According to whistleblower website WikiLeaks, the US had deliberated in detail to soften battle-hardened Taliban through Bollywood actors. Uncle Sam may have thought that given the popularity of Bollywood movies in Afghanistan, these Indian heart-throbs would use their magic to turn Pashtun Taliban into a softened romantic lot who would stop every American soldier on the road to tell him, “I love you”. This idea, however, was not put to any test. If it was, it would miserably flop because Taliban are not cine-goers, and if at all they ever were, they would always prefer Lollywood (read: Musarrat Shaheen) movies  over the movies of Madhuri Dixit.

It is surprising, however, that the insurgency in Indian-held Kashmir never attracted the attention of Americans like the war in Afghanistan. If it had, they would have thought about sending Madhuri & Co to Srinagar to soften Indian security personnel who vent their anger and frustration on hapless freedom seekers. Srinagar would be an appropriate destination for Madhuri & Co because she and her likes are already popular there through their movies.

Kashmir is probably the most repressed land on the face of the planet where freedom struggle, in spite of all kind of atrocities, has refused to subside. The Americans were aware of these atrocities because they were adequately briefed by the ICRC. According to Guardian, US officials had evidence of widespread torture by Indian police and security forces and were secretly briefed by Red Cross staff about the systematic abuse of detainees in Kashmir. The dispatches, obtained by website WikiLeaks, reveal that US diplomats in Delhi were briefed in 2005 by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) about the use of electrocution, beatings and sexual humiliation against hundreds of detainees.

Other cables show that as recently as 2007 American diplomats were concerned about widespread human rights abuses by Indian security forces, who they said relied on torture for confessions. The revelations will be intensely embarrassing for Delhi, which takes pride in its status as the world’s biggest democracy, and come at a time of heightened sensitivity in Kashmir after renewed protests and violence this year. The embassy reported the ICRC concluded that India “condones torture” and that the torture victims were civilians as militants were routinely killed.

The ICRC has a long-standing policy of engaging directly with governments and avoiding the media, so the briefing remained secret. An insurgency pitting separatist and Islamist militants – many supported by Pakistan – against security services raged in Kashmir throughout the 1990s and into the early years of this decade. It claimed tens of thousands of lives, including large numbers of civilians who were targeted by both militants and security forces.

The ICRC staff told the US diplomats they had made 177 visits to detention centers in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in India between 2002 and 2004, and had met 1,491 detainees. They had been able to interview 1,296 privately. In 852 cases, the detainees reported ill-treatment, the ICRC said. A total of 171 described being beaten and 681 said they had been subjected to one or more of six forms of torture. These included 498 on which electricity had been used, 381 who had been suspended from the ceiling, 294 who had muscles crushed in their legs by prison personnel sitting on a bar placed across their thighs, 181 whose legs had been stretched by being “split 180 degrees”, 234 tortured with water and 302 “sexual” cases, the ICRC were reported to have told the Americans.

“Numbers add up to more than 681, as many detainees were subjected to more than one form of IT [ill-treatment],” the cable said.

The ICRC said all branches of the Indian security forces used these forms of ill-treatment and torture, adding: “The abuse always takes place in the presence of officers and … detainees were rarely militants (they are routinely killed), but persons connected to or believed to have information about the insurgency”.

The cable said the situation in Kashmir was “much better” as security forces no longer roused entire villages in the middle of the night and detained inhabitants indiscriminately, and there was “more openness from medical doctors and the police.”

Ten years ago, the ICRC said there were some 300 detention centres, but there are now “a lot fewer”. The organization had never however gained access to the “Cargo Building”, the most notorious detention centre, in Srinagar.The abuse continued, they said, because “security forces need promotions,” while for militants, “the insurgency has become a business”.

US diplomats repeatedly refer to human rights abuses by security and law enforcement agencies within India. In a cable from February 2006, officials reported that “terrorism investigations and court cases tend to rely upon confessions, many of which are obtained under duress if not beatings, threats, or, in some cases, torture”.

You have tried, without success, daisy-cutters and Indian army in Afghanistan and Kashmir. For a change, why not give peace a chance through Musarrat Shaheen and Madhuri in Kabul and Srinagar respectively?

 

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