In 1997, the Supreme Court made it clear that the use of torture by the authorities had no place in a civilised society. Torture violate the right to live with dignity guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
Though it has been almost 22 years since these observations, India has failed to adequately address the question. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Jammu and Kashmir, where the security forces have been consistently accused of using torture in their effort to contain the prolonged insurgency.
On Monday, two human rights groups in the state – the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons and the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society – released a report documenting 432 cases of alleged torture by the security forces in the Valley since 1990.
According to the report, those who were allegedly tortured included women, students and juveniles, political activists, human rights activists and journalists. “Entire populations have also been subjected to collective punishments like cordon and search operations,” the report said. “Torture and sexual violence have been common.”
The report stated that no officials had been prosecuted for these alleged crimes, thanks to the legal immunity that the armed forces enjoy in Kashmir under the Armed Forces Special Provisions Act.
Alongside these claims, The Hindu on Tuesday noted that India has cut off a United Nations panel’s access to Kashmir following an adverse report on alleged human rights violations last year. The UN said that its Special Rapporteurs on Extrajudicial Executions, Torture, and Right to Health had sent 34 communications to the Indian government since January 2018 with requests to visit to the country. New Delhi has turned them down, claiming, among other reasons, bias on part of some members of the Human Rights Council.
The Indian government has long attempted to portray itself as an exemplar of non-violence, cloaking itself in the legacy of the Independence movement. But its record of addressing allegations of human rights violations, especially in conflict areas like Kashmir, has been abysmal.
India has refused to ratify the United Nations convention on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, even though it signed the document in 1997. The convention prohibits all forms of torture, even in times of conflict and war.
In 2010, the Prevention of Torture Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha. It was forwarded to the Rajya Sabha, which sent it to a select committee. The committee recommended some amendments, but the Bill lapsed before it could be passed in the Upper House. No effort has been made to revive the law since.
It was only after strong comments from the Supreme Court in 2014 on the need to eliminate torture that the Centre asked the Law Commission to prepare a report on the problem. The commission’s recommendations stayed clear of AFSPA, but it did suggest watering down immunity to security forces. The commission’s draft law has remained on paper.
Eliminating torture is not merely an international obligation – it is a Constitutional mandate. Kashmiris – as indeed all other Indians – cannot be denied the right to live with dignity. This makes it a moral imperative for the Indian government to investigate cases of torture in the Valley seriously.