Dilnaz Boga is a journalist from Mumbai. She has worked for Srinagar-based website Kashmir Dispatch in Jammu and Kashmir as well as for the Hindustan Times as Chief Copy Editor on the International Desk in Mumbai. Previously, she also worked for a few city-based newspapers, covering issues like health, women's and children's issues, human interest, civic, education and crime.

Dilnaz has also covered conflicts in Kashmir, the North-East, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra for several publications. She completed her BA in English and Psychology and her MA in English Literature from Mumbai University.

In July 2004, Dilnaz completed her MA in Peace and Conflict Studies with a distinction on her dissertation ‘Cycles of violence: The psychological impact of human rights violations on the children in Kashmir’ from the University of Sydney in Australia. The following year, she shot a documentary in Kashmir on the same subject titled Invisible Kashmir: The other side of Jannat (Heaven), which was screened at film festivals all over the world.

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Dilnaz Boga is a journalist from Mumbai.

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Mumbai defendants’ trial by media

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Jama Masjid is the largest Mosque of India. Shashwat Nagpal under a Creative Commons Licence

Dilnaz Boga reflects on why the guilty verdict against the 12 accused is itself suspect.

As the convictions were delivered last week in the court case against the accused instigators of the 7 July 2006 Mumbai train blasts, news articles demonizing the defendants and their lawyers appeared in most of the city’s mainstream newspapers. One newspaper even went so far as to call the defendants’ lawyers ‘devil’s advocates’.

The media focused its reporting on how the survivors of the 7 blasts in Mumbai wanted the death penalty for the 12 defendants, who stood accused of killing 189 people and injuring approximately 800 others. The torture and threats the defendants endured while in custody, which led to forced confessions, failed to affect the outcome of the case, or the opinions of the judiciary and the media.

In a meeting at Mumbai’s Press Club earlier this month, held by the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights and the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners, author Dr Manisha Sethi explained: ‘Post 9/11, Muslims have been picked up and accused of being “Islamic terrorists” in several terror cases. All along, political dissidents have been targeted by the state, but suddenly we noticed a spurt in their numbers and the government’s use of unconstitutional laws that are loosely defined, so as to empower the state.’

Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the US, the Indian government banned the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), declaring the organization ‘unlawful’. No violent crime by SIMI had been alleged by the state. Overnight, all those who were part of the organization were charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

Assistant Professor Sethi, who teaches at Jamia Millia Islamia College in New Delhi, has also penned Kafkaland: Prejudice, Law and Counterterrorism in India. Citing examples of high-profile terror cases, Sethi feels that the media has played a huge part in disseminating state propaganda that has strengthened anti-Muslim bias in this Hindu-majority state.

At the Press Club meeting, Sethi commented on how conviction rates under draconian laws such as the UAPA, the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), and the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, are abysmally low because charges are concocted by the security forces.

‘In Madhya Pradesh, the police arrested 8 to 10 people in each district for being part of SIMI and used the same First Information Report [FIR] for all of them. Even the mistakes in the FIRs were identical. The reports stated that the accused were supposedly standing at various bus stops in all the districts, proclaiming that they were a part of SIMI. Even the confiscated material, which surfaced years later from different parts of the country, was identical. The sanction from the Home Ministry for UAPA was automatically granted and all of the accused were denied bail.’

She added that the evidence concocted by the Anti-Terrorist Squad was clumsily fabricated and was used in all terror cases over several years. ‘There was a book titled Tehreek-e-Millat which was not banned and which was allegedly found in the possession of a female accused called Rafia. This book, with her name scrawled on it, surfaced in several other terror cases like Malegaon, 7/11 and Sholapur as part of the evidence.’

In addition, the police and Anti-Terrorist Squad tortured the accused. ‘In the Mumbai bombings case, the Anti-Terrorist Squad used gas, cockroaches, indigenous waterboarding techniques and electric shocks to [defendants’] genitals to extract confessions. Upon complaint, the judges refused to send the tortured accused into judicial custody across the country. And bail will never be granted because of the risk of public outrage. In cases like these, the process itself is the punishment.’

In the Mumbai bombings case, ‘narco-analysis’ methods, which rely on drugs to reveal unconscious memories or feelings while a person is in a sleep state, were used and later found to be manipulated (despite the fact that results from these methods are inadmissible in court). ‘This was primarily done to build up an opinion on the issue through the media. Material was deliberately leaked to the press by the Anti-Terrorist Squad,’ Sethi stated.

Even the chargesheet that the police filed had loopholes. ‘Former police commissioner A N Roy had mentioned in a press conference after the blasts that pressure cookers were used in the explosions – but this fact was left out of the chargesheet.’

Also speaking at the Press Club event, political prisoner Vernon Gonsalves, who spent time at Arthur Road jail with most of those accused in the Mumbai bombing case, asked the audience: ‘How could these people have carried out the attack when they were all under surveillance by multiple security agencies?’

Gonsalves, who was arrested in 2007 on charges of being a ‘Maoist’, said he ‘had discussions on a wide variety of topics with his friends in jail’. ‘We discovered we were all framed by the same agency and the same officers – ATS Chief Raghuvanshi and Police Commissioner A N Roy. At Kalachowkie police station, where the convicts were tortured, the same officers proudly told us that they had spilt Muslim blood there!’

