Call for Guantanamo: Is Delhi media deliberately belittling Kashmir’s torture history?

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As the pitch to pack Kashmiris to a Guantanamo-type prison got louder in Delhi media circles lately, voices in Valley assert that shadows in Kashmir detention centres cum torture chambers are much longer than the US “war on terror” detention centre.

Senior surgeons at Srinagar’s Bone and Joint (B&J) Hospital recall it as a shuddering scene. On Dec 12, 1995, one tormented patient with festering-fractured limb and acute renal failure was pleading them inside the emergency ward: Please, keep me here—or, they will kill me!

Some minutes ago, a BSF vehicle had pulled over in a trauma-filled hospital yard. Other than a cocky BSF commander of 1st Battalion and his weaponised men, a badly bruised young Kashmiri had stepped out. He was brought in for the emergency treatment.

In the dusty hospital records, that patient had been registered as 28-year-old contractor, Feroz Ganai, arrested by the same paramilitary troopers on Nov 29, 1995 and passed as a militant. “He broke his leg trying to escape,” the BSF told the medicos. But Ganai had a different tale to tell.

“BSF broke my leg on the first day of interrogation inside some unknown torture centre,” he told the doctors. One medico would later state how Ganai’s festering leg had been broken about fourteen days earlier. His blood was infected, body bruised and leg was entirely black. The only way to save him was to amputate it…

Perhaps Ganai’s case is a chilling reminder of the times Kashmir was passing then. Most people dragged inside those irregular detention centres—that had mushroomed once the armed uprising against Indian State erupted in Kashmir—would often come out decimated. Then, after every 5 kms, there were torture centres where hundreds of youth became disabled. Among them, the notorious torture chambers—Papa-I, Papa-II, Gogoland, Hariniwas, Red 16, Cargo Centre, Kawoosa House and several others—are etched to public memories like a nagging nightmare.

Many survivors of that custodial torture now scoff at a renewed rant of mass detention of Kashmiris inside the Guantanamo-type jail in Kashmir.

At his home in restive Nowhatta, Zubair Khan derides the media-peddled marshal solution for Kashmir. At fifty, the man is the part of that tormented tribe who never walked the same again from those “God-damned” detention centres during nineties. His ordeal began somewhere in early 1996 when he was taken inside the nearby obliterated torture centre—Kawoosa House—where he endured naked bashing, anal rupturing, electrocuting of his private parts followed by his limb amputation at B&J Hospital.

But despite his inflicted doom, Khan stays a lively person, but the open call of genocide in Kashmir unsettles him.

“When I lost my leg to their torture,” says Khan, taking off his prosthetics to show his chopped limb, “I was terrified at their callousness. But with time these calls hardly perturb us as those tumultuous years of brutality have already turned most of us immune.”

Khan’s tortured tribe is today amused than alarmed over the Gitmo-type calls emanating from India’s capital city where media is apparently behaving like the judge, jury and the executioner on Kashmir. Many of these men suffered spine-chilling stints in the most dreaded detentions centres. But they are far from decrying ‘victimhood’. A sense has long dawned on them: conviction has costs.

Inside a maze-like alley of Old Srinagar’s Sekidafar, Rameez Mir who limps in the name of walking understands such costs. The 45-year-old stout banker would flaunt his vintage Ajay Devgan one-sided hairdo during his freshman days on fatal streets of Srinagar where suspicion ran amok. At the peak of 1993 summer, one of his stylish strides was cut short when he was dragged inside the notorious detention centre—Papa II—where complete lawlessness prevailed. Even walls would cry with screams throughout the night, he remembers.

But what happened to him inside that dreaded detention centre—now decorated Fairview residence of chief minister Mehbooba Mufti—was strictly horrible.

“I was stripped,” he recalls, with a sense of revulsion. “My limbs were tied down with a rope and a heavy roller was rolled over, leaving my limbs with blood-oozing injuries.”

Later as his untreated blood clots festered, he was taken to B&J Hospital, where his right limb was amputated.

He forever lost his stylish strides. But sans succumbing to his grave wounds, Mir rose to become a prosperous banker. Today, like many Kashmiris, he is mindful of the nasty TV pitch.

“They are living in complete denial,” Mir says. “By invoking the call for Guantanamo Bay, they are only belittling their armed forces’ damned track-record in Kashmir.” In other words, the banker meant, Kashmiris suffered more brutal torture than those in Gitmo.

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Though the ‘global conscience’ was badly rattled when “devastating” tortures found home in Guantanamo, but it had no parallels with those in Kashmir when it comes to devouring the detainee’s limbs. Perhaps hardly anyone ever walked out limbless of that “war on terror” detention centre set up by then US president George Bush in Cuba.

That’s why Gitmo is seen far lesser brutal than those set up in Kashmir. In fact, when a Kashmiri journalist Syed Nazakat visited Guantanamo Bay in later part of 2013, he reported an interesting observation: “The joke amongst guards is that detainees in Camp Six enjoy better facilities than they do.” Camp Six was constructed to have individual cells surrounding and looking in on a communal mess area. This is where compliant detainees could interact for part of the day.

But in Kashmir, the plight inside those irregular detention centres—“reeking of urine, liquor, blood”—remained appalling. In Dec 1995, when the district judge of south Kashmir’s Islamabad visited the JIC Islamabad, he noted how fifty-two detainees were housed in “five small cell type rooms.” They were barred from medical facilities, he reported, apparently to break their resolve. Such tactics often force detainees to rise up in revolt.

One such revolt erupted on Oct 27, 1993, when a mother of a political detainee was subjected to inappropriate searching in Jammu’s Kot Bhalwal jail. The police responded by killing five prisoners, injuring 28 others. In contrary, when a female interrogator in Gitmo smeared fake menstrual blood on prisoners in a bid to break their resolve, jail riots broke out, but not a single prisoner was shot dead or wounded.

