The Torture Manual of Major Ali

Elections 2024
01 December, 2013

ABOUT THE STORY Arif Ayaz Parrey’s achievement in this story is the evocation of an entire climate of fear and suspicion in Kashmir without the use of any characters or events. The story works purely as a text about another text—a torture manual allegedly used in the repression of the insurgency—and through its ironic repetition of the language and categories, at once bureaucratic and sinister, of the manual. The only person whom we know by the name in the story—the “Major Ali” of the title—appears to be fictional twice over. Even his reality as a character in fiction is disturbed by the notion that he may have first been invented by the nameless, shadowy powers whose motives and modus operandi the story describes.

Parrey drops us into a maze of smoke and mirrors, disorienting us in a manner analogous to the “sustainable and ever-widening cycle of distrust” that the torture manual seeks to generate among “the subject population”. It’s not even clear where the narrator himself stands, or which of the manual’s five classes of Kashmiris on the resistor/collaborator axis he inhabits, or—most disturbingly—whether he may himself be “Major Ali” in a new guise, now a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In this way, Parrey renovates the narrative tactic of self-reflexivity—a playful gesture in the work of Laurence Sterne or Beckett or Borges, but here, the default setting of all human activity when subjected to the modern state’s mania for control and power.

The Torture Manual of Major Ali

-Arif Ayaz Parrey

I HAVE BEFORE ME THE TORTURE MANUAL of Major Ali, an information manipulator of formidable repute in Indian military as well as civilian circles. His work has become a sort of holy book among soldiers, spies and bureaucrats operating in Kashmir. In the past several years it has time and again proved to be an essential and unfathomably useful guide to the mental and social aspects of torture. Numerous daily morning pujas in barracks, offices and official residences are said to include a supplication for its continued utility.

Truth be told, it was by no means easy to obtain a copy of the manual. The figure of Major Ali has become too big for the human eye to behold. Only a few can be found clinging to the view that he is a real character. Many others are of the opinion that a certain Brigadier Ramesh wrote the manual. Then there are those who say a group of thirteen best brains in the army and police contributed in writing it. Still others say it was a think-tank based in New Delhi or Pune, with a commonplace name like Centre for High Altitude Democracy or Institute of Destitute Studies. There is also a theory that the manual is a rip-off on the work of the Argentinian expert Jorge Luis Borges. Clearly, such explanations tend towards the baroque.

Perhaps one of the greatest strengths of the manual is that it is alert to all these possibilities and lays down an elaborate schema of the pros and cons of each such possibility. To illustrate, on page 17, in the Chapter titled ‘Decoy’, the manual reads:

Major Ali is thus a combination of precise proportions. A low enough military rank, one not usually associated with such degree of planning and policy making, and a Muslim name associated with undoubted strength, valour and wisdom. At a place where the State is facing a challenge from a predominantly Muslim insurgency, the benefits of employing a name like Ali cannot be overemphasized. In addition to the direct appropriation of identity, which assists in leaving the insurgent discourse in severe disarray, it also optimizes State’s potential to intervene at crucial sites of division. In chapter 4 we will discuss in detail how faultlines must be embedded in language before political and factual projects can be build into them. Ali is a conceptual faultline between Sunni and Shia sects and can be quite expedient in the future should a need to exploit the said faultline arise. An alternate claim to authorship—Brigadier Ramesh, for example—could not provide most of these benefits.*

Continuing in the same Chapter, on page 24, the manual further explains:

The plausibility of the assertion that a definite number of men in uniform together wrote this manual needs to be maintained as non-verifiable and therefore deniable. The thought of men in uniform working together as a corpus to theorize and institutionalize torture is the classic nightmare of restive populations. It is also a great rallying point for the men in uniform themselves; one around which they can build solidarity and overcome guilt and fear. The deniability factor is necessary so as to maintain the paradigm of organized madness, which is what counter-insurgency efforts must be in places where the guerilla aim is to swim like fish in water. The contention that the number of army and police personnel who wrote this manual is thirteen is in itself not without some significance. A specified number gives the assertion an aura of a fact but also increases its quotient of non-verifiability. Thirteen, an ominous number, makes the assertion more of both a fact and a fiction, optimizing its utility.

