KARACHI: There are at least 10 bodies lying in the cold storage room of the Edhi morgue. They are just a sample of the dozens that are routinely stuffed into sacks and dumped throughout the city. However, even if their relatives came forward and tried to identify their loved ones, they wouldn’t be able to. They’ve been disfigured beyond recognition.
Almost all of them bear torture marks inflicted by knives, saws, daggers and in some cases even holes have been drilled. But the question that no one really wants to answer is where exactly these victims of political and ethnic violence are tortured in the city. And how come the police have failed to dismantle these numerous ‘torture cells’? Already, since July, more than 35 people have been tortured to death and dumped in gunny bags across the city.
Senior police officials believe that militant wings of politico-ethnic parties as well as criminal groups are behind the viciousness. They say men are being abducted and taken to torture cells that are set up on a short-term basis. They believe dumping bodies in gunny bags is a numbers game between rival groups designed to create panic.
Additional IG Saud Mirza told The Express Tribune that most bodies are dumped after 24 hours have passed and some bodies are found after two to five days.
Karachi is not new to this specific technique. This vicious cycle of violence began in the 1990s. However, what makes the current round of violence more dangerous is that unlike in the 1990s when only one or two groups were blamed for dumping bodies of their rivals on the streets, now every major political and criminal group is believed to be taking part in this power play, says senior police officer SP Khurram Waris.
Most of these bodies have been found in Lyari and its adjoining areas including Pak Colony, Kharadar, Old Golimar and Garden while others are found in Malir, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Nazimabad, Rizvia, Landhi, Khokhrapar, Shah Faisal Colony and Orangi.
Officials believe that some torturers also negotiate the release of the victims in their custody and try to trade them with one of their own in custody of another group’s torture cell. “This is less of a negotiation game than a numbers game,” said the officials. “One torture cell will do a maximum of three cases because it becomes necessary to change location.”
The gunny bags are usually the same ones that are used to pack flour. The easily available sacks cost just Rs80 have are about four feet long and two feet wide. The sack is usually placed over the victim’s head and pulled down to his feet. The victim’s hands and feet are already tied with either masking tape or a rope. The mouth too is usually gagged. If the victim is taller than four feet, then his legs are folded and a knot is tied at the end. “Bori bandh body - as soon as people hear these words, their blood runs cold,” remarked SSP Chaudhry Aslam Khan. “In the world of crime there is a great fear of this.” He added that sometimes the culprits shoot the victims before packing them into the sack - and sometimes after.
Over a week has been passed but none of the 10 bodies have been identified and the Edhi management decided to bury them at the Edhi graveyard. Photographs are taken and bodies are numbered just in case the families come after the five-day wait. “For some families it is really difficult to identify the bodies because they’re in such bad shape,” said Edhi official Anwar Kazmi.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Haider Abbas Rizvi said that some of their workers have met this fate - some of them were even found with their heads cut off. “There are mafias and gangs in Karachi and they definitely have the resources to keep someone in a place and torture them.”
Torture cells are set up in safe places where usually no police or rival men are allowed, believes Pakistan Peoples Party Karachi president Najmi Alam. “I couldn’t keep someone in my house for up to five days at a stretch and torture them [without someone finding out],” he remarked when pressed on the issue. A certain logic of simple deduction also applies: “And then, no one takes a victim off to kill them in the jungle and then drag their body back to the city to dump. They take people to areas which they dominate - where people are your own - and torture them there.”
The Awami National Party’s Sindh spokesman, Qadir Khan, was more vocal: One hundred per cent there are torture cells in the city, he said. This much is for sure.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2011.