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Many people have asked me to write. Among these many, most know that my job involves listening to stories shared by grieving and distressed people. I am a client service professional of Human to Humane, a transcultural centre for torture and trauma.
Torture: According to Article 1 of the 'CONVENTION AGAINST TORTURE and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment', torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
Well, I will start by recounting a case. But why just this one story and not the others? Why does this particular one need to be told? As each case is different from the other, each story carries a unique importance. Because, in each of these unique cases, the grieving people wants their story to go out to a larger audience.
The narrator wants people to lend their attentive ears or to give a thorough read, to feel a throbbing shudder and a mild discomfort, to feel the pain and the emotional turmoil the victims have gone through and to understand how they live each day of their lives in trauma, to remind others that it can happen to them too. The ultimate aim is to put a stop to such practices. Some of them also feel that such practices can only be stopped if everyone who went through similar torture or who have heard about a similar occurrence came forward to narrate it; shaming the perpetrators who have committed it and also to expose the impunity that quite a lot of the wrong-doers are enjoying till date.
It was one of the many fact finding missions assigned to us, to visit the family of an 18-year-old man who allegedly died in the custody of the 12th Maratha Light Infantry. The mother of the victim had apparently handed over her son, a former militant, to the Army for an informal surrender programme on the insistence of some friends. She wanted her son to lead a normal life, free and far from his prior involvement with a militant group.
The description of the deceased as stated by the family members who first went to identify the body at the mortuary of the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences was peculiar of ante-mortem torture which bore similarity with many cases of unnatural death that have been occurring in the state.
"...Blood stains from the nose across the face; the back of both the ears were swollen; the back was contused 'red'; blood stains on his undergarments; changed underwear (found wearing a different underwear and he was charged with the possession of 33 Spasmoproxyvon capsules and 10 Nitrosun tablets)..."
The family asserted that the son was never a substance abuser before and firmly believed he was tortured to death in the custody.
While taking the case history, the father showed observable and clinically significant behaviours which suggested us to take him into confidence and give some more time to him to recover to share his story with us.
It took us quite some doing to explain again the purpose of our visit. He felt better to know we were a medical team comprising health professionals who would 'not be judgmental' about the case.
When we asked about the last 'normal' day of the family, the father looked lost in his thought and we were a little taken aback when he said that they had been living on constant fear and a normal day never came to them. He was once a founder member of a banned outfit too. He gave up the camp life and had supposedly returned to lead a normal life with his family - his wife, two sons and a daughter. That was in the 1980s.
He said his anxious nature, restlessness and irritability were all related to his experiences he had undergone. He admitted how he hated still being a suspect whenever any crimes occurred and he would be arrested and subjected to torture. He said: "Name any infamous and high profile case and I would literally be on the run. The last I could remember was 'Elizabeth Lungnila'."
Following protocols to assess the impact of his trauma, we asked: "Please narrate the most hurtful or terrifying events you have experienced, if any?"
He forced out a smirk as he said there were so many of them. But the most terrifying event, he said, would be a humiliating one where he was taken blindfolded from his house by some personnel in civil dress during an operation and taken to a torture cell in an undisclosed location. On the way, his blindfold was taken off. He was paraded naked at the "Keisampat Junction" and made to playact a round of "Thabal Chongba". He said he would experience flashbacks of the incident whenever the drum-beats of Thabal Chongba during the festivities like Yaoshang could be heard. The father broke down as he recounted the torture inflicted upon him that day inside the cell. The inhuman treatment he had undergone served the purpose of the perpetrators. It was to break his personality and his structure as a human being. This was just the beginning. He didn't stop as he went on to tell uncountable stories of torture at designated torture cells, apparently at Kangla, Chingaren etc.
It was quite a timely intervention. The family felt better and accepted after each following session with us.
Why do people want to tell their stories and why should they be encouraged?
The fear and phobia that torture involves is imparting a culture of silence. Prodding the survivors to narrate their harrowing experience is even more traumatic and they question if their coming out with their experiences would ensure befitting punishments for the perpetrators. It is quite a challenge to ascertain what good would come forth from opening up their wounds. Convincing them to give their 'testimonies' demand that practitioners bring to light both the therapeutic significance as well as the legal necessities.
Story-telling has been one of the significant approaches in rehabilitating a survivor of torture. 'Rehabilitation' has been this year's focus on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture which is held globally on June 26 every year. It is every torture survivor's right and the State should be accountable to make compensation an enforceable right.
Many organisations in India, like the Peoples' Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), based in Varanasi (UP) are fighting against torture by carrying out the "Testimonial campaign" to contribute to eliminate impunity for perpetrators of torture on a large scale in India. The PVCHR had widened the testimonial campaign in Manipur with Wide Angle.
Since the 1980s, 150 countries, party to the Convention on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), has agreed that the use of torture is illegal under any circumstance. India signed the treaty in 1997 but has not yet ratified it. The immediate ratification of the Convention against Torture without any reservation is the need of the hour for the prevention of torture which is one of the most heinous human rights violations.
More about Paonam Thoibi
Paonam Thoibi is a clinical psychologist by training and works with ‘Human to Humane’, a transcultural centre for torture and trauma in Manipur, as a client service professional. Much as she loves her work, she prays each night that she wakes up to a world free from torture.