Gonsalves, who was released 2 years ago, also noted that members of Abhinav Bharat, a rightwing Hindu extremist group that has not been banned by the government but was implicated in the Malegaon blasts in Maharashtra, were getting special treatment in jail, including the Indian Army’s Colonel Purohit, ‘who is a member of the Abhinav Bharat and has trained the Anti-Terrorist Squad. He boasts of his involvement in the blast and the state patronage he receives. It’s clear the political bias of the state has created political prisoners.’

With this government, the number of political prisoners is rising. According to Gonsalves, anyone who opposes displacement policies and the creation of special economic zones, or those who demand justice in Gujarat riots, or are anti-nuclear, are all potential political prisoners.

And minorities are not only being implicated because of their religion, but also because of their caste. Sethi explained that in the 1980s and 1990s in states such as Bihar, there was a series of pitched battles between upper-caste landowners and Dalit workers over wages and land. But the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act was applied only to the Dalits when landowners were killed.

It is safe to conclude that unconstitutional laws have been specifically designed to subjugate the weak and serve oppressive organizations run by the state. In tandem, the media is used to fortify the lies and cement guilt even before the case is heard in court. This in turn exerts pressure on the judiciary to produce results in keeping with public opinion.

Researchers and journalists in India have failed to uncover the connections between the machinations of the deep state, state actors who fabricate evidence, and rightwing Hindu terror groups such as Abhinav Bharat, Sanathan Sanstha and Hindu Janjagruti Samiti.

Forces occupy India’s schools

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melgupta under a Creative Commons Licence

Years ago a grenade took a teenager’s leg and a part of his spleen in an attack on an army-occupied high school in North Kashmir’s Bandipore district.

Lying on his hospital bed far away in the state’s summer capital, Srinagar, the teenager recalled how his friend died in the classroom, asking for water. The school, which doubles as an army camp – like several schools in conflict areas all over India – is heavily guarded and fortified from all sides. The weapons dump within the camp also poses a serious danger.

‘It was revenge for a militant killing of an army man in the village,’ said a schoolteacher.

From the snowy mountains of Kashmir to the dense jungles of Chhattisgarh, incidents such as these are common.

Despite years of proxy war with forces illegally occupying schools, hospitals and homes, successive governments have not shown any effort to alleviate the situation.

In fact, India was not one of the 38 countries that endorsed the new Safe Schools Declaration at the United Nations Security Council debate on children and armed conflict last month. ‘The Safe Schools Declaration provides a concrete way for countries to commit to protecting children’s education, even during armed conflict,’ said Zama Coursen-Neff, children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch.

Last year the UN Security Council encouraged all member countries to ‘consider concrete measures to deter the use of schools by armed forces and armed non-state groups in contravention of applicable international law’.

Since 2005, schools and universities have been used for military purposes by government forces and non-state armed groups in at least 26 countries, including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Burma.

Schools have been used as bases, barracks, detention centres, weapons depots and sniper posts. These practices endanger the lives of students and teachers by turning their schools into targets for enemy attack. Students and teachers have been injured and killed in such attacks. The practices also expose students to sexual violence, forced labour, and forced recruitment by the soldiers sharing their schools. Students must either stay at home and interrupt their education or study alongside armed fighters while potentially in the line of fire.

In India during 2010 more than 129 schools were used as barracks or bases across the country, particularly in Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, but also in the country’s north-east, in Tripura, Manipur, Nagaland and Assam, disrupting education for an estimated 20,800 students.

Last December, a mass grave containing eight human skulls was uncovered at an abandoned Manipur school complex where Indian paramilitary forces had set up a base camp during the 1980s.

Since the Supreme Court order to vacate occupied schools was passed in February 2010 not much has changed. Professor Nandini Sundar, who filed a petition in the apex court against the Chhattisgarh government, explains what is going on in Chhattisgarh: ‘The court ordered the paramilitary forces to vacate the schools; since then, there has been no monitoring of schools to verify if they’ve complied with the order.’ She adds that there are reports of Central Reserve Police Force camps having come up next to schools and girls’ hostels.

‘Both male and female students have been sexually assaulted and harassed, and illegally recruited into armed groups by undisciplined soldiers using their schools or universities. The educational consequences of military use of schools and universities can include high student dropout rates, reduced enrolment, lower rates of transition to higher levels of education, overcrowding, and loss of teaching time. Girls are particularly negatively affected,’ states a 92-page study by Human Rights Watch, ‘Lessons in War 2015: Military Use of Schools and Universities during Armed Conflict’.

Militants attacked some 140 schools in India between 2009-12 and there was widespread use of schools as barracks or bases by government forces, mostly in the east of the country.

The government’s latest resolve to solve political conflicts by offering jobs to youth is indicative of their frivolous approach at giving peace a chance. Moreover, without a sound education, the prospects of youth finding a job elsewhere are dim. Their future lies in the hands of a state which is attempting to eliminate violence and ‘bring peace’ by seizing people’s land and water in the name of development.

