Kashmir and the Politics of Punishment

kashmir human shield

With the brutal ‘drawing and quartering’ of the domestic servant Robert-François Damiens, who attempted the assassination of King Louis XV of France in 1757, to ‘make the amende honorable before the main door of the Church of France’ started the slow disappearance of torture as a public spectacle. According to the then punishment code, the flesh from Damiens’ breasts, arms, thighs and calves had to be torn with red-hot pincers and where the fleshwas torn away, molten lead,boiling oil, burning resin, wax and sulphur melted together had to be poured and then his body had to be drawn and quartered by four horses and then consumed by fire, and all this was declared to be displayed before a live public audience. In the long run this state sponsored enactment of torture and brutality only won the state a seething public disdain and disavowal. Instead of helping the state to establish a mechanism to eradicate crime and dissent, the state appeared to public to have become a ruthless machinery of torture and death. Realizing the contagious outbreak of public resentment the state slowly changed its penal procedure, formulated explicit, general codes and unified rules of procedure, with almost a ‘universal adoption of jury system’.

The corrective character of the new penalty, it’s discretion in the art of inflicting pain, subduing suffering and depriving torture of physical visibility almost ‘humanized punishment. And it is the modern blood-thirsty state that has revolutionized this penal system where, unfortunately, punishment has become the most hidden part of it. And if any state does it better than many others, it is the so-called democratic state of India, freely practicing it in its ‘only politically integral part’ of Jammu and Kashmir.

Knowing that J&K legally never belonged to her, India, using extreme repressive apparatus, wrestled it under her feet. Conscious of the fact that the strangled subject may writhe in pain and protest anytime India enforced a radical transformation in the institutions like judiciary and penal system to justify torture and punishment. In this ‘militarized wilderness’, since the resentment and sentiment of freedom and revulsion for absolutist establishment actually never subsided after its eruption, the number of interrogation centers, prisons, detentions and killings never stopped to increase. India set up a robust power mechanism that has beenruthlessly destroying the youth of Kashmir from last three decades or more. On the other hand the state, like a psychopath lacking conscience, has beenconcealing the intensity and visibility of torture of the incarcerated detainees in jails and prison cells. And what goes unheard and unseen for long tends to become a non-reality for people. In his celebrated book ‘Discipline and Punish’ the French philosopher Michel Foucault rightly opines that when the visibility of punishment is hidden from the penal process, “it leaves the domain of more or less everyday perception and enters that of abstract consciousness”.

In the guise of highly nuanced and botched up government policies and Draconian laws like APSPA and PSA Kashmir continues to suffer the mutilation of its youth. According to the 2010 Amnesty International report up to20,000 detentions were made since the inception of Public Safety Act in 1978, an Act labelled by the former Union Law MinisterRamJethmalanias “something we haven’t heard of even in Nazi Germany”. Over 1000 people were detained from March 2016 to August 2017 and the number has reportedly doubled to 530 in 2018 from 230 in 2016. The Act empowers the police to detain thousands of people on a mere suspicion or suspicious activity ‘prejudicial to the security of state’, to torture them, disappear them and ‘keep them out of circulation’. Unfortunately, after the detentions are made a comparatively lesser attention is paid to the torture and humiliation thousands of young men are put through the state’s notorious prison system.

Aiding its repressive apparatus the state internalizes political ideology with the help of the formulation of policies and documentation of the procedures of conviction to purportedly conceal the barbarity of torture and punishment, the public display of which has garnered widespread public reproach and resentment in earlier societies. Not only has government denied to repeal these laws but also justified their enforcement as a potential means to control insurgency. But nowhere does it record the ensuing devastation and mutilation of Kashmiri youth. Nobody exactly knows what happens to a detainee after apprehended by the state’s so-called elite anti-insurgency force SOG; actually a force of torture and brutality.

A WikiLeaks revelation in 2010 reported that out of 1491 detainees visited by International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) 852 cases confirmed being subjected to the following six forms of torture:
• Electric shocks
• Suspension from ceiling
• Crushing of leg muscles
• Legs split 180 degrees
• Water torture
• Sexual abuse
The revelation further informed that the situation was nevertheless “much better than it was in 1990s”. This disclosure not only reveals but also conceals the enormity of torture and also the state’s legal disavowal to acknowledge its crime.

To conclude, the state actually never included any mercy in its methodology and execution of torture and punishment after that woeful Damiens episode, instead its intensity has ever worsened yet purposely concealed under the garb of new sophisticated procedural mechanism. The only difference is that the Damiens’ public executioner of yore has been replaced by the new judicial system of modern state.

Ghulam Mohammad Khan, Assistant Professor at Govt. College of Engineering and Technology, SafaporaGanderbal
Email: [email protected]


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