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Medical Evidence Refutes Indian High Commissioner's 'No Torture' Claim

Detailed medical examinations of Sikh asylum seekers arriving in Britain by doctors from the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of torture refute claims made yesterday by the Indian High Commissioner Mr Nareshwar Dayal that torture does not occur on the sub-continent.Commenting on BBC Radio Four's Today programme about the case of two Sikh separatists, Mukhtiar and Paramjit Singh, who have been allowed to remain in Britain for fear they will be tortured if they are returned to the Punjab, Mr Dayal said:'A suggestion from any quarter that there is torture in India, political torture, is really not acceptable.

"We have rule of law and an independent judiciary, we have vibrant and free press which is vigilant and we have a national human rights commission. Judicial protection is available to all Indian citizens."

The Medical Foundation accepts that a general perception has developed that the political situation has stabilised in the Punjab. However, one academic source cited in the Home Office country assessment as saying that conditions have greatly improved also concedes that human rights abuses continue to occur and that "police are still out of control in many areas."

In spite of the Indian government's protestations that security agents accused of torture being identified and punished, the Medical Foundation maintains that there is clear evidence that police still practise routine discrimination, bribery and torture without fear of retribution.

Both men who avoided deportation this week were examined by retired consultant surgeon Dr Duncan Forrest of the Medical Foundation, an expert on torture in the Punjab, who gave evidence on their behalf.

Between November 1991 and March 1999, Dr Forrest, former president of the British Association of Paediatric Surgeons, examined 95 Sikh males at the Medical Foundation's north London treatment centre. All had been held in detention at some period between 1978 and 1998, one of them 35 times. Only two gave the impression that they were embroidering the truth and no medical report was written for them.

In a report entitled Lives Under Threat: a study of Sikhs coming to the UK from the Punjab, Dr Forrest says that of the others, all reported severe ill treatment, with 82 of them stating that on one or more occasions they had been knocked unconscious with a variety of weapons, including fists, boots, truncheons, lathis (long stout bamboo canes) and
leather belts with metal buckles.

In addition, 57 of them reported being suspended by the wrists, ankles, or hair and then beaten. Thirty five were given electric shocks, either by a magneto or from a mains socket, with one man forced to urinate into an electric fire. Fourteen suffered burns, and seven had their nails pulled out by pliers.

Forty eight of the men also reported suffering a form a torture peculiar to India, the cheera ("tearing" in Punjab) in which the victims legs are forced strongly apart, often to 180 degrees. Two had severe scarring in the groin which could only have been caused by excessive stretching of the skin.

And 69 men also reported suffering another Indian torture, ghotna, in which a thick wooden pestle used in the Punjab to grind spices, was slowly rolled down their thighs or calves with a policeman sitting on it, or placed behind the knees with the legs then flexed over it.

Adding to the credibility of all the accounts was the fact that 70 of the 95 pointed out scars they said were due to childhood injury or accidents at work and were often at pains to dismiss them as unimportant. If they were inventing their experience, they would have been anxious to attribute every scar or deformity to torture.

Of the two Sikh asylum seekers freed from detention this week, Paramjit Singh said he had endured beatings, suspension by the wrist, and the ghotna. After examining him, Dr Forrest said: "I have no doubt that he suffered as he described." Mukhtiar Singh suffered beatings and the cheera. After examination Dr Forrest said: "I believe that the medical evidence gives strong support to his story."

Medical Foundation director Mrs Helen Bamber said:
"Our findings about torture in India reflect those of Amnesty International, the US State Department, the United Nations special Reporter on Torture and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

"The Indian Government has got to go a great deal further in stopping human abuses before Mr Dayal can say with equanimity that torture does not take place."

Further information from Andrew Hogg, Medical
Foundation Press Officer. Lives Under Threat: a study of Sikhs coming to the UK
from the Punjab, available from
Medical Foundation Press Office