Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tortured in custody

Ten days of torture

For Altaf Hussain the year 1994 is a painful memory of 10 days of torture. Sixteen years ago Altaf was subjected to torture for 10 days in a BSF camp in Handwara. Now a father of a two-year old son, Altaf is in his mid 30s and spots a medium sized beard. The unforgettable memories of those torturous 10 days haunt him to this day: the humiliation of everyday stripping, frequent beating, of being hung upside down, electric shocks to private parts, and that unbearable pain every time his finger nail was pulled out.

Altaf was a 16-year old vivacious teenager in 1994. After successfully passing his 10th standard board exams, that year he had dreams of a better future. He had made plans to move to the Srinagar city to pursue further education. However, one day would change the rest of his life.

One morning in the summer of 1994 he found himself dragged out of his home by BSF troopers from a nearby camp in Handwara. Along with a few more boys from his locality, Altaf was taken to a BSF camp located in his village. Then the torture began in custody.

“They wanted to know about the whereabouts of the militants in our area,” he says. “But I knew nothing about it”. Altaf kept telling them that he’s innocent and knows nothing about the whereabouts of the militants they had spotted in the village. The BSF troopers began torturing him to extract some information. But Altaf repeated the same thing. “From day one I told them that they can’t get any information from me as I know nothing,” he says.

The pain in Altaf’s voice comes through as he recalls those 10 days of torture. He points at different spots on his body where wires would be attached for giving electric shocks. The few minutes before the electric shocks were applied were the most frightening. Beyond a point, when the torture became unbearable, Altaf says he at times felt no pain, only a numbing sensation.

Like a testimony of his painful past, the torture marks are still visible on his body. “Besides beating, they would pull out the skin from sensitive spots of body,” he says while showing torture marks on his fingers. Small patch of pale skin has come to replace the skin pulled out during torture. All over his body the torture marks have not disappeared completely, only aged with years. The memories of those 10 days, he says, are as fresh as yesterday. He can never forget those 10 days.

Altaf remembers the minute details, the small talk, the jokes his captors would make about his miserable condition while he writhed in pain on the floor at the end of a torturous day in custody. Altaf particularly recalls a day when he was separated from other boys, and taken to another room, where some food had been specially kept for him on a table. After he had food that day, the reason for this special treatment became evident. A BSF trooper went up to him, and asked, “Tell me how many girl friends you have?”. When Altaf said he had none, the trooper didn’t believe him, and said he was lying. One of the BSF troopers, who was particularly friendly towards him that day, then asked Altaf to arrange some ‘girl friends’ for him. In return, Altaf was promised a quick release from the camp.

Altaf says he lost his cool at that moment and flew into a rage. For declining the offer he received a severe beating for many hours that day. “Kash bea easehe paez peath militant, beae lagvehae temes goel,” he says angrily. (I wish I had a gun that time, I wish I was a militant, I would have shot him there only)

Altaf says during those 10 days of interrogation inside the BSF camp, he kept repeating the same thing to the BSF troopers who were torturing him — that he was innocent and knew nothing about the whereabouts of the militants. After they failed to get any information from him despite days of torture, Altaf recalls some of the BSF troopers grudgingly acknowledging his truth, and calling him, “yae jo sach bolta hai, is ladko ko idhar laeo (get this boys here who speaks the truth.)

When the BSF troopers failed to extract any information from Altaf, he was dropped in a half conscious state on the roadside after ten days in custody. The family couldn’t believe that he was still alive. “Some of the boys who were arrested with me were found near a stream,” he recalls.

Altaf says some 74 boys from his native village in Handwara have been killed in fake encounters, enforced disappearances and targeted killings over the years by the troopers. Four of them, he says, crossed the border and were killed in encounters after they returned.

Altaf was bed ridden for over a month after his release. He says he is yet to reconcile with those torturous memories that keep haunting him. He eventually went on to become a forest range officer. The physical and mental scars of torture, however, are yet to heal.

Altaf says he had difficulty at the time of his marriage as the electric applied to his private organs during those 10 days of torture had an adverse impact on his health. Doctors had told him to take some time and delay marriage for some years as the torture had taken a toll on his sexual health. “I had to delay my marriage for a few years to recover fully,” he says. “It was a very painful phase for me as I couldn’t share my pain with family and friends.”

Altaf doesn’t want to hide his past from his children. “When my son will be a teenager, I will tell him what the Indian soldiers did to me when I was a teenager,” he says. He doesn’t want to forget his past. Forgetfulness is more painful for him.

Every today when Altaf encounters an Indian soldier on the street, he shudders and immediately takes a detour. This fear is compounded by the memories of his torture. The sight of an Indian trooper, or even a police man, he says sends shivers down his spine. “Even when I see a Kashmiri policeman on the road, I get to see frightening nightmares,” he says. “And all those memories of 10 days of torture rush back as flashes in front of my eyes.”

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Kashmir Protests

Kashmir Protests

By Majid Maqbool

Over fifty people have been killed in the streets of Kashmir since June 11, this year. Strictly imposed indefinite curfews with “shoot at sight” orders have failed to prevent people braving bullets, teargas shells, and batons on the streets. Protests have become a way of life. The military might of the state, strengthened by additional forces, kills with impunity. But the unarmed people of Kashmir, armed with slogans and stones in their hands, continue to protest day and night. Bullets no longer scare people now. The more bullets CRPF troops and police fire on the protesters, the more courage and strength people summon to resist.

