That torture still continues to be used as an interrogation method by the security establishment is an undeniable truism. Practically anybody who has been in custody of the police and military in Manipur, and indeed anywhere where serious challenges to nation exist, will vouch this. The continuing phenomenon of unexplained custodial deaths in Manipur is again another strong circumstantial evidence of this practice, despite all the official denial and all the alibis cooked up to prove natural death, every time a custodial death happens. This being the case, it was indeed relevant that many human rights organisations got together to remember the World Anti-Torture Day on Sunday, June 26, not just as a show of symbolic solidarity with the movement, but also to put more steam into the effort to rehabilitate and treat torture victims out of the trauma syndrome they naturally are left to live with. We cannot think of a more barbaric method of interrogation than torture. First of all it presumes guilt before being proven guilty. Not only this, on this presumption alone, severe and inhuman treatment of the victim is taken as legitimate. Even from the statement of near and dear ones of many unfortunate not to survive these treatments, it is evident that the chances of those given the third degree treatment in custody were innocent, is very high. Imagine somebody is tortured to confess to a crime and when no such confession is forthcoming, probably because the tortured man has nothing to confess, the victim is either left to go free with the threat he should not reveal whatever has happened on the pain of more similar treatments or death, or else eliminated so nothing of what happened leaked out. The story of 15 year old Yumlembam Sanamacha who disappeared after being taken into Army custody in 1998 is still well known. The boy, it is now apparent, was a case of mistaken identity. The school boy did not survive the treatment he received while in custody and was made to disappear. Even the elimination without trial in a civil court of those who are likely to be guilty of grave offences is illegal and objectionable, but it is simply unthinkable that even a single innocent person should fall victim to such beastly treatment.
Sadly, there are too many who do not believe this, and even would go ahead to dismiss the issue of innocent victims as collateral damage. Nothing can be a more atrocious disregard of either humanity or law, both national and international. Yet, the officialdom continues to turn a blind eye and by this very gesture, give the practice a tacit nod of approval. It is not surprising then that despite being pinned so many times by circumstances that such illegal practices still continue, there is no tangible evidence that a change is on the way. Bringing the picture within context, it however goes without saying that it is not just government forces which continue to resort to this savage method of interrogation. Many underground armies indeed use their vaunted willingness to use torture and even summary execution, and the terror this inspires on the common folk, to have people bend to their brutal will. Custodial deaths are also nothing new in this camp as well. Innocent victims subjected to intimidations and physical abuses are also equally common. The campaign against torture hence has to look wider than they generally tend to in order to bring this aspect of the issue into focus.
But as of now, since torture in custody is still a fact of life, even as the campaign for its end continues, a parallel movement to treat and help victims overcome their trauma is vital. In the spirit of how international humanitarian organisations like the Red Cross, Medicine Sans Frontier, etc, go about their jobs, anybody who has been victim, regardless of whether of government forces or of the numerous and ever multiplying number of underground organisations, must be given equal importance. While it is true from the political vantage, the same crime of torture committed by the government forces should be treated as more serious than those by elements who consider themselves outside the law of the land, what must not be forgotten is that from the humanitarian viewpoint, the politics behind the issue is secondary to the suffering of the victims, regardless of who the aggressor is. The immediate concern hence must be on the victims. A longer term campaign strategy must then be planned to have torture abolished unconditionally everywhere. We are no longer living in the Medieval Ages, or are we?