A Country of Broken Men

  • Haroon Mirani
  • Publish Date: Apr 1 2016 2:51PM
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  • Updated Date: Apr 2 2016 4:47PM

Sexual torture by security forces has left countless Kashmiris with wounded bodies, scarred souls and shattered dreams

 

It was still dark on 28 September 1990. The army launched a crackdown in Palhalan, a village halfway between Baramulla and Srinagar, and rounded up the villagers in the schoolyard. From the crowd, they rounded up 22 men for “interrogation” – a word which had already become, even in those early days of the insurgency, shorthand for torture – among them Manzoor Naiku, a shopkeeper, and Lateef Mir, a teacher.

Manzoor was ordered to run into one of the school buildings. He sprinted, lest he invite their wrath. Little did he know that he wouldn't be able to walk properly, let alone run, for the next two decades. Inside, the soldiers of Dogra 2 Rashtriya Rifles, forced Manzoor to undress. As if in a hurry to accomplish a predetermined task, they put a cloth on his penis and lit it. He howled, and to muzzle his voice, they stuffed his mouth with his own trouser. The pain was so searing, he recalls, that the beating he was getting at the same time seemed like a respite.

Sensing that the screams were making the villagers assembled in the school ground restive, the army officer told his men to move Manzoor to some place farther. They took him to his own house, and continued to torture him. They were demanding that he turn over weapons he possessed. Manzoor protested that he wasn't even remotely connected to the militancy and didn't have any arms. Realising that he was in his own house, he tried to reason. “I told them 'this is my room, you can check it. I have no weapon, I am not a militant',” Manzoor recalls.

As if they ever listened. They got down to “breaking him”. He was waterboarded, a stick was thrust up his anus, and he was given electric shocks. When Manzoor started to lose consciousness, they hammered his chest with a helmet.

Lateef, meanwhile, was tortured as well, so severely that he died of it. Not that Manzoor was much better. He started bleeding profusely and he felt he would die. Apparently worried over two deaths happening in their custody, the army brought in a doctor, who was horrified at Manzoor's condition. But he couldn't do anything more than give him a painkiller. Meanwhile, an army informer came and told them Manzoor was not the militant they were looking for. Hurriedly, the armymen put some clothes on Manzoor and dumped him in the schoolyard.

“I tried to crawl out. Some people noticed me and took me home. I felt I was dying. I told them if they wanted me to live, they would have to take me to a hospital,” says Manzoor. But the army had curfewed the area and they didn't let Manzoor go to hospital. He bled the whole night. Only in the morning, after much pleading with the army, did his neighbours take him to a doctor, on a hand cart.

Manzoor underwent an emergency operation to salvage, as the doctors put it, whatever was left of him. His organs were mangled, his intestines perforated. Another corrective surgery followed, but it failed and left him with a hole in his lower abdomen. “For a decade I actually lived with a hole in my body. I would cover it with bandages, cotton and sometimes duct tape so that my internal organs, urine or stool doesn’t come out. The covering held something and at other times, embarrassment was my destiny,” Manzoor says. “I pray to God that nobody ever has to go through what I did.”

If only such prayers were answered. Manzoor is among the thousands of Kashmiris subjected to brutal torture by the security forces. Frequently, the violence inflicted was grossly sexual in nature. It left them scarred and often impotent. Manzoor considers himself lucky that he was already married, with three children. “Forget fulfilling my marital duties, I couldn’t even pass urine normally. Had I been unmarried I would have remained the same all my life. After the torture, I was not fit to be called a human being,” says Manzoor, who finally took the risk of a day-long surgery in 2013 to seal his unnatural body opening. “Now I can sit with my wife and family and simply talk without having to worry about my body.”

Others weren't as lucky. Ajaz Ahanger of Islamabad (Anantnag) a 24 year old cricket buff, had a copper wire thrust into his penis and given electric shocks. More than 17 years later, he is still visiting doctors. He never married. Although doctors told him that he could be cured, he didn't dare take the chance, the psychological damage perhaps was much more than physical hurt.

“We have seen marriages break up of people who had to endure torture in their genital areas,” says Dr Salim Wani, head of Urology, SKIMS. “There are many recorded cases of divorces

Ajaz at least was aware of his condition. “Once a torture case came to me where a man discovered on his wedding night that he could not consummate his marriage,” says Dr Masroor, a sexologist, who has seen many such cases. “In all of these cases, we discovered that they were tortured in their genital areas. Due to ignorance or perceived shame, they didn’t get it treated.”

The Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies has documented over 1,500 cases of torture victims being left impotent. “The number of victims is huge, running into lakhs. Among them a significant number had to endure sexual violence, leaving them permanently or temporarily impotent and scarred for life,” says JKCCS coordinator Khurram Parvez. “Whenever we talk to a torture victim, we get information about other such cases. We have made a tentative assessment of about 1,500 cases. In reality, the number is much higher.”

“The most common problem we have seen among torture victims is erectile dysfunction. Their genitals don’t respond to stimulus and people are unable to perform their marital duties,” says Dr Imran Majid, a well known skin and sex specialist at his busy Karan Nagar clinic, where he has treated a number of such patients.

Inevitably, the physical damage wrecked them psychologically. “We had a patient who was normal without any physical damage. But time and again he was unable to consummate his marriage, the medicines would work only in a limited manner. When we probed his case, we found him a scarred psyche. He had been arrested, paraded naked, given electric shocks and sodomised. Although he was cured physically, his mind was heavily affected. His personality was scarred. It took us several counseling sessions to cure him,” says a doctor who did not wish to be named.

While Altaf, a labourer from Kulgam, was being tortured, his tormentors would tell him, “We'll finish you, we'll ensure you never father a child. We will make you impotent.” Although he was cured physically, he was unable to perform his marital duties for a long time. His marriage nearly broke down. “It was a psychological warfare sort of a thing. You hit at the pride of a man both physically and psychologically, so the effects are devastating,” says Dr Imran.

The security forces have tortured people of all ages but most of those subjected to sexual violence fall in the 20-50 age group. “In severe cases like where a person's testicles were damaged, or the victim was an elderly person, we seen permanent impotency. In most of the other cases, there is a cure,” says Dr Masroor. “But one has to do regular follow-up checks and be aware of the situation.”

Since the insurgency ebbed from its peak of the 1990s, fewer people have suffered such torture. “At the peak, I was attending to at least five patients suffering impotency on a daily basis but over the past five years, the number of such patients has gone down drastically, though many patients come back for follow-ups,” says Dr Masroor. “There are thousands of such cases and many people are not even aware of their condition and what treatment they require. Of all the torture victims, 20-30 per cent must have endured sexual violence. Some people developed psychogenic erectile dysfunction and some organic and in many cases we found mixed erectile dysfunction, caused by both psychogenic and organic factors. These later cases were hard to cure.”

To make matters worse, many torture victims suffer in silence rather than seek treatment and, thereby, relive the horror by narrating it. Indeed, even those who do muster the courage to see a doctor manage to get only their physical wounds cured. The scarred soul never heals.

*Some names have been changed to protect identities