Torture means 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 from a third person) information or confession, punishing him for an act he has committed, intimidating him or other persons, or as a source of pleasure to the torturer. The methods of torture include: electric shocks; beatings, especially in sensitive areas of the body; hanging prisoners upside down; threats against the families of prisoners; deprivation of food and sleep for days; singeing with cigarettes; administration of psychoactive, curare-like, sulphur and other drugs, etc. Instances of death under torture are known. For many victims surviving the torture has not necessarily meant a blessing. Physically maimed or psychologically shattered, these people are unable to lead a normal life. Deafness, loss of speech and brain damage are among the injuries that have been sustained.
Rarely before in history has torture been of such widespread use. Torture has become a common instrument of state policy practised against almost anyone that ruling cliques see as a threat to their power. Latin America is the continent where torture is still most systematically practised by officials for political reasons. Caning and flogging and in a few countries amputations are inflicted as court-ordered punishments on common criminals. In Turkey, political prisoners are only a small minority of those who suffer torture. Baljit Singh was blinded by the police in Bihar, India in 1980; 36 suspected criminals suffered the same fate. It is estimated that two thirds of the world's governments have recently tortured or cruelly treated their political or non-political detainees.
Torture may be of a political or quasi-legal nature or of a purely personal nature where the victims may be animals, plants, members of the torturer's family or friends or other individuals. Both categories of torture hold a personal element, but the former, being institutionalized, is more widespread and devastating in its effect.