Such lethal responses in Kashmir prisons showed how the jailers, the torturers and the interrogators inside those detentions centres were behaving like executioners.

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Many see such custodial tortures a draconian extension of the bygone torment unleashed by the National Conference’s muscle men in their communities, followed by Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad’s Gougas and Ghulam Muhammad Sadiq’s Dema Gougas. All these informal militias would round up dissidents and torture them.

Then notorious police officers like Ghulam Qadir Ganderbali and inspector Girdari Lal Darbari were quite known for subjecting dissenters to “body shaming” for breaking their resolve.

Years later, when Gitmo or Camp Delta detainees broadcasted their torture tales—sleep deprivation, prolonged constraint in uncomfortable positions, sexual humiliation, and psychological mistreatment—comrade MY Tarigami was reminded of his detention stint inside Red 16 during ’70s, where he even saw “grandfatherly figures” being ruthlessly tortured.

After 90s, the militarised detention centres dotting the Vale’s pictorial landscape would frequently throw up people like Lolab’s Qalandar Khatana—whose legs were devoured by torture. Then, Kashmir’s countryside saw forces scripting some appalling torture tales. One such tale featured Handwara’s Nazir Sheikh.

Qalandar Khatana

Detained by Army’s 14th Dogra Regiment on Jan 1, 1995, Sheikh was taken inside the notorious Kalam-Chakla Interrogation Centre, where he was tied with ropes, given electric shocks, forced to walk barefoot on snow and burned with a stove. “With the result,” Sheikh said, “I was urinating and defecating in my stinky Cell.” As his injuries festered, he was thrown out. Weeks later, from B&J Hospital, he walked out with amputated feet and fingers.

Even women weren’t spared of such war crimes. On September 23, 1999, when a joint party of BSF and SOG arrived at the doorsteps of Mumtaz Bano at Baramulla’s Kanisipora, she was stunned to make sense of the query: “Where are the weapons?” After pleading innocence, she was first taken to BSF camp Singhpora and then to Humhama’s SOG camp. “They tortured me to the extent that I miscarried,” she told a rights body. “Being in the fourth month of pregnancy, I bled profusely.”

When Julian Assange’s whistle-blower Wikileaks exposed these rampant tortures inside Kashmir detention centres in 2010, then Kashmir police chief SM Sahai termed them “baseless propaganda”. “Torture doesn’t happen,” he said. “Where can it happen?”

But the torture had long happened. After meeting 1,491 detainees inside J&K’s detention centres between 2002 and 2004, the Red Cross had found out how 498 of them were given electric shocks, while 302 were sexually abused.

Despite leaks pertained to 2005 when Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was State’s chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti boasted that her party doesn’t need “any certificate” from WikiLeaks. Instead of taking action, PDP reminded its detractor National Conference of “the worst of atrocities” inflicted on Kashmiris when its patron Farooq Abdullah (1996 – 2002) was ruling the state. By then—since 1989—over 7 lakh people in 671 torture centres were subjected to torture in Kashmir, according to Peoples Rights Movement, the anti-torture campaigning body.

Even after 2008, when a massive shift from guns to stones took place in Kashmir, the torture tales continued. Illegal detention and subsequent ordeal of youth—alleged stone pelters—made many families to blame police for their sons’ shift to guns.

In fact, a common thread binding the new age militants together is said to be torture apart from conviction.

Shopian’s Zubair Turrey aka “Chota Geelani” underlined the same fact in a video message shortly after becoming Kashmir’s new age militant lately.

But now as the cries for Gitmo-type jail in Kashmir have began resounding, some concrete groundwork seems already in place. Last year on May 26, 2016, Premier Narendra Modi’s government reportedly directed Mehbooba Mufti’s government to build a separate high-security prison like the Guantanamo Bay in Kashmir. It was to house Pakistani convicted militants and those facing trial in militant cases. The decree was issued after Delhi feared “indoctrination cum radicalization” of other prisoners in the existing jails from Pak militants.

This jail set-up, intriguingly, has the glaring Gujarat shades in it. As Gujarat chief minister, Modi wanted to build a similar jail exclusively for “terrorists” there, said an Intelligence Bureau official. The revelation made many believe that Modi is only implementing his Gujarat Model in Kashmir.

Mufti Jr’s government has already agreed to implement the model. It has reportedly agreed and asked for Rs 7 crore to build a separate Gitmo-type jail, exclusively for militants. Interestingly, the disclosure came a day after a court in Kashmir’s Budgam criticised state police for the “extra-judicial detention” of resistance leader Masarat Alam, saying “a situation like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo cannot be tolerated in India”.

So, are these TV anchors only hinting at what has already taken a shape in Kashmir?

…Meanwhile at B&J Hospital, the contractor Ganai needed blood. The blood arranged by his BSF attendants after four hours was found to contain sexually-transmitted diseases!

He was passed under a surgical knife and referred to the Soura Hospital for his kidney treatment. The ruthless beating had rendered both of his kidneys non-functional. His family members wanted to be at his bedside, but the BSF denied it despite the high court order.

When finally the National Human Rights Commission intervened in Ganai’s case, then BSF Commander SS Kothiyal termed Ganai a “chief of Jamat-ul-Mujahideen” who got injured during his runaway bid in “heavy snow”. But the doctors knew that the Commander was only hiding his war crimes.

That tormented contractor was last spotted in May 1996 at a Srinagar’s Joint Interrogation Centre. Afterwards, Ganai who pleaded for his life in the B&J Hospital’s emergency ward apparently vanished from the scene — like those thousands of other Kashmiris, whose fate remains unknown.

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