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.”