The ‘musical’ horrors of Ganderbal’s highland house

Highland House Torture Center, Ganderbal, Kashmir. (FPK Photo/Afshan Rashid)

Since the frozen day of Feb 1, 1993, Mohammad Ali has been living down in the mouth. Every time he walks past Police Training Centre (PTC) Manigam, Ganderbal, his ‘military memories’ rush to remind him of those twenty days of tormenting music.

For years now, Ganderbal folks have been quietly discussing the loud music blaring out of a highland house that would haunt the township. The decibels mixed with hapless cries would even numb the iron-willed blokes around. They knew it as the haunted house; not because of the ghosts, but because of the occupying BSF troops. As suspects, subversives, sidekicks were taken inside, the romance with rebellion threatened to become a perilous path.

The music would be played in that house years before the global conscience got rattled after the music torture became the common practice for the CIA in its “enhanced interrogation program” in the early 2000s. Ganderbal House had become deadlier much earlier than Guantanamo Bay, where a chained Muslim would be subjected to loud music in a dark room for hours to create fear in him.

Highland House Torture Center, Ganderbal, Kashmir. (FPK Photo/Afshan Rashid)

Inside that highland house, the motive was to inflict as much pain as possible, Mohammad Ali recalls. Before he would be taken inside on Feb 1, 1993 as a suspect, the townspeople would toss and turn on their beds as the torture cries mixed with music would echo in the air throughout the night.

“The torture would be carried out amid loud music to overshadow the painful shrieking voices coming from the house,” recalls Ali, sitting at a 20 minute drive away from the erstwhile torture centre.

“At times, adhesive tape would be used around the victim’s mouth, so that the cries wouldn’t get mixed with the music.”

Ali was only 21 when he became a new entrant to the house that stood in the shadow of Manigam’s PTC. Even after 24 years have passed, his eyes sparkle to recall how he was tied upside down. “My fastened feet were tied to the ceiling of the bunker,” says Ali, turning sullen. “The head used to hang into the ditch of the bunker. In that state, they used to beat me endlessly.” As oiled canes would strike with his flesh, the loud music would bury his shrieks.

Torture marks on Ali’s body.

At a certain point in the conversation, he turns taciturn.  All these memories are reluctant to wane despite Ali being an intractable and strong-willed person. He hasn’t even forgotten his tormentors: “16th Battalion of BSF.”

Ali’s harrowing halt at Manigam’s highland house reminds many that scores of such ‘hidden’ torture centers dotting across Kashmir during 90s were more abusive and undocumented than the known ones like Papa-II, Red 16 and others.

“Three people have died in that torture center,” Ali claims. “There can be graves around the center, too.” Sensing the same ‘grave’ reality, the chairperson of Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons said years ago that glossing the torture centers is an attempt by Indian state to wash the war-crimes it committed inside them.

“Most of the times,” continues Ali, “they just tortured with the aim of making victims impotent.” Apart from electric shocks, when hot iron would be used on his body amid the loud music, he used to ask for death because of the unbearable pain. “When they would still grin over my painful plight, I used to tell them, ‘You’re the dead men now! Let me just step out of here. I’ll show you!’ I would tell this to end my torment, which unfortunately wouldn’t just end.”

While shrieking inside, he would hear cries of three other detainees being tortured simultaneously in three separate rooms of the same house.

“During the meal times,” Ali says, making a repulsive face, “dogs would be unchained. And we would be forced to eat with them.”

Such was the level of torture inflicted on him that when Ali was sent to Papa-II from the highland house, they refused to admit him.

“They said, ‘He has been tortured too much already. We can’t take him’,” he recalls. “After that refusal, the BSF might have dumped me dead somewhere, had not my people come out to protest and demand about my whereabouts.” Those protests rocked Manigam some 10 days after his detention, forcing BSF to admit his captivity.

Highland House Torture Center, Ganderbal, Kashmir. (FPK Photo/Afshan Rashid)

“Otherwise those days,” he says, “the tortured Kashmiri would often end up dead in those chambers.” Years later, many of them—missing tortured persons—had become a part of the mass/unknown graves, then, silently sprawling across North Kashmir.

Ali’s browbeaten ordeal lasted for some twenty days before he was sent to Srinagar’s Central Jail from where he was released—with a bruised body, some craked bones and blue-hued skin—after the fulfillment of legal formalities.

His body still has those torture marks. But he rarely talks about them as he doesn’t want his kids to be influenced by what happened to him.

Representational Picture

Even after his release, he regularly faced detentions on pretext of being an insurgent sidekick. The torture has laid a long lasting impact on his health. He can’t walk much. Frequent backaches and joint pains have taken a toll on him.

“What an inhuman bunch of people they were,” Ali describes his tormenting BSF men. “In guise of loud music, they unleashed hell on most of us.”

Today, the haunted house has become the residential address of the J&K police in Manigam. It has been renovated. Its bloody walls have been painted long ago with the peace brush. And swatches of its land that stood witness to the torture tales have been turned into a colorful garden.

But no matter how beautiful the place looks, Ali and his tormented ilk say that they can never forget its real face.


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