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In Kashmir, old torture centers get makeover

In Kashmir, former torture centers are being refurbished into pricey homes and even an IT hub as the international spotlight grows on India's use of torture.

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In the foothills around Srinagar, overlooking tranquil Dal Lake, sits the stately bungalow of a former chief minister of Kashmir. The lawn is perfectly cropped and the air filled with birdsong.

But for Abdul Qadeer, who was once imprisoned in the house, the place evokes memories of howls of pain and the smell of flesh.

“I was blindfolded and my hands were tied behind my back. Everything smelled of stale flesh, and I thought I had been brought into a butcher’s shop,” says Mr. Qadeer, recalling his first moments in what was the most dreaded torture center in Srinagar.

During the Kashmir uprising of the 1990s, Indian forces commandeered cinema halls, hotels, heritage buildings, and even government school buildings, turning some of them into torture centers for those suspected of supporting Kashmir’s separation from India.

When the armed militancy declined over the past decade, the government started to remove some torture houses from the landscape to back its claim of a return to normalcy in the Kashmir Valley and usher in tourists. The state is now converting one torture center to a police information technology hub. Other prime properties have been snapped up by Kashmir’s top politicians and bureaucrats.

“It is criminal that the torture centers where people disappeared and were mutilated have been fashioned into houses and are not being investigated,” says Parvez Imroz, lawyer and human rights activist.

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