happened during that unconscious state is what worries him.
“What if they had committed be-satree and filmed that too? It is better to die in that case,” he said, using the Kashmiri expression be-satree that broadly defines various forms of sexual violence.
He said a group of soldiers led by an officer entered his home in Hirpora, Shopian, about 65 kilometres south of Jammu and Kashmir's capital Srinagar. Several army vehicles were waiting on the road outside the house. A few soldiers grabbed his youngest brother Suhail, he said, and gave him an electric shock in the chest with the help of a handheld device.
“Suhail passed out in the courtyard and was let off. They pushed me into a vehicle and took me to the camp, blindfolded,” said Abid.
At the camp, designated as 66 Rashtriya Rifles B Company, at Chowgam, about eight kilometres from his home, Abid said he was stripped naked, water-boarded and forced to drink copious amounts of a “horribly smelly” liquid.
“Two of them punched me in the gut until I vomited and urinated,” he said.
Khan said his hands and ankles were tied with a rope. He was then hung from a pole. He said four soldiers took short run-ups and struck his buttocks, hips and back with batons.
“As I struggled in pain, my wrists and ankles got bruised. The bruises became worse after every beating,” he said.
Faded baton marks are still visible on his buttocks, 32 days after the beating. Khan showed these reporters a video of his swollen and blackened buttocks his family members had filmed the day after the torture.
“They passed electric current through my body after dunking me in water. They did it several times. At one point, when I could take it no more, I feigned fainting. But another electric shock startled me. I prayed for death. Within no time I had passed out,” Khan said.
After each brief reprieve, he said “worse would follow”.
“When I regained consciousness, they hit my private parts with a stick.
“One officer told me ‘I will end your life now.’
"He drew a red-hot iron rod close to my penis but stopped short of touching it. I cried a lot. His colleague told him ‘don’t do it. He has been married recently. After all she is our sister too’. They pulled skin near my private parts with a plier. It still hurts when I urinate. Once my entire body was bruised they rubbed salt into the wounds. These mountains are witness to my ordeal. They have heard my cries,” he said.
Before the torture began, Khan said, an army officer told him that he had invited Riyaz Naikoo, the most-wanted Kashmiri rebel commander, to his wedding in July. The officer accused him of building a hideout for militants in his home, which stands in the middle of an eight-acre apple orchard.
“I told him go and bulldoze my home to the ground and if you find there is a hiding place anywhere, set the entire thing on fire. But if there is none, build me a fresh house. The [army] Major became angrier. He wanted me to confess, anything,” Khan said.
“He then told me to confess that Naveed Baba [a militan] has been hiding in the home of my neighbour Peer Sajad. I told him why would I falsely accuse somebody of something I know nothing about?”
Khan said that on August 13 he was taken to an army medical facility where several injections administered to him at intervals “made the pain disappear and me light-headed”.
“I could even sit on my bruised buttocks,” he said.
Two “kindhearted Sikh medics” shouldered him to the gate of the camp. Khan was released in the evening and his family members were waiting for him outside the entire day. He said the officer threatened him that if he were to visit any doctor or file a complaint with the police, all his family members would be detained. His wife, father, brother and the village head were asked to sign some papers, he added.
At home, he started vomiting intermittently and the pain recurred.
“I told my family we should visit a hospital. At first, they didn’t agree but when the pain became unbearable we went to SMHS Hospital in Srinagar at 1am so that nobody saw us leaving,” he said.
His hospital medical record reads: “Trauma due to assault by security forces”. His buttocks were swollen and had turned purple. After 10 days of treatment, an acquaintance advised him to leave the hospital so as to avoid being noticed by Criminal Investigation Department personnel.
“Had we stayed the police might have filed an FIR [a report for criminal investigation]. We are very scared,” Khan said.
In Hirpora, a scenic village of 15,000 people, the violent torture experienced by one of their own has left people traumatised. They say never in the 30-year insurgency has any person been subjected to cruel treatment. Even if boys were detained for taking part in pro-independence protests or stone-throwing incidents, they would be released soon after.
Locals say four other youths were detained and beaten up at the same camp. Although they have been released, none of them was present in the village at the time when these reporters went to their respective homes. The sister-in-law of one of them said he too had been given electric shocks and beaten with sticks but “not as severely as Abid”.
TRT World tried to contact the Indian army's public relations officer Lieutenant Colonel Devender Anand to seek his response to the allegations. Colonel Anand could neither be reached via telephone nor did he respond to the queries sent to him via email.
Media reports about alleged torture by Indian forces in Kashmir have been regularly published in local and foreign media during the past 30 years.
Several local and independent investigations have published survivor accounts, holding the Indian security forces responsible for torturing several Kashmiri men and teenagers.