The third and last relevant passage with regard to the authorship of the manual is to be found just two pages later:

Another equally useful decoy is the assertion that a think-tank or civil society group wrote this manual. In the present moment, despite the problem of democracy and its necessitated subscription to a patina of Rule of Law, the paramount strategic and military asset of the Indian State vis-à-vis the insurgency in Kashmir is sheer numbers. This decoy ensures that the restive population’s will to fight is dealt a death-blow by presenting before it the hopelessly steep slope of the imaginary collective will of a billion-plus individuals. The insurgency in Kashmir—and other such marginal and small restive populations—must always be made to bear in mind that every single individual within India, elite and non-elite, educated and non-educated, rural and urban, male and female and, most importantly, military and civilian is united in the fight against it. The possibility that the academia and intelligentsia of India compose the programme of torture unleashed upon the restive population is a necessary counter to the contradictions of hope generated by democracy in India. Brute military force alone will not win the State this war; it must be accompanied by a demonstration of collective hatred and indifference of the Indian society. This is the whole point of this decoy. However, as with some of the earlier decoys, this one too must be maintained at the level of plausible deniability so that it allows the State strategy to be flexible and capable of setting and meeting new challenges as the level and nature of the insurgency changes.

Like its author, the manual too has outgrown existence and become more of legend than reality. Very few copies of it are said to remain. It is even claimed, not without basis, that not a single copy of the manual survives in the material and cyber worlds. That the manual has been learned by rote by key members of various civilian and military agencies and is passed down verbally to new recruits. Others allege that the manual is an ideal, a general set of principles which might be followed during procedures of torture and which leaves a lot of scope for improvisation and individual imagination. Here I must admit I received my copy from a very dubious source fully capable of exploiting my

insatiable curiosity to feed me false information meant to deceive the entire readership. I am sure you will agree that the seduction of being among the select few to possess a copy of a very rare document of purportedly great import, especially one supposedly dealing with forces affecting one’s own life, is too great to be resisted.

When I try to rationalize the possibility of somebody, an insider no less, providing me with a fake copy of a non-existent manual as a solemn State secret I walk down the same path of logic as you do. The document itself leaves us useful clues in this regard on page 32 in Chapter 3, titled ‘Rumour’:

The purpose of a rumour is to exhaust all possibilities so that the substantial energies of the restive population are spent in offsetting figments of imagination while the State can go on creating a suitable paradigm of facts on the ground. The State must supply some of the possibilities, even those with a high factual content, to the insurgency and its codependent population. This serves two purposes. One, it produces a certain dependency on State narratives even among the restive population, thus facilitating full-spectrum dominance of discourses. Two, it allows the State to control the flow and shape of the narratives floating in public consciousness of the restive population. The State must only promote those facts which it can control substantially and treat the rest as part of the insurgency, meant to be sought and destroyed. In particular, it follows, the State must supply possibilities which it principally controls and which are very high on factual content as classified State secrets to the insurgency.

We can only speculate as to whether this passage in the manual has also been consciously included to exhaust a few more possibilities or it is a general elucidation that fortuitously manages to exemplify the premise it constructs. At any rate, there can be few better ways to make torture invisible than to lose the needle of a torture manual in the haystack of a rumour-mill.

