Torture in Kashmir
Torture in Kashmir
The world’s attention has turned away from Kashmir after a suicide attack in February killed 44 Indian paramilitaries. Umar Lateef Misgar writes about a man people say is a victim of police action that followed. A school teacher was found tortured to death.
An Indian police officer fires tear gas at demonstrators, during a protest against killings in Kashmir, in Srinagar May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Ismail
Assadullah Pandit is a retired government worker from Awantipora, in Indian-administered Kashmir. He sits down at home, he looks sad. He is sad about the sudden death of one of his sons. Twenty-eight-year-old Rizwan Assad Pandit died while in a police prison, sometime between 17 and 18 March.
Zulqarnain Assad is Rizwan’s younger brother. He serves me tea and biscuits in the family’s home. He says, ‘The police came into our home just before midnight on 17th and took Rizwan. The rest of us stayed in one of the rooms,’
There have been terrible disputes in Kashmir between India and Pakistan since the end of British rule in 1947 when they changed the borders.
Kashmiris have always asked for their right to independence through a referendum but both their neighbours with their nuclear arms say no.
In late 1980, after a dishonest regional election thousands of Kashmiris, supported by Pakistan, wanted an armed struggle to bring an end to the Indian rule.
New Delhi sent hundreds of thousands of military and police into Kashmir. Kashmir is the region with the world’s most military. More than 70,000 people have been killed in Kashmir during the past sixty years, thousands tortured, and around 10,000 disappeared.
Twenty-eight year old Rizwan Assad Pandit was killed in prison. Credit: Umar Lateef Misgar
Rizwan was a teacher at a private school. He also gave lectures at the Islamic University of Science and Technology. He is one of the latest victims of state violence.
His brothers say he was also a social activist and started a campaign to stop drug abuse in the neighbourhood.
‘He also helped many poor students, from different villages. He gave them money to pay for school and bought them books,’ Zulqarnain says.
‘After he was killed, parents came to our house and cried terribly. We don’t know them but Rizwan helped with their children’s education, ’ he tells me.
After he died in prison, the police said that Rizwan was a suspect in the suicide bomb attack which killed at least 44 members of the Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).
People say it was one of the worst attacks on the Indian forces. A 28-year-old local man drove a van full of explosives into a CRPF group a few kilometres north of Rizwan’s house.
The Indian government blamed Pakistan for the attack with the help of an armed group, which is active in Kashmir. Pakistan said they were not involved but the conflict which followed brought the two countries almost to war.
‘A lawless law’
The family says that Rizwan was not involved. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is India’s counter-terrorist agency. It investigated the suicide attack and said that Rizwan was a suspect in its investigation.
‘When the NIA cleared him of involvement, how could my son be a suspect in the attack?’ Assadullah, Rizwan’s father, tells me.
‘If he was a terrorist, torture and killing is still not right,’ Assadullah says.
The medical reports say that it is possible bleeding from injuries and kidney failure were the cause of Rizwan’s death.
Other reports also say that torture was possible.
‘His legs were swollen, and his body was full of cuts and bruises,’ Zulqarnain said ‘They returned his body without any clothes and in only a police blanket.’
But the police say that Rizwan died after he escaped and they brought criminal charges against him after he died.
The young schoolteacher was also put in prison in 2018 for six months under the strict Public Safety Act, which allows imprisonment for up to a year and that Amnesty International calls a ‘lawless law’.
Some media reports say that Rizwan was linked to Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the largest socio-religious organizations in Kashmir that the Indian government banned. His family disagree. ‘My father sometimes went to Jamaat’s religious meetings. But we don’t have any other links with the organization,’ Zulqarnain, Rizwan’s brother, says.
On 20 March, the local administration started a special investigation into this killing, but the results are still not ready.
‘An experience of hell’
For a long time people have accused the Indian army, paramilitary forces, and the police of torture in the region. In 2010 WikiLeaks said that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told US diplomats in India many times about the use of electrocution, beatings, and sexual abuse against hundreds of prisoners in Kashmir.
WikiLeaks also said that the ICRC told the diplomats that Indian authorities agree with torture in the region and that the torture victims, civilians as well as army, were often killed. Some suggest that one out of every six Kashmiris have been tortured. A 2014 report said there are 471 torture centres in Kashmir.
A prisoner who came out alive from a torture centre in the 1990s, said his two months in prison was ‘an experience of hell’.
‘They try to break you, physically and mentally. And they succeed,’ he says. ‘Our days were full of beatings and broken bones. They also often stripped me and tied a wire around my penis to give electric shocks. At the first shock, you lose all sense of place and time.’
At the Sabir Abdullah Public School where Rizwan taught, his colleagues cannot believe what happened. ‘He was one of the most hard-working teachers,’ Showkat Ali, the school’s principal says. ‘Many teachers cried terribly after hearing about his death,’ he says. Inside the teachers room his chair is empty. ‘We can never replace him.’
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(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)