“He was cruel, like a mad dog”: Survivors speak about forced sodomy by members of the security forces in Kashmir

According to Khurram Parvez, a human-rights activist and coordinator of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, sexual abuse is being used as a weapon of war in Kashmir. Fayaz Kabli / REUTERS
20 July, 2018

On the evening of 27 February 2009, as a lone security guard shut the heavy metallic door with a thud, an 18-year-old Kashmiri lay curled in a corner of a Srinagar prison cell, naked, howling, and writhing in pain. He knew he was bleeding—he could feel the blood coming out of his rectum—but he couldn’t bring himself to look. More than the pain, he said, it was the humiliation that was unbearable.

Earlier that day, half a dozen policemen entered his cell and stripped him naked. Five policemen then took turns to sodomise him, the survivor, now 27 years old said. The others watched, recording the act on video, laughing, spitting at him, and hurling abuses.

After they left, another policeman walked in. “I thought he would console me, but he was more brutal,” the 27-year-old, a resident of Downtown in Srinagar, recounted. “He dragged me to the middle of the prison cell, unzipped his pants and thrust himself inside me. I cried out loud and then my voice choked. It felt as if the flesh inside me had been burnt. After that, I blacked out. He was more cruel, like a mad dog.”

In 2009, six months after the Amarnath land transfer dispute and the subsequent civilian deaths in Kashmir, the 27-year-old would often join protestors in his neighbourhood to pelt stones at the Indian security forces. On 25 February, while pelting stones outside the Jamia Masjid in Nowhatta, Srinagar, he was chased by the police, thrashed and arrested. During the three months he spent in prison, he said was repeatedly tortured—including having a roller moved over his legs, being beaten with bamboo sticks, and being kept without food and water for days. But it was after being forcefully sodomised twice by policemen that he said he was completely broken, unable to even look at himself in the mirror when he returned home.

“Every time I took a bath, I would cry,” the 27-year-old said. “At night, I felt insects crawling all over my body. I had frequent nightmares of some ghastly creatures molesting me. And I couldn’t tell anyone about it.”

His ordeal did not end there. “Before releasing me, the police warned that if I was found pelting stones again, they would make the video they recorded public,” he said. They also blackmailed him into revealing the names of two other stone pelters.

Sexual violence by the security forces in Kashmir has received little judicial and public scrutiny. Among the few cases that have received public attention, accounts of male survivors and forced sodomy are rare. The names of the survivors of sexual abuse who were interviewed for this story are being withheld to protect their identities.

“Sexual violence, whether against women or men, is a weapon of war. It is used to instil fear,” Khurram Parvez, a Kashmir-based human-rights activist and coordinator of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, said. “Sexualised violence has been used as a tool by the security forces to brutalise and dehumanise society. This remains least reported because of the absolute impunity enjoyed by the armed forces and the fear of reprisals.”

While forced sodomy has been used as a way of punishing protestors in Kashmir—sometimes to crush dissent—an incident from 2004 shows how it has also been a form of rape, unconnected to any incident of protest. In July 2004, a 19-year-old resident of Pattan, a town in Kashmir’s Baramulla district, was hired to work at a construction site inside an Indian army camp in the area. A few days after he began work, he was summoned by an army captain at the camp.“I like you. I have been thinking of talking to you,” he said the captain told him.

Moments later, another Kashmiri man he did not know entered the captain’s office. The two men asked him to sit on a sofa and started fondling him, the now 33-year-old survivor said. They then took him to another room, adjacent to the office, and forced him to drink alcohol.

“They said I was going to forget everything once I drank it,” the 33-year-old recalled. “I started feeling dizzy and they stripped me naked. The army officer then took his pants off and started fondling me. I remember the terrible pain when he forced himself upon me. He raped me. Then the Kashmiri man took his turn to rape me. After they were done, they forced me out of the office and sent me home. For weeks, I felt disgusted and nauseated. I could not sleep and the nightmare recurred every time I closed my eyes.”

A few weeks later, the same army captain called him to the office again. “I could not refuse, because I was afraid he might kill me or do something worse,” the 33-year-old said. At first, the captain appeared sober and apologetic. “I am sorry,” the officer began to say. The Pattan resident thought the officer was apologising for raping him, but what he heard next changed his life.