Chapter 6, ‘Torture as exchange’, is without doubt the most important section of the manual. It lays out the central theme of the manual in the most lucid and emphatic of manners. Torture is defined as “a process of exchange where the torturer and the subject barter tangibles in a time-bound and space-bound manner.” On page 53, the manual elucidates:

The fundamental criterion which distinguishes good torture from ineffective one is two-fold. One, as equal an exchange as possible should take place between the torturer and the subject. Two, there must be minimum loss in transit. It hardly needs to be mentioned here that the various sums of critical information which are extracted from subjects in Kashmir can by no stretch of imagination be called enormous. Given the ludicrously lop-sided equation of power between the insurgency and the State, the guerillas are caught up in a fundamental contradiction. Their striking capabilities are largely proto-guerilla, even terrorist, but with the military structure well-entrenched into civilian spaces, they cannot strike at will. The military structure suffers from no such handicap. The State policy of using overwhelming force and employing the doctrine of ‘governance through illegitimacy’ obviously facilitates the military in this regard but that is a discussion beyond the scope of this manual. What we need to remember here is that in this backdrop, very little actionable intelligence is available to be extracted from subjects under torture in Kashmir. The objectives of torture are therefore modified. In the exchange of torture, the critical elements here are not those which flow from the subject to the torturers but which the torturers inject back into the subject and the restive population at large. In this process, it must be ensured that pain, shame and various barriers of language, religion and culture do not make this exchange inefficient but rather help in minimizing the losses in transit.

It is in this chapter that shadows of some other significant historical works can be found. There is no way to ascertain whether it is a shibboleth for the State Apparatus or a result of the holes through which truth escapes in languages of control. For example, continuing the outstanding meditation on torture, the following passage from pages 54 and 55 reminds one of the Aitareya Upanishad:

Hell is the state of being trapped in a cycle. The hell which needs to be constructed for the insurgency in Kashmir is the cycle of fear, guilt, hopelessness and blind rage. It is called the guilt trap. The purpose of the guilt trap should be obvious; to reduce the capacities of resistance among the restive population by inducing stupor and self-flagellation. The trap is to be achieved by creating a paradigm of five types of personalities among the people and the appropriate attitude they must exhibit with regard to them:

1. Those who are openly in collaboration with the State Apparatus (The Hedgehog): This personality needs to be brought within the ambit of the narrative set by the doctrine “governance by illegitimacy” so that even though its presence and activities are abhorred by the native population, it is at the same time considered beyond reproach. It is necessary to raise this personality group above censure not only so that it can operate in relative calm and safety but also so that it can inspire more people to join it in the heaven of security and unaccountability. The sense of security and unaccountability of this personality type at the expense of every other native personality type will produce the required sum of guilt among this personality type, which will resolve itself as anger and hatred towards their fellow natives. Such anger and hatred are handy tools for the State in the fight against the insurgency.

2. Those who are secretly in collaboration with the State Apparatus (The Rat): Secrecy is the central characteristic of this personality type, which needs to be preserved or terminated depending on what purpose it serves the State. Regardless, the State must keep the aspects of secrecy in a constant state of fluid uncertainty so that secret collaborators are bestowed with the necessary encouragement to attempt to join open collaborators in the long-run. To achieve this, the label of ‘traitor’ must be pushed to be applied by the native population at large to this personality type, much more than it is applied to open collaborators.

3. Those whose propensity of alliance is hard to ascertain (The Crow): This personality type is the purgatory of insurgency. On the State side, it must always receive encouragement to collaborate. On the side of the insurgency, narratives must be injected through rumours and other devices to dismiss this personality type as opportunist and selfish. This personality type also provides a useful test to ascertain whether the guilt trap is functioning properly or not. If the vector of movement from this personality type points towards The Rat, the guilt trap is operating successfully but if the vector points towards The Dove, rectifications needs to be implemented without delay.

4. Those who are secretly in support of the insurgency (The Dove): This guilt trap works at maximum output vis-à-vis this personality type. The label of coward can be projected over this personality type in the most straightforward manner. What needs to be paid attention to is that the tag of coward should force this personality type into the purgatory of The Crow and not the hell of The Kite. To achieve this, the insinuations of cowardice should emanate from the open insurgency, their secretive comrades, or the restive population at large and never from overt State machinery.