People momentarily disperse after being fired at on the streets, only to reappear again, and protest more forcefully. The imposed silence of curfewed days and nights is broken by the constant cries of the protesters: “Awazan do, hum ek hain ….aye .. aye ..azadi..cheen kay laygain, azaadi!…Roe rahe hai yae zameen, ro raha hai asamaan..…ae shaheedo asalaam…jis Kashmir ko khoon say sincha, woe Kashmir hamara hai….” If the protest collapses from one quarter, others pick up the thread. All these slogans and protests have seeped into the dreams of children. They don’t have school on their minds. Even the kindergarten kids know how to lisp the rhyme: “Hum kya chatay?” Ajaadi!

From the loudspeakers of Kashmir’s mosques, the nights are lit up with slogans of freedom from all sides. Nights have become new days in Kashmir. People protest late into the nights, sleepless. On the streets, in every mosque, in the lanes and by-lanes of every locality, only one cry reverberates in the air -- Azadi!.

Despite being at the receiving end of bullets and batons, people got together to help each other in distress. In numerous localities, people collected food and funds for the poor and needy in their respective curfew areas. For those injured in the protests, blood donations camps were organized. Hundreds of people, despite curfew, turned up to donate blood. This is how the spirit of resistance is kept alive. Agha Shahid Ali’s poetic line aptly sums up this renewed wave of freedom sweeping Kashmir: “Freedom’s terrible thirst is flooding Kashmir...”

Meanwhile, for a long time on the news bulletins telecast from the New Delhi studios of Indian news channels, the news from Kashmir was headlined differently, aided with carefully picked visuals: ‘riots in Kashmir’, the “unrest and violence in Kashmir”, “valley on the edge”… The naive, ill-informed news anchors, unaware of the reality unfolding on the ground, keep putting the same question to the same chosen set of Kashmiri politicians and New Delhi-based ‘Kashmir experts’: “So what is it that people want? Why are they burning government buildings? Police stations..? Why are people resorting to violence? What exactly do they want?”

The truth is there on the streets of Kashmir for everyone to see. Seventy people, mostly teenagers, have been killed by state forces since Jan this year. If the Indian state refuses to accept the truth even after all these killings, and instead use more force to quell protests, what can people do? Protest more.

The wrong questions put to the wrong people can never find the right answers. ‘So, why are they burning public property?’ the anchors kept asking their Kashmir experts in news bulletins replete with visuals showing a government vehicle, a government office set on fire by the protesters. Interestingly, these questions were asked to everyone, except the people protesting on the streets!

On the ground people speak about the brutality unleashed by the ‘security forces’ in their respective areas. All these memories have become a festering wound, which is refusing to heal. “The CRPF men got hold of this boy near our home and he was beaten ruthlessly,” said one caller who watched the whole scene from the window of his room. “Then they took his pictures and left him there after beating him to pulp,” he said. ‘He was only a little kid’. Another friend, a doctor, was told by his colleague: “Yesterday an ambulance with paramedics and doctors was stopped by the CRPF troops on one street. They were asked to come out and used as a human shield by CRPF troops to protect themselves from the protesters,” he said. Another friend called to inform us that CRPF troops smashed to smithereens the windowpanes of her home.

A relative of mine kept as a grim memento a teargas shell fired into their home by CRPF troopers. The smoke filled their eyes, their rooms, for the whole day. “I preserved it after it cooled down. You can come over to have a look some day,” he said. Everyone has his own story of being witness to the blood of innocent people spilled on the streets. At a time when killings have become a routine affair, the injuries inflicted on thousands of people in the past few months have gone unnoticed.

Bullets can only kill people though. The sentiment and aspirations of freedom can never be killed. People can be shot at, but the sentiment is too deeply entrenched in the hearts and minds of people -- and it’s beyond the reach of bullets. The sentiment for freedom has a habit of passing on from one generation to another. Force can not suppress it. Look at the streets.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Stone Pelter’s Song by Feroz Rather

A Stone Pelter’s Song


Out of the last cries

Of my fellows, those boys

Killed on street yesterday,

Out of the sky and the summer rains

In my own eyes,

In my own voice,

I compose a song of freedom

Out of these stones,

Forged in the brooks of Jhelum,

These gifts from the Mountain,

Tearing the air apart

In fury, with jubilation,

Ah! Here I hit their backs,

I exist in these stones,

I don’t need to tell them,

I compose a song of freedom

Out of my own blood and brain,

Smearing my dead face,

Out of a vow of

A mother’s love for her son,

Against the dagger of Abraham

When God ceases to be an assassin,

Out of the triumph of truth

Rises a song of celebration,

I live a song of freedom

Out of the rebels’ chants,

Against their bullets,

Against the shells and the smoke of death,

Out of these slogans

Sung in unison,

These songs of defiance and anger,

I’m my own poet, a majnoon

Of this country, an unfailing lover,

I’m a stone pelter

I sing a song of freedom.