“I did not put on a condom that day. I am HIV positive,” he said the officer told him. “I am afraid you have been infected too.” The officer took the 33-year-old to an army hospital for a check-up. The doctors confirmed the worst—he tested positive for HIV. The army captain then gave him some money and asked him to forget that the rape happened. “The officer also threatened to kill me if I disclosed anything,” the 33-year-old said.

For him, the shame he felt was a deterrent enough. “I could not talk about it to anyone. Had I told anyone that I was raped, they would have taunted and abused me,” he said. “I could not even discuss it with my wife. There was no one I could confide in. There was no way I could seek medical help, because it would have raised suspicion.”

The Pattan resident had married a few months before the rape. Six months later, his wife gave birth to a baby in Srinagar. To his horror, the doctors told him that both his wife and child were infected with HIV.

He was then compelled to tell his wife that he too was HIV positive and that he had been raped by the army captain. For many months, his wife refused to believe him. “My wife began to question my sexuality,” the 33-year-old recounted. “She thought I was sleeping around with men.”

One year later, his child died. “My child died because of me. My wife is dying because of me,” the 33-year-old said. “I died the day I was raped.”

Rajesh Kalia, a spokesperson for the Indian Army, did not respond to questions that we sent him. According to Parvez, cases of sexual violence against Kashmiris have surged since the inception of militancy in the state in 1989. Those arrested in militancy-related cases during the turbulent decade of the 1990s were often subjected to sexualised torture by the Indian army, he added.

A forthcoming fact-finding report by the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, a copy of which we accessed, has documented such incidents of torture. It details instances such as electric shocks given to detainees’ genitals, and the insertionof iron and steel rods inside their rectum. In one case from 1991, the detainee’s genitals were wrapped in a piece of cloth that was set on fire, leaving him unable to urinate naturally. In many cases, the torture left the victims sexually impotent, and sometimes dead.

The JKCCS report also documents another case of forced sodomy. On 27 October 2009, 11 boys between the ages of 13 and 19 were arrested in Srinagar on charges of stone pelting. According to the report, they were detained for two days at a police station in Downtown, Srinagar.

“As soon as they were taken inside the lock up, the SHO and DSP—station house officer and deputy superintendent of police—asked them to unclothe,” the teenagers’ lawyer, Bashir Sidique,told the JKCCS. “Then, the policemen started torturing them with bamboo sticks and boots. The boys received injuries and bled profusely. Later the SHO and DSP forced them to sodomise each other. Whoever refused was ruthlessly beaten up. Out of fear, the boys followed their orders. According to the boys, the policemen were laughing, taking pictures and shooting the scene with their mobile phones cameras.”

Unlike other cases, the torture of these 11 boys, four of whom were minors at the time, came to light when they were produced before a judge on 29 October that year. Three boys revealed to Ashok Gupta, an additional sessions judge in the Srinagar district court, that the police officers forced them to sodomise each other. They also showed the judge the visible marks of torture on their body. “Shocked at the revelation, the judge ordered their release in an open court,” the JKCCS report states.

After their release, the boys filed a legal complaint seeking action against the police officers involved. The court directed a police investigation. On 7 November, the Srinagar police told the court that they had initiated a departmental inquiry to probe the allegations, headed by the Hazratbal superintendent of police. However, no charges were filed and the case was later closed, Sidique said.

According to the JKCCS report, a police official admitted to the media, on the condition of anonymity, that forced sodomy is carried out to create fear among the law-breakers. “This would force people to think ten times before pelting stones and breaking laws. It creates fear psychosis,” the official said. When contacted, Manoj Sheeri, the Jammu and Kashmir Police spokesperson, denied any knowledge of detainees being sodomised by policemen.

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse often report symptoms of anxiety and depression, Dr Arshad Hussain, a psychiatry professor at the Government Medical College in Srinagar, said. According to Hussain, other effects on mental health include post-traumatic disorder symptoms, substance abuse, helplessness, and aggressive behaviour.

Like the Pattan survivor, the resident of Downtown, Srinagar kept his abuse a secret for as long as he could. But after he spoke about his ordeal at a 2011 seminar in Srinagar, he too was taunted and ridiculed. “Boys my age laughed behind my back,” he said. “They called me a sissy.”

The 27-year-old said he wants justice, but has no faith in the judicial process and its ability to hold the security forces accountable. “So many people have been killed in Kashmir, so many have been blinded by pellet guns,” he said. “Has anyone ever been punished? No.”