Collateral Damage in our ‘War on Terror’
The Express Story today on the detention and torture of 6 Muslim men/boys in the wake of the Hyderabad blasts makes for chilling, terrifying reading. Amongst over 70 Muslim men who were arrested by the Hyderabad police, they detail custodial abuse and torture which ranges from stripping, to severe beatings on the hands and soles of their feet, to electrical shocks administered to genitalia. With characteristic insouciance and perversity the government has announced a ‘healing touch’ compensation of Rs 30,000 to each victim of the police’s tactile ministrations.
They were among 70 Muslim men picked up by the Hyderabad police in the wake of two terror attacks in the city last year. At least 15 of them, according to a report by a state government panel, were subjected to various forms of torture during custody that lasted six to nine months: stripping, physical abuse, electric shocks, some had their beards plucked out; in one case, a two-litre water bottle was said to have been hung from the victim’s penis.
Now the Andhra Pradesh government admits they are innocent and, as a ‘healing touch,” is offering them a “rehabilitation package” of Rs 30,000 and Rs-80,000 loans to buy autorickshaws.
The obscenity aside, this should come as no surprise. India is amongst only 8 countries in the world which refuses to ratify the international Convention against torture, which means that it sees no problem in accepting torture as a legitimate instrument of its technologies of rule. Some of us might indeed remember the travesty of Devindar Singh, SP Special Task Force, boasting on TV news of having poured petrol up a man’s anus as a de rigour protocol of interrogation in Kashmir. Meanwhile, elsewhere on the Titanic, the demand for stronger ‘anti-terror’ laws which will enable the police to keep individuals at their tender mercy for upto 180 days without charge, continues unabated.
The government has told us the price of a destroyed human body and life – Rs 30,000. Perhaps this would be a good time to start asking ourselves the price of seeing our collective face transform into a monstrous distortion, like in a trick mirror at the fair.
A UN-supported poll in 19 countries revealed that India has the most number of people supporting torture of terror suspects by the State. Which may explain why a report by the Asian Centre for Human Rights, released the same week, said torture in India by the police and security agencies is widespread and endemic.
Around 59% of Indians — the highest number — said it was permissible for State authorities to use torture and other means of physical intimidation against those suspected of terrorist activities on grounds that the information they may have would save innocent lives.
Twelve per cent of Indians also supported the use of violence against law-breakers in general. Only 28% favoured an unconditional ban on torture by the State.
In Oscar Wilde’s tale, The Picture of Dorain Gray, the protagonist maintains a clear unblemished visage as the corruptions of his life ruin his likeness on a wall. We will need an army of magical portrait painters in this country before this war is over.