Unspeakable horrors, unbreakable bonds

Unspeakable horrors, unbreakable bonds

The adivasi women of Lalgarh village attending a meeting, 2007. Koustav2007 under a Creative Commons Licence

Hidme Kawasi meekly peeks from behind the curtain. Her angelic, youthful face with high cheekbones doesn’t betray her story, but her dark-brown, sad eyes do. With some coaxing, Hidme steps from behind the curtain. I’m still unsure if this is the girl I travelled for hours to meet.

This 23-year-old adivasi (tribal) girl in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, India, now lives with 40-year-old Soni Sori, a schoolteacher and activist.

Both these women were arrested on the charge of being Naxalites. Chhattisgarh, a state in central India, is one of the areas affected by the ongoing Naxalite-Maoist insurgency. Both women were tortured in custody and sexually exploited by men in uniform.

Now, they have vowed to rescue others who have been wrongly incarcerated in a battle between the state and the communist rebels.

Activists estimate that there are almost 2,000 cases in which adivasis have languished in jail for periods lasting from 2 to 7 years. Hidme was recently acquitted after 7.5 years of imprisonment.

‘All women in jails in Chhattisgarh have similar stories of atrocities. I remember one inmate who was 2 months pregnant during her arrest and how she was shackled even during delivery,’ recalls Soni, who, despite her fragile health, travels to remote villages documenting violence against the adivasis.

Even after she had a C-section, they shackled her hands and feet for the next fortnight in the jail’s hospital, Soni murmurs.

‘She was unable to feed her infant and she would have to keep on requesting the jailer to untie one hand at a time while feeding her daughter. The jailer would yell back at her and tell her not to make excuses. Finally, they would relent.’

After 6 years, Soni’s friend in prison had to let go of her daughter, as a child cannot stay with her mother in jail after the age of 6.

‘It’s been 2 years since then, and she misses her daughter. She was falsely accused of being a Naxalite, like most of us. After several years of incarceration, these women are acquitted. There are 80 to 90 women awaiting trail who are enduring this fate in that jail,’ Soni explains.

After being tortured and sexually assaulted in jail and police stations, Soni feels her struggle is not hers alone, rather that it belongs to everyone.

Hidme watches Soni as she articulates the pain of her people – both men and women – unjustly arrested, tortured, raped and displaced from their land.

Soni tells us the story of another friend who was picked up as a minor.

‘Since we are adivasis, we don’t know our age because we don’t visit hospitals for delivering babies. Many minors have been jailed, as police don’t ascertain their age. Pratibha [name changed] was 15 years old when she was brought in on the charges of being a Naxalite,’ Soni says.

Upon inquiry, Soni discovered that Pratibha was ‘a simple villager who was trying to flee the security forces before she was shot in the arm’. Pratibha was hiding from the police out of fear, and now she has spent 8 years in jail, she adds.

Hidme, who is quietly sitting on the bed next to Soni, doesn’t want to talk about the stitches on her stomach.

She was picked up by the police while attending a fair in January 2008, and was charged under draconian laws such as the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) – a law that enables the state to hold people guilty by association in India.

During her 15 days in police detention at Borguda, Sukma and Dantewada police stations 7.5 years ago, 16-year-old Hidme was sexually assaulted and beaten with sticks by the police. Soon she spotted blood in her urine, Soni tells us.

Hidme’s uterus prolapsed after the torture she endured. Despite the pain, she tried to put it back in, unsuccessfully. The following day, she tried to sever it with a blade. It was then that the other inmates intervened and she was taken to the hospital where she underwent an operation.

Those 12 stitches remind Hidme of a day she never talks about – the day she tried to put her flesh back into her body.

Hidme’s story resonates with Soni’s. After Soni’s incarceration in Tihar jail, she was taken to Raipur jail, in a state of serious ill-health. She had been assaulted so brutally, she was unable to stand.

Recalling her first encounter with Hidme in prison, Soni remembers, ‘I was filthy. Somehow, I ended up in Hidme’s cell. I had no idea who she was. My body was swollen as they had kicked me. That day, I was forcibly discharged from Raipur hospital by the police, who yanked the saline drips out of my arms.’

‘I was asleep when I felt someone tug at my feet. I was frightened because I thought someone was trying to kill me. It was Hidme. Someone had told her I was from Bastar, so she started talking to me in Gondi [a South-Central language spoken in parts of India]. I sat up with a start. Then she told me her story. We sat talking all night. From that point on, we always stayed together in jail,’ elaborates Soni.

Exceptional circumstances give rise to exceptional friendships, and the bond Soni and Hidme share is best described in Soni’s words as ‘unbreakable’.

After two years in jail, Soni was about to be released. This saddened Hidme as she would miss her only friend. ‘Hidme started crying. I assured her I would work for her release. But she said she would never get out and would die there. I promised her,’ Soni explains. A year later, Soni’s promise to Hidme was fulfilled.

‘When I was unable to move, she bathed me and helped me sit up in the sun like a child. When they gave me electric shocks on my soles, they turned black. Hidme would spend hours massaging my feet. I’ll never forget what she has done for me,’ shares a misty-eyed Soni as Hidme silently looks on.

Since her release, Hidme has been living with Soni and her children, as she doesn’t have a family.

