Bruised Body, Mourning Mind, Soaring Spirit

Some readers to this blog may be aware of the great work done by Ensaaf in advocating for human rights. Jaskaran Kaur, Sukhman Dhami, Jasmine Marwaha and the rest of their team deserve the communitys praise for their tireless work advocating for justice in Punjab and beyond. They are among a number of fearless warriors in our community including HS Phulka, Jaspal Singh Dhillon, and the late great Jaswant Singh Khalra.

torture.gifHowever, in addition to their tireless efforts, they should be praised for bringing greater awareness to the wider community about the injustices perpetrated upon the Sikhs by the Indian State. One such example is in the latest edition of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

A team of researchers, including Dr. Andrew Rasmussen of New York University School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital, Dr. Barry Rosenfeld, Kim Reeves, and Allen S. Keller, secretly entered Punjab to conduct their research on Sikh torture victims. Evading the Indian Governments efforts at censorship, the research team, invited by Ensaaf, documented the trauma suffered by these victims of state violence.

The article titled The Effects of Torture-Related Injuries on Long-Term Psychological Distress in a Punjabi Sikh Sample sheds light on the psychological ramifications of torture. The findings of the study are those typical of a scientific journal.

The article sets out to study the association between chronic pain and major depression in the context of trauma. The article records:

From 1984 to 1995, widespread civil unrest and bloodshed occurred in the north Indian state of Punjab (Amnesty International, 2003; Crosette, 2004; Gossman, 1991; Gossman & Iacopino, 1994; Kaur, 2002; Kumar, Singh, Agrwaal, & Kaur, 2003). According to human rights organizations, Indian security forces and Punjabi police tortured, disappeared, executed, and illegally cremated more than 10,000 Punjabi Sikhs. The present study used this population of survivors, a group that was not subject to the confounding effects of migration and resulting acculturation stress that are characteristic of much of the torture literature, to identify the contribution of chronic injuries sustained during torture to subsequent psychopathology.

The methodology and sample details are as follows:

Procedures and sampling method were designed to obtain a representative sample of plaintiffs involved in a class-action lawsuit against the Indian Government for illegally cremating Sikhs (or, in some cases, those mistaken for Sikhs) in Punjab in the 1980s and 1990s. Cremation records were kept by police and made public under a Federal investigation, and it was on these records that we based our sample. Of more than 2,000 illegal cremations registered by Indias Central Bureau of Investigation in two police districts in the city of Amritsar in the late 1980s and early 1990s, family members of 756 decedents were able to be identified by government investigators (based on available cremation records and physical descriptions of decedents, when available). Of the individuals identified, every fourth decedent (189 of 756) was selected from case records, and immediate family members for 160 decedents were contacted (84.7%); accurate contact information was unavailable for 29 families. Of these 160 individuals approached, none refused to participate, although only 130 attended their scheduled appointment at the central interviewing location in Amritsar (81.9%; 1 individual was interviewed about two separate family members who had been selected). Of the 29 who did not keep their appointment, most cited transportation difficulties or other scheduling conflicts as the reasonThis study was approved by the Institutional Review Board of New York University School of Medicine. Precautions were taken to identify and exclude data from any participants suspected of exaggerating symptoms, including a culture-neutral test of malingering (the Dot Counting Test; Binks, Gouvier, & Waters, 1997; see the Measures section below) and physical examinations of those individuals reporting long-term injuries or scars.

Findings revealed:

Although all had experienced the sudden death of at least one family member at the hands of authorities, three-fourths (n _ 91, 78.4%) reported some form of abusive contact with authorities themselves (described in the Method section). These direct experiences of abuse had taken place an average of 11.6 years before the interviews (SD _ 4.2).

The most frequent types of torture were slapping, hitting, or kicking (n _ 43, 37.1%); assault with an object (n _36, 31.0%), suspension from ceiling from hands tied behind the back (n _ 29, 25.0%), stretching legs laterally to a 180angle(n _ 28, 24.1%), and rolling large iron or concrete bars over limbs (n _ 20, 17.2%). A smaller proportion of women (n _ 17 of 44, or 38.6%) had been tortured than men (n_ 44 of 72, or 61.1%), _2(1, N _ 116) _ 5.23, p _ .05, odds ratio (OR) _ .41, 95% confidence interval (CI): .19, .89.

The finding that injury mediates the effect of torture on longterm PTSD provides some clues as to the mechanisms by which these variables interact. Injuries may be a proxy for the severity of the torture experience, as lasting injuries may be associated with harsher physical abuse. One theory presently gaining acceptance is that the intensity of fear and dissociation experienced at time of trauma is the single strongest predictor of the development of PTSD (Marmar et al., 2005; Morgan et al., 2001; Nixon, Resick, & Griffin, 2003). That reports of injuries that had healed did not mediate or moderate this relationship support this severity hypothesis. We also considered that injuries might serve as traumatic cues from which torture survivors cannot escapedaily reminders that continually sensitize individuals to their traumatic experiences and thereby exacerbate or maintain PTSD symptoms, akin to recurring nightmares (Rothbaum & Mellman, 2001). However, given that injuries were not associated with posttraumatic intrusion symptoms, this hypothesis is unlikely.


The importance of documenting torture is extremely vital. Physicians for Human Rights is another organization that has been at the forefront for justice. Despite the enormous number of Sikh doctors in the diaspora I always find it somewhat troubling that I never see their names attached to such reports. I feel EVERY Sikh medical student should be a member of their school’s chapter. Regardless, the work of Dr. Andrew and associates should be commended. Such documentation is vital for ongoing lawsuits against the Indian Government.


Take a stand and be informed.