Earlier this summer, two local human rights observatory groups, named the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) and Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), released an extensive report on Kashmiri prisoners having been subjected to abuse and torture, including "water-boarding, sleep deprivation and sexualised torture".
The UN human rights body published a report on Kashmir last year and called for an international probe into multiple rights violations, but India denied all the allegations--be it the use of pellet shotguns or the chronic impunity for sexual violence.
People in several other villages have accused the army of conducting “terror raids” during night, detaining and torturing youths and damaging household goods since August 5, when the Indian government divested the restive region of its last shreds of political autonomy. Many people these reporters spoke to in southern areas, where the insurgency has been the most defiant during the past five years, say the raids are aimed at preventing anti-India demonstrations.
One such raid was conducted on the home of Idris Malik of Bagander locality in Shopian town at midnight on August 7 by the soldiers of the same 66 RR camp at Chowgam. At the camp, Malik said he was told that “your neighbour”, a militant who hails from the same locality, has been injured.
“They said ‘who has been taking medicine to him?’” Malik said.
“How would I know? They beat me up the entire night with sticks and gave me electric shocks. My hands and ankles were tied with a rope and I was hung upside down from a bar. My face was covered with a cloth and several buckets of water were thrown at it. At one point I felt so cold that I feared my blood would freeze,” he said.
“In the morning leashed dogs were brought in to scare me. I was made to stand in the open and stare open-faced at the sun. My mouth dried up and when I asked for water they put a stick in my mouth and said it should stay in the mouth,” Malik said.
The 27-year-old courier worker said he was told to inform on “incidents”, apparently meaning militants’ activities or stone throwing protesters, in his locality.
“I told them I am scared of both sides. When I got sick of the beating I even told them that yes we are all militants, my father is a militant,” he said. He was released in the evening the next day after medics administered the unknown injection which made the pain go away. He was also given some pills and lotion was applied on his wounds.
The injuries on his ankles have not healed fully. Tiny black spots beneath the kneecap, he said, are the places where the current was passed through his body. His hospital medical record dated August 8 reads, among other things, “multiple trauma on buttocks”.
The local police, who are supposed to look after law and order situations, appear to have been sidelined in these duties. In the Behibagh area of Shopian district, the army raided the homes of and detained five youths about a fortnight ago. Sameer Ahmad Shah, 22, one of the detainees, was not home when these reporters visited his house. His mother Dilshada said the soldiers manhandled her and her daughter when they tried to stop them from taking Sameer away. After a beating, all five youths were released the next day. Only razor wire fencing separates the army camp and the modest home of the Shahs.
“The police could have called these boys to the police station if they had done anything wrong. Soldiers raiding homes at night signals something different,” said an elderly villager on the condition of anonymity.
Tens of thousands of paramilitary soldiers were sent as reinforcements to supplement more than 40,000 others who were already stationed in Kashmir in the build-up to the scrapping of the special law on August 5. These paramilitary soldiers are in addition to thousands of army soldiers who are permanently stationed in scores of camps across the 40x80 mile Kashmir Valley.
None of these paramilitary soldiers, who guard every small street in Srinagar and other places, could be seen deployed on the roads in the restive southern districts of Shopian and Pulwama. According to local residents, if there is a protest at all at some point in the day, the local army units stage a raid, just like in Behibagh.
“But even if there is no protest, they detain and torture boys to create fear,” said a man in Gagloora village, requesting he should be identified by his middle name, Ahmad, only. He cited the example of Obaid Ashraf Khan from the village, who was allegedly tortured by the army at a camp in Pahnoo area.
Obaid’s father Muhammad Ashraf said that on the night of August 26 the soldiers raided his house and took away his son’s ID card, asking him to present himself at the camp the next day.
Ashraf and a neighbour, who accompanied Obaid to the camp, were seated and served tea while Obaid was taken to a room he said was dark.
“I was beaten for a pretty long time with sticks and gun butts. From the neck to the feet no part of my body was spared. They punched my face and head. My wrists and ankles were tied with a wire and then they gave me electric shocks,” Obaid said.
Ashraf said his son was “almost dead” when they let him go.
“We took him to the sub-district hospital in Shopian. The doctors said he is under severe pressure,” the father said and added that the army has withheld Obaid’s ID card, asking him to provide a list of stone-throwers and militant sympathisers in his area.
“He can hardly sleep since the day he was detained. The sound of vehicles scares him. He fears they are coming for him again. It is worse than hell for us,” Ashraf said.
A 21-year-old man in Pinjoora village of Shopian said his ID card too was taken away during the night raid on August 8 and he was asked to report at the Pahnoo camp the next day. At the camp, the soldiers stripped him naked and beat him up after tying him to a pole.
“With a blade they made long cuts in my legs. The Major asked me to become their informer and provide information about Omar Dhobi and Shakir Pal [both militants]. I told him I don’t have any information about them. He said ‘you have no other option.’”