Hidme confides in Soni. ‘Hidme tells me that I’m her friend, her mother, her everything. She tells me her most intimate secrets... even her most painful injuries. She’s happy when she’s around me and I love having her around, too. She is still ill and doesn’t eat much. I feel she needs treatment in Delhi. I will take her there soon. Then we will help more women like us get out of jail and heal.’

Finally, Hidme nods and breaks into a beaming smile.

Dilnaz Boga is a journalist from Mumbai.

India’s illegal detention of juveniles rising, lawyers say

India’s illegal detention of juveniles

When the state turns against its people in an attempt to break movements, it targets society’s most vulnerable segment – the youth. In the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, laws protecting juveniles are flouted daily. Recently, there has been a rise in the detention of juveniles – both male and female – in Bastar district.

Describing the situation of the strife-torn region in a report, lawyers from Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group wrote:

‘Once a person is arrested, the gradual process of dehumanization begins. His or her identity is stripped layer by layer till the individual is reduced to a mere file comprising of numbers – the prisoner number, the case number, the FIR number, the number of years in prison... Like any other government establishment, these files suffer significant wear and tear over the long course of being shelved; many are forgotten and simply gather dust. They only resurface during some odd event like a court hearing once in two or three months. Even at these points, the undertrials are nothing more than mere case numbers which need to be assigned yet more numbers, i.e. [the] date for the next hearing, and promptly forgotten immediately after.’

This explains the high number of undertrials in the overcrowded jails in the state.

Isha Khandelwal, one of the lawyers, was prompted to lodge the complaint over the harassment and ill-treatment of three juvenile adivasi (tribal) girls on 27 April 2015 from Sukma by the District Security Force and Special Task Force. As per the law, juveniles have to be produced before the Board within 24 hours of apprehension. Police picked up the three minor girls (two are 14 and the third is 16) from the Muria tribe and kept them overnight for interrogation in Kukanar police station, in Sukma district.

This was the fourth time in April that the police had detained juveniles illegally. There has been a marked increase in the number of juveniles being targeted by the state, opined a lawyer. Lawyers have been baffled by the abductions by plain-clothes police officers and officials from various security agencies as well as by the illegal detentions and random charges pressed against those arrested to delay release.

‘The police believe that any “fleeing tribal” is a Naxalite [a member of India’s Communist guerrilla group] and has something to hide. When the forces enter a village, naturally people flee. What do they expect them to do’? asked one human rights campaigner. In some juvenile cases, the names of the juveniles are leaked to the media. This is not legal, she explained.

On 16 May, 18-year-old Arjun Ram was returning to his village, Chandameta, from the market after selling his goats. Along the way, the pick-up truck he was travelling in stopped and Arjun got off to urinate. The truck left without him and he was forced to walk. Somewhere along the way, the police picked him up. Arjun’s father, Sulo Ram, received information that his son was being detained at a school in Koleng. This violates a Supreme Court order, which says that the forces cannot occupy school buildings. But this rule has not been observed in any conflict zone from Chhattisgarh to Kashmir.

At the school, the police told Sulo that they would release Arjun after questioning. By the time Sulo Ram returned the next morning, Arjun had already been moved to Netanar Chowki and then to Darbha police station.

The police have implicated Arjun in the Jeeram Ghati massacre of April 2014, at which time Arjun was a minor. On 20 May, the lawyers filed an application in court in Jagdalpur about Arjun’s illegal detention by the Darba police, his overnight detention in a school and how he was taken to Jagdalpur jail – which is for adults, not minors.

On 26 May, the court sent Arjun’s case to the Juvenile Board.

Meanwhile, another complaint about the three juvenile girls stated: ‘Juveniles should be kept near family members for proper care. The only observation home available for girl juveniles in Chhattisgarh is in Rajnandgaon, which is inaccessible for the families of juveniles in South Bastar. Also, owing to the conflict in the area, appearance of juveniles before the Board for their hearing is also infrequent, resulting in longer incarcerations, which are against the basic tenets of the Juvenile Justice laws enacted in our country.’

Lawyers in Bastar lamented how they have found courts locked and magistrates on leave after travelling the length and breadth of the district for their clients. ‘We rush to court anxious to see if the tribals have been beaten, tortured or simply killed, and then we find the court locked!’ said a young lawyer.

‘Such breach of juvenile rights in the procedural processes for adjudication, disposition and placement of children needs to be taken seriously. Such ill-treatment of these juveniles results in irreparable damage to [their] psychological and physical health.’

The hunt for justice

Justice delayed is justice denied, goes the maxim – and Kashmir is a perfect example. The struggle to seek justice in Kashmir is the worst thing that can ever happen to a victim.

From enforced disappearances to deaths in crossfire, people have to run from pillar to post for years, but they often end up with nothing. Sometimes, the endless wait culminates in death. Justice eludes the victims and their families in every shape and form.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) – both arms of the government – have time and again proved to be reticent, powerless and toothless in meting out justice.

These government bodies can only make recommendations to the state agencies associated with the cases, and the authorities don’t even need to flinch after reports are released and a good amount of the taxpayers’ money has been used to extract buried evidence.

A classic example is the way rape cases are being handled.