5. Those who are openly in support of the insurgency or a part thereof (The Kite): The collective machinery of the State must ensure that the material, physical, social and psychological well-being of this personality type is severely damaged. This personality group should be manifestly unsuccessful in life. It must own and internalize the responsibility for its failure. The responsibility should include an inability to cooperate with the State Apparatus. To this end, an intelligent use of covert and hegemonic State Apparatus to create the conditions for such failure instead of the use of overt and direct force can be gainfully employed.

The overall effect of this guilt trap is that salvation from the cycle is possible only through a progression up the personality types. It is of utmost importance to remember that even under Personality Type 1, nirvana is not possible unless the entire restive population moves substantially up the personality types. This is to guarantee that people who are no longer a danger to the State automatically become an asset for it.

The manual displays a rather unique sense of humour. For example, it defines trust as “two sites of synapses which are mutually exclusive; the first exists between one government file and the next one and the second consists of the joint productive ignorance between two human minds.” When it posits on page 58 that “an effective torturer’s mind is one which instinctively seeks to destroy the second site while helping to reinforce the first” it insists that the torturer “see the hilarious irony in this situation rather than take a grim view of it.” Further down the page, it expounds:

Torture thus becomes a transformative experience in the context of trust. The subject should become a figure of distrust for the insurgency. The subject himself should be rendered substantially incapable of trusting other natives. A certain atmosphere of black magic should surround the experience of torture. To achieve this, depressing tales of men and women breaking under torture should be spread around. Some firm examples should be paraded as the obligatory scaffolding of facts. The general response of mistrust from the restive population can be used to break more subjects under torture by accentuating the fact that they have become pariahs to their own people merely by being subjects of torture. Thus, a sustainable and ever-widening cycle of distrust can be achieved.

On page 60, as the manual expounds an interesting mathematical module “to determine the utility of different subjects of torture,” the resemblance with the Arthashastra becomes uncanny:

The appraisal of the subject of torture needs to be done in terms of three vital traits, viz., Intelligence, Sociability and Strength of Character. The first two traits are to be assigned a scale from 1 to 9 with 1 representing the lowest and 9 the highest degree of the said trait. The third trait is to be assigned a reverse scale from 9 to 1 with 9 the lowest and 1 the highest degree of the said trait. A three-digit number is to be formed from the values of the three traits a subject of torture obtains. Any subject obtaining a value equal to or higher than the Devil’s Number (666) is ideal to be injected back into the society as an intelligence gatherer, rumour-mill, guilt-trap virus etc. Subjects obtaining a value between 333 and 666 are to be dealt with according to the discretion of the commander of the torturing unit. Subjects obtaining a value less than 333 may immediately be liquidated.

The final three chapters of the manual are devoted to detailing the various tools and techniques of torture. Horrible physical violations, cleverly abusive mind games and disingenuous ways to manipulate the subject through external agency fill page after page of these chapters. To me, this section is the weak link in the manual because even though it tries to be as eclectic and broad-based as possible it limits the imagination of torture to a certain set of procedures. The manual thus ends on a pretty ordinary and predictable note.

On deeper examination, a case for restriction of imagination can no doubt be made against the manual as a whole. By laying down an elaborate doctrine and methodology, the manual makes itself vulnerable to the challenges of resistance, point by point, narrative by narrative. We can indeed term it sweet revenge of irony that a manual which seeks to explicate how torture can be used to put an end to imagination is limited by its own end of imagination. The resistance of those at the receiving end of the torture manual suffers from no such constraints. They can opt to counter the manual directly or they can choose to create a new paradigm for itself which makes the manual irrelevant. Its possibilities are limitless. This is why the manual would be much more resilient, effective and, ultimately, sinister if it did not exist materially; if it existed only as a set of beliefs. Let us not make much of the fact that such a prospect has been discussed within the pages of the manual. It is quite likely that the possibility has been discussed merely out of hope. For only when torture becomes belief can it engender a self-perpetuating system.

* I have largely used excerpts from the manual itself and refrained from an exegesis so that I can be united with the reader in our belief and disbelief. You will agree that it is absolutely essential to pleat the dignity of the aesthetics of reading unreal mediations on a subject like torture.