Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Blind folded eyes and army commander

Jit Man Basnet

I had already spent three days and two nights at the Bhairabnath Battalion’s barracks. My life had become more difficult and miserable. My body was extremely vulnerable, but the torture continued. I was a journalist and lawyer, and I wondered about the extent of torture that the real Maoists received. They knew that
I was not a Maoist, but they inflicted intolerable pain upon me to get any kind of information they could about the Maoists. It was for that little bit of information that they continued to torture me and accuse me of being associated with the Maoists.

I had not eaten for the last three days. The torture and investigation continued. During the three days of detention, I was interrogated 18 times. I was surprised by their method of inquiry; they had no fixed routine. They would torture me any time during the day or night. Although the team of inquirers were often different, the questions were the same. Sometimes they even asked questions about my personal life. I understood later that they would ask these sorts of questions to entertain themselves.
I was lying on the cot when a guard entered, tightened my blindfold, and took me with him. He led me 10 metres away and made me stand. Even though I was blindfolded, I guessed that it was time for another interrogation.
As soon as I reached the open field, an army officer screamed the same questions at me which I had been asked earlier. I learned later that he was Major Padam Singh Khatri. He was a dominating character and rude. He asked questions interrupted by periods of severe beating. I answered him, but he didn’t care about my answers.
“Where do the Maoists live in Kathmandu?” he repeatedly asked me.
I told him I had no idea, but he only beat me harder. I fell to the ground and fainted. Then the major ordered his fellow officers to take me into a separate tent for more questions and torture. They helped me put on my clothes, and I hobbled to the new torture chamber.
I was brought to a separate tent, and Major Singh repeated the same questions. He warned me that they would torture me continuously unless I revealed information about the Maoist safe houses in Kathmandu. When he didn’t get the answers he expected, he ordered some of the guards to fill the drums with water and bring more sticks. By then, I had lost all hope of staying alive. The major ordered me to undress me, but I was unable to follow his orders. One of the guards forcefully undressed me. The clothes were soaked with blood again. Sometimes they stuck to my bloody cuts and bruises. Afterwards, one of the higher army officers commanded them to take me to another open field.
In the new place, they offered me a chair to sit on. I heard a small voice asking, “Who are the Maoists you know in Kathmandu?” I guessed from his tone of voice that he must be a higher ranking official. Later I learned that he was chief of the Bhairabnath Battalion and the younger brother of Colonel Kiran Bahadur Basnet, who had been killed in Baneshor in Kathmandu District in the month of Bhadra 2058 (first week of July 2001). I would later hear his voice again and again in the barracks. Sometimes the guards used to alert us by saying, “Karsap (colonel) is coming, be attentive.”
It was my first meeting with Colonel Raju Basnet. Major Padam Singh, who had tortured me earlier, was also present. Colonel Basnet was the one asking the questions.
“Do you know Krishna Sen? Your fate will be similar to his,” he said.
I answered that I had heard about Krishna Sen, but I had never met him.
It was rumoured that Krishna Sen had been tortured to death in the Mahendra Police Club in the capital, but an army officer told me later that Krishna Sen was tortured by soldiers of the Bhairabnath Battalion.
All of a sudden Colonel Basnet yelled at me: “Forget your human rights and the court. They can’t do anything for you now.”
He was, in fact, telling the truth. Many people had been tortured to death in army custody just like Krishna Sen. The National Human Rights Commission, or NHRC, the courts, and human right organisations were unable to locate many innocent people who had disappeared or who had been killed at the hands of the army. Colonel Basnet was not just threatening me: he was stating the harsh reality of Nepal.
Colonel Basnet also asked me about Prachandathe Maoist chairmanDr. Babu Ram Bhattarai, and Kumar Dahal, who was then the Maoist leader responsible for the Kathmandu Valley.
“We have received information connecting you with the killing of Kiran Basnet,” the army colonel continued.
I told him I only knew about his death from reading the newspapers.
“This man hasn’t told us anything yet,” he said, “so boys dig a ditch to bury him.”
Colonel Basnet was extremely angry and tortured me severely. He whipped me with a plastic pipe as he repeated questions about Kiran Basnet. The other soldiers weren’t just standing there either: they also kicked and punched me. The colonel interrogated and beat me for two hours continuously.
Finally, he said, “You will die detained in a cold room.”
What he said depressed me. My life became harder in the days that followed because of Colonel Basnet’s unusual and violent behaviour.