Here is one such example: a girl was kidnapped and raped by a constable who had won the President’s medal for bravery. On 9 June 2008, Asian Center for Human Rights (ACHR) filed a complaint seeking the intervention of the NHRC against the kidnapping and rape of a 17-year-old girl by Constable Shabir Ahmed and his accomplices in the police residential quarters in Jammu in the state of Jammu and Kashmir on 1 June 2008.

The NHRC registered a case (Case no. 50/9/5/08-09) and directed the authorities to investigate. The report of the Senior Superintendent of Police in Jammu ‘confirmed the allegation made in the complaint stating that FIR No. 100/2008 under section 363, 366A, 342, 376, 109, 354 & 511 RPC had been registered against Ahmed and his two accomplices and that after completion of the investigation charge-sheet had been filed in the court on 11.07.2008.’

In addition, a report dated 20 September 2009 from Director General of Police of the Jammu and Kashmir Police confirmed allegations made in the complaint.

Despite a notice and subsequent reminder, the state government failed to submit its reply to the NHRC. Hence, in its direction of 8 July 2009, the Commission presumed the state government had nothing to argue and directed it to pay compensation of Rs 200,000 ($4,458) to the victim. The compensation has not yet been paid, sources from the SHRC told me.

The case was forwarded to the secretary of the State Human Rights Commission in April last year. The constable has not been sacked and is currently ‘under suspension’ after securing bail from the court, an official from the SHRC stated. The matter is sub judice. The case is being shuffled between the NHRC and the SHRC – both have argued that it doesn’t fall within their purview.

Finally, on 28 April this year, the SHRC framed a case and has asked the complainant from ACHR to appear before the commission. Meanwhile, the next court hearing of the case is on 1 June 2011. After all, an official at the SHRC said, ‘Our orders are recommendatory in nature, and are not binding. We can only mete out compensation once the court has concluded the case. They might take years.’

Nowhere to turn

With an estimated 50,000 police in the Valley, the state has outsourced several tasks to them, including running a drug de-addiction centre. Drug addiction is an epidemic in Kashmir, say doctors.

‘We would like to expand the de-addiction facilities and take drug de-addiction centres to other areas outside Srinagar,’ says Inspector General of Police SM Sahai. Considering the fact that Kashmir has only two drug rehabilitation facilities, people have no choice but to avail themselves of what the police have to offer, despite the social stigma of being associated with the police.

On 7 May, a drug de-addiction counselling-cum-treatment camp, organized by the Police Control Room (PCR) in Srinagar, treated over 300 patients and distributed free medicines. Experts provided free counselling and treatment for patients with sleep problems, tension, anger outbursts and depression, and for substance abusers of codine phosphate, spasmo-proxyvon (opiod-based), cannabis and alcohol.

Nearly 700 patients have been treated in similar de-addiction camps. But Yasir Zahgeer, a counsellor from PCR who has worked with addicts in Kashmir for nine years, feels that this is only the tip of the iceberg. ‘The number of addicts is massive. We just don’t have the infrastructure to deal with them. We are doing the best we can under the circumstances.’

Unfortunately, there is no facility for female addicts in Kashmir. Here, cultural factors come into play. ‘There are limitations when dealing with women. It’s a delicate issue. We have to maintain some discretion with their identities. There are social taboos… not many will be willing to come out, openly. It is only possible to deal with it if they admit that they have a problem,’ says Sahai.

On the other hand, the recently opened Stress Management Centre in the same PCR has had several women callers who are suicidal. Doctors have also found a correlation between drug abuse and suicides or para-suicides.

No Raahat (‘relief’) here!

Raahat, the only other de-addiction centre in Srinagar, is run by a non-government organization but has a bad reputation. Patients have alleged that they were picked up from their homes, taken to the centre and chained, tortured and beaten. The facility is located next to Khanyar police station in Downtown.

In order to gain access to the closely guarded place, I pretended to be a representative of a non-government organization willing to donate money. The staff were more than happy to show off their CCTVs and the chains on the beds. One staff member spoke freely about how effective their ‘methods’ were in ‘curing addicts’, and were far from shy about the use of violence.

I also met a patient who had been admitted to the PCR de-addiction centre. The victim revealed what he had previously undergone at Raahat. ‘I spent 41 days at Raahat. I went there on my own. They would bind me with chains, cane me, for 20 days – I had no telephone, no meeting with anyone from my family.’

Patients have to pay anywhere between Rs 5,000 to Rs 15,000 ($110-$335), depending on the duration of their stay. Families can choose between a 20-day or a 40-day course for their loved one, the staff member eagerly explained.

When the psychiatrist who had accompanied me questioned the employee about the technicalities of the withdrawal symptoms and the methods used by the resident- or visiting doctors to deal with the patients, he changed the topic very quickly.

The patient, who wished to remain anonymous, added, ‘My family would come to see me, but the staff would tell them that I was experiencing withdrawal symptoms and didn’t wish to see them.’ 

The patient also recalled how he was chained and beaten with batons by cops hired from the police station next door. ‘Even when we had to go to the toilet, they would chain us. At times, they would admit more than eight patients, even though there weren’t enough beds.’

