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In Kashmir, old torture centers get makeover

In Kashmir, former torture centers are being refurbished into pricey homes and even an IT hub as the international spotlight grows on India's use of torture.

By Zahid RafiqContributor / July 11, 2012



Srinagar, India-controlled Kashmir

In the foothills around Srinagar, overlooking tranquil Dal Lake, sits the stately bungalow of a former chief minister of Kashmir. The lawn is perfectly cropped and the air filled with birdsong.

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But for Abdul Qadeer, who was once imprisoned in the house, the place evokes memories of howls of pain and the smell of flesh.

“I was blindfolded and my hands were tied behind my back. Everything smelled of stale flesh, and I thought I had been brought into a butcher’s shop,” says Mr. Qadeer, recalling his first moments in what was the most dreaded torture center in Srinagar.

During the Kashmir uprising of the 1990s, Indian forces commandeered cinema halls, hotels, heritage buildings, and even government school buildings, turning some of them into torture centers for those suspected of supporting Kashmir’s separation from India.

When the armed militancy declined over the past decade, the government started to remove some torture houses from the landscape to back its claim of a return to normalcy in the Kashmir Valley and usher in tourists. The state is now converting one torture center to a police information technology hub. Other prime properties have been snapped up by Kashmir’s top politicians and bureaucrats.

“It is criminal that the torture centers where people disappeared and were mutilated have been fashioned into houses and are not being investigated,” says Parvez Imroz, lawyer and human rights activist.

Mr. Imroz is compiling the most extensive document on India’s use of torture to the present day. His efforts formed the centerpiece of a BBC Channel 4 documentary that aired last night called “Kashmir’s Torture Trail,” and in 2005 he was awarded the Ludovic-Trarieux International Human Rights Prize, first given to Nelson Mandela.

His group’s inquiry into torture will be filed with the United Nations and Human Rights Watch later this summer. His group also says 8,000 to 10,000 people disappeared in custody in the past 23 years. The state government acknowledged for the first time in 2011 that thousands of bodies lie in unmarked graves around Kashmir.

In 2010, Wikileaks revealed that International Committee for the Red Cross staff had informed US diplomats that they had interviewed 1,296 detainees in Kashmiri prisons between 2002 and 2005, and 681of them had gone through one or more of six forms of torture: electric shocks, leg crushing, leg stretching, suspension from a ceiling, water boarding, and sexual assault.

India has not allowed the UN’s special rapporteur for torture to visit Kashmir since 1993. The country has signed but not ratified the UN Convention against Torture.

India’s attorney general, GE Vahanvati, appeared in Geneva this May and told the UN Human Rights Council that “India has the ability to self-correct,” noting that a Prevention of Torture Bill is pending before parliament.

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