Monday, January 12, 2015


Dr. Abhishek Karn
Asst. Professor
Dept. of Forensic Medicine & Toxicology, UCMS

Torture of human beings is as old as human race itself. 

In order to increase influence over others, strong human beings have always beaten the weak folk.

Reasons for torture can include punishment, revenge, political re-education, interrogation or coercion of the victim or a third party.
It is considered to be a violation of human rights, and is declared to be unacceptable by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The U.N. convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment has defined torture as:
“Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or third person has committed or is suspected to have committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

Torture is defined as the deliberate, systematic or wanton infliction of physical or mental suffering by one or more persons acting alone or on the orders of any authority, to force another person to yield information, to make a confession, or for any other reason (1975 Declaration of Tokyo)

The methods of torture can be classified as follows:
1. PHYSICAL TORTURE: most common; caused by infliction of pain on an individual; methods are:
(a) Beating: The common weapons/ objects include baton, hands, feet or any other instrument. Usually, blunt weapons are used. Usual injuries are abrasions, contusion and lacerations. Head injury may be there. Sometimes, rupture of liver or hollow organs is also seen.
(b) Falanga: Severe beating on soles of the feet; common in police beatings as due to thick skin, injuries are not much obvious.
(c) Ear torture: Twisting of external ear may be done. Beating on both ears may cause rupture of tympanic membrane and hearing loss. It is sometimes referred to as ‘telephano’.
(d) Finger torture: Pencil or a small object is kept between fingers and pressed on.
(e) Hair torture: Pulling of hair or dragging by hair.
(f) Suspension: The victim may be suspended by legs, hands or hair and may be beaten with rods.
(g) Forced position: The person may be forced to remain in forced positions for hours.
(h) Electric torture: Electrodes may be kept on ears, tongue, genitalia or nipples. Small currents are passed which are very painful.
(i) Suffocation: two types:
Wet submarine: When head is thrown into water, blood, urine or vomitus.
Dry submarine: When a plastic bag is applied on the face.
(j) Burning or cold torture: When heat or cold is applied to torture.

2. PSYCHOLOGICAL TORTURE: common types of psychological tortures:
(a) Sensory deprivation: Keeping in dark, noiseless room; may be blind-folded.
(b) Perceptual deprivation: Changing place many times while blind-folded so as to lose perception of places.
(c) Deprivation of basic need: Holding of food, water, clothes communication, etc. for a long time.
(d) Social deprivation: Confining  to solitary cell.
(e) Witness torture: Victims are forced to see the torture of fellow-victims so as to instill fear in them.
(f) Threats and humiliation: Urination on victims, extending threats of death, showing sham executions.


(a) Sexual torture using instruments:
(i) Penetration of vagina or anus by batons, rods, bottles or similar objects.
(ii) Suspension of weights on penis or scrotum.
(iii) Electric torture of the sexual organs.
(iv) Mutilation of breasts, genital organs.

(b) Sexual torture by using animals:
(i) Rape by trained dogs, monkeys, etc.
(ii) Rats, mice, spiders, lizards, etc., introduced into the vagina or anus.

(c) Sexual torture without the use of instruments:
(i) Verbal sexual abuse and humiliation
(ii) Undressed in front of others
(iii) Rape by person of the opposite sex
(iv) Sexual assault by person of same sex
(v) Squeezing breasts
(vi) Forced to masturbate in front of others
(vii) Forced to perform sexual torture on other victims
(viii) Forced pregnancy
(ix) Being photographed in humiliating positions and situations.

4. PHARMACOLOGICAL TORTURE is the use of drugs to produce psychological or physical pain or discomfort or to facilitate confessions.

The consequences of torture reach far beyond immediate pain.
Many victims suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which includes symptoms such as

  1. flashbacks (or intrusive thoughts),
  2. severe anxiety,
  3. insomnia, nightmares,
  4. depression and memory lapses.

Torture victims often feel guilt and shame, triggered by the humiliation they have endured.
Many feel that they have betrayed themselves or their friends and family.
All such symptoms are normal human responses to abnormal and inhuman treatment.

Physical problems can be wide-ranging, e.g.
sexually transmitted diseases,
musculo-skeletal problems,
brain injury,
post-traumatic epilepsy and dementia or
 chronic pain syndromes.

For these patients, to know another mind is unbearable. To connect with another is irrelevant. They are entrapped in what was born(e) during their trauma

1. General:- Scars, bruises, lacerations, multiple fractures at different stages of healing, especially in unusual locations, which have not been medically treated.
2. On the soles of the feet:- Haemorrhage in the soft tissues of the soles of the feet or fractures of the bones of the feet and ankles. Aseptic necrosis.
3. With the palms on both ears simultaneously:- Ruptured or scarred tympanic membranes. Injuries to external ear.
4. On the abdomen, while lying on a table with the upper-half of the body unsupported (“Operating table”):- Bruises on the abdomen. Back injuries. Ruptured abdominal viscera.
5. To the head:- Bruises. Scars, skull fractures. Cerebral cortical atrophy.

6. By the wrist: Bruises or scars about the wrists, joint injuries.
7. By the arms or neck: Bruises or scars at the site of binding. Prominent lividity in the lower extremities.
8. By the ankles: Bruises or scars about the ankles, joint injuries.
9. Head down, from a horizontal pole placed under the knees with the wrists bound to the knees: Marks on the wrists and ankles. Bruises or scars on the anterior forearms and back of the “Jack”

Near suffocation
10. Forced immersion of head, often in contaminated liquid (wet submarine): Faecal material or other debris in the mouth, pharynx, trachea, oesophagus.
11. Tying a plastic bag over the head (dry submarine):  Intrathoracic petechiae.

Sexual abuse: Sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, injuries

Forced posture
13. Prolonged standing: Dependent oedema. Petechiae in lower extremities.
14. Forced straddling of a bar (Saw horse):  Perineal or scrotal haematomas.

Electric shock
15. Cattle prod:  Appearance of burns depends on the age of the injury. Immediately, spots, vesicles, and/or black exudates, macular scars. At several months: small, white, reddish or brown spots resembling telangiectasias.
16. Wires connected to a source of electricity: Electric burns
17. Heated metal skewer inserted into the anus Peri-anal or rectal burns.

18. Dehydration: Vitreous humor electrolyte abnormalities.
19. Animal bites:  Bite marks.

Torture is often difficult to prove, particularly when some time has passed between the event and a medical examination, or when the torturers are immune from prosecution.
Many torturers around the world use methods designed to have a maximum psychological impact while leaving only minimal physical traces.
Typically deaths due to torture are shown in an autopsy as being due to "natural causes" like heart attack, inflammation, or embolism.

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