When the inmates protested, the staff threatened to double the length of their stay. By the end of the ‘treatment’, the victim was so heartbroken that his family did not believe that he had been tortured that he decided to seek revenge by graduating to harder drugs.

Another patient, who spent 41 days in Raahat, said: ‘I was chained for the first 10 days – day and night. They made me stay on the bed without clothes and underpants for four days as punishment after I “misbehaved”.’

Days later, he was falsely accused by the staff of attempting suicide when his family enquired about him. ‘They lied to our parents and told them that we were suffering from withdrawal symptoms. They also threatened to put a pistol in our hands and tell the police that we were militants.’

Despite complaints to the top brass in the police department and the state’s Health Department by the psychiatrist and myself, no action has been taken.

In the meantime, the patient who had gone on record and had signed a legal document testifying against Raahat later withdrew his statement. A source revealed that he was ‘under pressure’.

Corruption pays in Kashmir

Police in Kashmir

Police in Kashmir

Lawyers in Indian-adminstered Kashmir have revealed that Amnesty International’s recent report on the rampant use of the Public Safety Act (PSA) has managed to put the brakes on the number of detainees charged under it.

‘The numbers have definitely gone down after the release of the report. Now, the police either charge the detainees with murder under the penal code or just hold the accused without charging them, and then demand money from the family. At times, they also charge them with inciting violence,’ explains lawyer Mir Shafqat Hussain from his Srinagar office. Shafqat specializes in the release of minors charged under the draconian PSA. He has helped secure the release of several thousand detainees over the past decade.

Shafqat complains that often, despite having release orders from the court, families have to run from pillar to post to get their loved ones released, and also pay anywhere between Rs 10,000 to Rs 50,000 (US$225-1,100) to corrupt police officials.

The Deputy Inspector General of Jammu and Kashmir Police, AG Mir, confesses that corruption is a problem in the police force but says that they are trying to do something about it. ‘We are bringing the guilty to book. In the last few days, some police personnel have been arrested for accepting bribes.’

Non-governmental organizations lament the fact that there are no reliable estimates of the extent of the corruption. Says Khurram Parvez, from Jammu and Kashmir Civil Society: ‘This was happening even before the Amnesty report. Extortion is a huge thing in Kashmir. Some of the richest people in Kashmir are police officials.’

Police frisk civilians in a crackdown in Srinagar

Police frisk civilians during a crackdown in Srinagar

Last summer, 123 people were gunned down by the security forces in pro-freedom demonstrations and hundreds were picked up and detained by the police. ‘They picked [up] almost everyone – from university students to 80-year-olds to wheelchair-bound people – for inciting violence,’ said a youth who stayed underground last year to evade arrest.

Sameer Khan (name changed), a stone-thrower who was released last year, had no problem paying the police as he hails from an affluent family. But there are many families who are unable to afford to release their sons.

‘My family paid Rs 10,000 for my release. My friend and his brother were picked up, and his family paid an even bigger amount for both of them. This is a good way for the police to make money,’ Khan explains.

Protesters in Kashmir

Protest in Kashmir

In a state where accountability means little, militarized masculinities continue to dominate the battleground and lawmakers choose to disregard the law. In the midst of this strategic crackdown, juveniles who have been arrested get exposed to criminal elements in jails (Kashmir has no juvenile detention centres) and end up being traumatized and then radicalized, warn psychiatrists.

This year, the police is busying itself organizing police-public meetings, sports camps for the youth and sensitization programmes. The government, on the other hand, is devoting time, effort and money in building a new jail in Srinagar.

The dance of death

In Kashmir, death has many faces. It’s not just agitated, unarmed protesters who are shot in the streets, or schoolchildren who fall prey to tear gas cans fired by the security forces trying to control crowds. Some have also lost their lives to what doctors record as death due to ‘alleged beatings’ and ‘drowning’.

The dance of death began on 13 April, when 17-year-old Zubair Ahmed Bhat, a student from Sopore, North Kashmir, who worked in Srinagar city as a part-time labourer, was near the river Jhelum with friends. Newspaper reports state that eyewitnesses spotted a group of paramilitary personnel approach the boys and force them to jump into the river.

While most of the boys could save themselves, Zubair struggled. Some boatmen passing by attempted to rescue him, but the troops fired teargas shells at them and Zubair drowned. The police closed the file, calling it ‘an accident’, ignoring the eyewitness accounts.

As the number of deaths in the next few days soared, so did the number of protesters who poured on the streets in different parts of the Valley.

As protests over the killing of teenager Tufail Ahmed Mattoo turned violent, Rafiq Ahmed Bangroo (24), a carpet-weaver from Srinagar, sustained serious head injuries and was in a coma until his death on 19 June. Doctors confirmed he died due to ‘alleged beating’ during the protests.

Muzafar Bhat (17) was picked up from his home in Srinagar by the CRPF and was later found ‘drowned to death’ on 5 July, newspapers stated.

Impunity for the security forces has been the norm in the Valley and also other states in North-East India like Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland & Tripura for several years.

Emergency acts like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which are ideally meant to be reviewed every six months, have been enforced continuously for two decades in Jammu and Kashmir.