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6 Responses to “Bruised Body, Mourning Mind, Soaring Spirit”

  1. Sundari says:

    I really believe this is one of the most important issues we can bring attention to. The consequences of human rights violations in Panjab does not only impact the health of individuals as described by the study (although this is substantial) it also has a huge impact on the social fabric of the community. There are so many issues we are observing in Panjab today that, I believe, can be linked to this period of insurgency (high levels of drug abuse, for example). The work being done by Ensaaf, PHR and Human Rights Watch is vital to helping those impacted by years of injustice, especially in helping them receive appropriate treatment for what they experienced. For many years, these violations were not tracked and therefore an analysis could not be done – so the information gathered by the Bellevue team is substantial. While I agree that such documentation is important for ongoing lawsuits against the Indian government, I think it is even more important for the potential impact in can have on providing treatment for these individuals and families.

    I agree that there is a sense of complacency in our community when it comes to human rights activism, and perhaps it stems from a lack of understanding of the spectrum and consequences of torture and the natural tendency for people to dissociate from it. I have come across a couple of blogs where Sikh medical students are discussing these issues but agree that ALL health students should take a more active role in addressing the health and human rights issues occurring in Panjab. The impact of human rights abuses affects all facets of an individual’s health and well-being and therefore there has to be a collaborative approach among many disciplines to fully understand and address the issues.

    Ensaaf should be accoladed for paving a path to address these issues.

  2. Sundari says:

    I really believe this is one of the most important issues we can bring attention to. The consequences of human rights violations in Panjab does not only impact the health of individuals as described by the study (although this is substantial) it also has a huge impact on the social fabric of the community. There are so many issues we are observing in Panjab today that, I believe, can be linked to this period of insurgency (high levels of drug abuse, for example). The work being done by Ensaaf, PHR and Human Rights Watch is vital to helping those impacted by years of injustice, especially in helping them receive appropriate treatment for what they experienced. For many years, these violations were not tracked and therefore an analysis could not be done so the information gathered by the Bellevue team is substantial. While I agree that such documentation is important for ongoing lawsuits against the Indian government, I think it is even more important for the potential impact in can have on providing treatment for these individuals and families.

    I agree that there is a sense of complacency in our community when it comes to human rights activism, and perhaps it stems from a lack of understanding of the spectrum and consequences of torture and the natural tendency for people to dissociate from it. I have come across a couple of blogs where Sikh medical students are discussing these issues but agree that ALL health students should take a more active role in addressing the health and human rights issues occurring in Panjab. The impact of human rights abuses affects all facets of an individuals health and well-being and therefore there has to be a collaborative approach among many disciplines to fully understand and address the issues.

    Ensaaf should be accoladed for paving a path to address these issues.

  3. Phulkari says:

    The work Ensaaf does is highly valuable because human rights abuses impact people and their communities’ emotional, social, mental, and physical health. As Sundari stated,

    … it also has a huge impact on the social fabric of the community

    .

    As we develop a more holistic and interdisciplinary approach to fighting against human rights violations that build a stronger legal case for fighting these injustices we can also move towards concrete and active solutions to help people heal.

    Jodha, could you please share with us more about the picture used on your post. I found it to be very interesting and real. The use of a naked body and a khesdari police officer pulling at the male victim's hair along with the type of physical torture being used by the non-khesdari police officers. How and where did you find it? Who is the artist? Basically, any type of information would be nice. :)

  4. Phulkari says:

    The work Ensaaf does is highly valuable because human rights abuses impact people and their communities emotional, social, mental, and physical health. As Sundari stated,

    … it also has a huge impact on the social fabric of the community

    .

    As we develop a more holistic and interdisciplinary approach to fighting against human rights violations that build a stronger legal case for fighting these injustices we can also move towards concrete and active solutions to help people heal.

    Jodha, could you please share with us more about the picture used on your post. I found it to be very interesting and real. The use of a naked body and a khesdari police officer pulling at the male victim’s hair along with the type of physical torture being used by the non-khesdari police officers. How and where did you find it? Who is the artist? Basically, any type of information would be nice. :)

  5. […] Some bloggers noted it was upsetting to not see Sikh physicians associated with the study. Although I agree to some extent, this is where it gets a bit fuzzy for me. It would be inspirational to see Sikhs in the medical world document the physical and physiologic toll of human rights abuses in Punjab. Yet, these bloggers are setting a dangerous precedent by narrowing the population to be served to Sikhs alone. We, the Sikh Panth, are a nation defined by an insignia: we must maintain our miri and piri and protect our own spiritual and political sovereignty yet embrace the circular symbol of oneness and our duty to humanity by fighting all injustices and actions of oppression. The atrocities in Punjab have most certainly not been brought to an appropriate scale of attention, and we should use that frustration to motivate us. Let us just not remain blind to our current state of affairs. Genocides are going on right now in Kenya, Sudan, Chechnya, Palestine, and Burma. Right now. Yes, I’ll say it again: genocides are happening right now. In fact, we can broaden the list a bit further: when an individual is denied access to healthcare or medications a human rights violation is committed. Which means I’ve indited nearly every country on the planet, including the U.S. and Canada. Our frustration should not only be with the dearth of Sikhs within the field of human rights but with the number of spirited Sikhs enraged by the brutality currently being enforced on our brothers and sisters. Let us start by reading and getting up to speed with current national and world affairs and then ask questions, get linked into organizations such as Human Rights Watch or Physicians for Human Rights, sign petitions, going into the field, blog our thoughts, write letters to the editor, march in the streets, shout from the rooftops… okay, I’ll end before I start calling for total anarchy. But you get my drift, I hope. […]

  6. […] we have discussed the atrocities committed by the Indian state against the Sikhs numerous times, groups such as […]