A leaked US embassy cable in which the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) describes routine Indian torture against detainees in Kashmir between 2002 and 2004 threatens to heighten tensions in the disputed region after a summer of deadly violence.
In an April 6, 2005, document, an American diplomat describes being briefed by the ICRC on what the organization says is the routine use of torture to interrogate detainees. Close to 1,500 prisoners were interviewed by the organization during 177 visits to detention centers between 2002 and 2004, according to the cable. The ICRC said they were subjected to beatings, electrocution, and other abuses.
“The ICRC is forced to conclude that [the government of India] condones torture,” the cable said.
While many activists involved in the struggle against India for an independent Kashmir have long alleged abuses, revelations that ICRC had found widespread abuse come as the situation in Kashmir remains extremely fragile.
Omar Abdullah, the current chief minister of India's Jammu and Kashmir state, told India's NDTV channel that the allegations related to a period before his government took power and that he did not condone torture.
SM Sohai, inspector general of police in Indian-administered Kashmir, told the BBC the reports were baseless "propaganda," adding the ICRC did not have access to these locations.
According to the Hindustan Times, the ICRC said, "We are verifying the details about the WikiLeaks revelations. … We will come out with a response soon."
Kashmir activists say they hope the leak can bring more attention to their plight.
“These kind of events have been happening for the last 20 years and are still ongoing. In the last two years we have collected the testimonies who have been picked up by Indian forces after taking part in peaceful protests,” says Abdul Qadeer, a resident of Srinagar in Indian-held Kashmir and president of the Peoples Rights Movement.
“We can only hope that this report will cause the world to take notice and take action," he says.
But the revelations could also provoke fresh tensions in the Indian-held side of the territory. Violent clashes between police and pro-independence protestors have claimed more than 100 lives since June.
Still, the report notes, the ICRC said that the situation in Kashmir was “much better than it was in the 1990s” because “security forces no longer roused entire villages in the middle of the night and detained inhabitants indiscriminately."
A sustained separatist insurgency in the 1990s claimed some 70,000 civilian lives and led to the mass migration of Kashmiri Hindus into India and some 35,000 Muslims to Pakistan. Tensions cooled off following peace talks between India and Pakistan in 2004. But this summer violence spiked in what was dubbed the “Kashmiri Intifada” because it appeared to be led not by Islamist groups but by disenfranchised youth.
Basharat Peer, author of “Curfewed Night," a memoir of growing up during the Kashmir insurgency of the 1990s, notes that Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have already issued reports on the use of torture by Indian personnel. He isn't hopeful that the kind of quiet diplomacy evidenced in the leaked embassy cable would push India to reform.
“One wouldn't expect any reaction from the US officials on a subject like this as the Indians would always retort, 'What about your own record?' " he says.