‘Not only is this unconstitutional, but it is also responsible for the scores of human rights violations. Once impunity is strongly ingrained in the psyche of the troops, restrain refuses to stay on their agenda,’ explained a human rights lawyer.

Many more deaths took place during the unrest which have received a little more than a line’s mention in locals newspapers, as journalists were unable to travel to distant villages due to the curfew.

Mostly teenagers who died mysteriously were the ones who were captured and beaten or drowned during this phase of violence, statistics revealed.

On 17 July, Faizan Ahmed Buhroo, a seventh grade student, ‘drowned after being beaten by the Special Operations Group (SOG) personnel of the police,’ villagers in North Kashmir’s Varmul town of Baramulla said.

After his body was recovered from the river Jehlum, thousands of people took to streets, demanding action against the SOG personnel, whom they blamed for Faizan’s ‘drowning’ during the clashes between protesters and the police.

Another teenager, Arshid Ahmed, of Awantipora in South Kashmir, was killed mysteriously in Sangam. Eyewitnesses told newspapers, ‘Arshid’s body bore torture marks’. The authorities did not probe the matter any further.

Even children as young as nine lost their lives in this turmoil. On 2 August, in Sheikh Dawood Colony, in Batmaloo, Sameer Ahmad Rah (9), was ‘allegedly beaten’ to death by the forces. The police said that Rah died in a stampede, but locals allege that the security forces shoved a cane in his mouth, broke his teeth then assaulted him until he died. Rah’s photograph after the police released his body revealed that he had torture marks all over and that he had no teeth.

Then there were those who suffered injuries to their vital organs during the clashes. On 3 August Reyaz Ahmed Bhat (25), from Khrew in South Kashmir, succumbed to his injuries at a city hospital after he was ‘critically injured’ during clashes with the police and the CRPF.

On 10 August, thousands of people took to the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway, near Kreeri in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district, after Farak Bukhari’s (17) body was found near the police station in Chooru. The teenager had gone missing on 28 July during a protest in the area.


Bukhari, a student of Mass Communications, was ‘found with torture marks on his body and a severed hand,’ his father stated, showing photographs of the corpse.  Four months later, the family was still waiting for the post-mortem report.

Ali Muhammad Khanday, a 65-year-old man injured during the clashes in North Kashmir’s Pattan, and Mohammad Abaas Dhobi (35) from the Mattan area of South Kashmir ‘succumbed to their injuries’ on 13 and 17 August respectively.

Doctors said, Dhobi had ‘an alleged history of beating’ and was brought to the hospital on 13 August. According to Dr Syed Amin Tabish, ‘he had a spinal cord injury and his limbs were paralyzed’.

The police, in a statement issued after his death, said, ‘On 13 August, a mob of about 300 people pelted stones and bricks on security forces in Mattan, Islamabad. The security forces and police used cane charge and chased away the mob. There was a stampede where Dhobi was injured. The doctors tried their best to save his life. However, he passed away.’

On 25 August, Umar Bhat (17) who was ‘allegedly beaten by the police and the CRPF’ in Soura, on the outskirts of Srinagar city two days earlier, also succumbed to his injuries.

On 22 September, Bilal Ahmed Bhat (35), who was allegedly beaten up during clashes in Islamabad district on 17 September, died.

On 10 October, as the authorities tried to control the clashes in Islamabad, a protester lost his life while fleeing from the security forces, sources said. Bashir Ahmed Chicken (50), resident of Kadipora in Islamabad, a district of South Kashmir died on the spot.

An eyewitness revealed: ‘The CRPF was chasing him and he fell down and died.’ Chief Medical Officer Mohamed Shafi Mir of Islamabad’s Sub-district Hospital stated that Bashir was ‘brought dead to the hospital around 6 pm’.

On 14 October, Ghulam Nabi Mir (52), a protester from Pampore in South Kashmir, who was injured in clashes between the locals and the police and the CRPF and admitted on 7 October with ‘polytrauma due to assault or head injury’ also passed away, said Dr Tabish.

Sources said that Mir was ‘allegedly assaulted’ and there had been no stone-throwing in the area, as had been alleged by the police. The family has lodged a complaint for the ‘alleged assault’.

After over a 100 deaths due to gunfire and tear gas shells, it becomes difficult for local journalists to follow up cases such as these because of restrictions in movement in the Valley.

Unfortunately, even mainstream Indian media never reports these cases, and justice continues to elude the families of the victims. At times, a meagre compensation is dished out, and a public apology is offered unofficially, but no-one is taken to task as the men in uniform continue to be shielded by unconstitutional laws such as AFSPA.




The long-term effects of curfews

The direct use of force is such a poor solution to any problem, it is generally employed only by small children and large nations – David Friedman

Razia keeps on looking at her phone anxiously, while whiling away time in her house in Srinagar in Kashmir. Razia also tends to wakes up in the middle of the night, when she ‘hears’ her phone ring.

Irfan, a college student, is unable to concentrate on his books despite his exams. ‘I’m trying really hard, but I just can’t seem to concentrate,’ he laments.

‘This is a manifestation of stress,’ opines a psychiatrist in the trouble-torn Valley, which has seen four months of protests and 123 deaths since January 2010.

There has been a marked change in almost everyone I know. From frequent bouts of crying to helplessness and rage, people seem to be trying to cope with the powerful emotions that they undergo because of what surrounds them.

Insomnia, hopelessness, fear, anger, sadness, fatigue – all creep in at some point. News of death of protesters or fake encounters further aggravate symptoms of depression.

Almost five months of curfews and strikes have affected all the inhabitants of the Valley in some way or another, the doctor added. But the effects of the turmoil are not just confined to those who have been locked up in their homes for months, unable to step out to meet family or friends. There are those who have not only witnessed brutal violence, but have also experienced it first hand.

Speaking to Kashmir Dispatch, Dr Muzafar Khan, a psychiatrist, elaborates on the outcome of the arrest of underage boys and youth in Kashmir by the police during four months of turmoil: ‘Arresting the minors and putting them with the adult population in jails is detrimental – the criminals will act as models for them in a short duration of time. They will feel alienated. This is called social modelling. Due to this experience in jails, their attitude towards India in general, and the security forces in particular, becomes negative. This reflects in their thinking, feelings and actions. This alienation reinforces the negative attitude, pushing it on to the next generation.’

Doctors say that in the past, the level of the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the population was manageable. But in this phase of violence there has been a steep rise in PTSD cases. If a patient suffered from mild depression, this has probably risen to moderate or severe in the current scenario, according to Dr Khan.

All the coping mechanisms that people would normally use have been blocked because of the imposition of curfews and strikes. ‘For example, people used to be able to visit shrines. This would help them psychologically cope with the pressures, or they would talk to their friends, or visit their relatives and share their troubles… but all this is impossible in the prevailing conditions,’ Dr Khan continued.

How can you call this a life?
Researcher and doctoral candidate from Cornell University, New York, Saiba Varma, who is studying mental health problems, feels this lack of vent is detrimental to the population. ‘There are no avenues to vent one’s frustration and anger at the prevailing circumstances without facing retribution of some kind by the authorities. For example, the clampdown on social networking sites. Here, people can’t even meet others to lighten their burden.’

Varma said that the curfews and the violence push people into a schizophrenic frame of mind, ‘especially if you are not in a safe neighbourhood, you might feel trapped.’

Salesman Yasin Khan (name changed) has not been to work in months due to the ongoing violence. ‘How long will they keep us locked up? The turmoil has been going on for so many months. How do they expect us to go on with our lives like this? We don’t have an option but to live like this? How can you call this life?’

A young man associated with a non-governmental aid group in Kashmir, regularly tweets about the daily happenings. ‘Even that is met with hate. I get hate tweets from people in India after I post stories on the sufferings of the people here. There is no tolerance, no freedom of expression – it’s all a myth. All we have is blind nationalism and hate. How do we get the word out to the world about what is taking place here? Who will believe us? Who will help us?’

These problems have not remained confined to the streets. As people spend all their time at home, they are finding it increasingly difficult to get along. ‘Normally, you would feel productive as you set out for work and them come home at the end of the day. But now things are very different as people feel helpless and locked up in their homes, fearing for their lives. Tempers are bound to run high,’ said a counsellor.

Psychiatrist Dr Maajid of JVC Hospital elaborates on the ramifications of the unrest in the Valley on the family as a unit: ‘Due to severe frustration, the tolerance levels are down. Interpersonal relationships in families have suffered in this period of turmoil due to this.’

At the hospital, Dr Maajid has observed that people have trouble falling asleep; there is an increase in the suicide rate, there’s irritability, sudden bursts of anger and fatigue in all age groups in this chronic conflict zone. Plus the economic suffering is accentuating all the problems.

And things are not likely to improve any time soon, warn doctors. ‘These symptoms will take at least six months to wear off provided things become normal. People will have to regroup and restructure again to normal life as everything, including life goals have been delayed in this five-month period of violence,’ said Dr Maajid.

The prolonged periods of stress can sometimes change the structure of the brain, it has been noted. These conditions can lead to mental illnesses. Dr Maajid explained: ‘Mothers of younger boys are suffering the most. They become highly anxious if the boy reaches home late from his classes. These high stress levels are a precursor to mental illness.’

Read our words!

The Graffiti Campaign in India’s Kashmir Valley is a part of the ongoing Quit Kashmir Campaign conceived by the separatist amalgam the Hurriyat last June. The paramilitary and the police, in a bid to control protests, have killed 111 unarmed civilians since the unrest began in June when a teenager was killed. Since then, weekly Protest Calendars calling for strikes, internet protests, sit-ins or protest marches released by veteran leaders are being followed by the people. Through civil disobedience, the Kashmiris are pushing their demand for self-determination under the guidance of the United Nations, which has termed this conflict the longest-running conflict in the world.

The Graffiti Campaign, the brainchild of jailed Muslim League leader Masarat Alam, is very popular with the youngsters, who have scribbled messages all over Srinagar city against the Jammu and Kashmir Police (JKP) and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) like ‘Go India, go back’, ‘We want freedom’ and ‘Indian dogs go home’. The security forces, sometimes ‘edit’ the hostile content directed against India – ‘Go, India, go,’ graffiti was changed to ‘Good India Good’ in several places in the Old City.


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