“The government and security agencies are exploring ways to break the cycle of violence that has taken more than thirty lives since the protests over Burhan Wani’s death started”, reported a J&K correspondent of an English news channel on Tuesday night. It is inevitable that the ‘cycle of violence’ will come to a halt in some time but in this sanitised and often one-sided reporting of the Kashmir conflict, where violence is looked at in isolation, what is overlooked is the long lasting effects of the so called ‘non-lethal’ weapons(pellet guns) used by security agencies in the valley.In the last few days, this writer has not come across a single mention of how these guns serve to break the Kashmiri psyche by maiming them for life. In the last couple of days there has been some amount of media attention on pellet guns but without questioning the rationale behind using them on unarmed crowds.
At the time of writing at least 34people are dead and more than 1400 injured. The injured include several children and young adults, so do the dead. The dead are gone and their families will remember them as martyrs and mourn their loss as well, but those injured by the pellet guns will live, some without eyes, others with scars, and injuries that will take years to heal. Already, nearly 100 cases of severe eye injuries have been reported since 9th July, the day Hizbul militant Burhan Wani was buried. Most of these cases need surgeries and the possibility of people losing vision as high as 80%. Many children are among those affected by the pellet gun, some of them as young as 8 years.
What are Pellet Guns?
Remember those dacoit-films of the Sholay kind, the twin-barrelled long rifles which burly men used to carry with cartridges carried around in belts. The pellets guns in Kashmir are the shotgun versions of those .12 bore rifles, which are the most common weapon of choice for thousands of farmers who use it to protect their fields from animals like wild boars and ‘Nil Gais’. Their cartridges contain hundreds of small pellets that once shot move in the air like a dispersive cloud of hot lead balls and then scatter even further once they crossed their ‘range’. They are not accurate nor non-lethal as the scores of cases of cases of children who were injured when they were hit by pellets inside the relative safety of their homes affirm.
Pellet guns were first used in 2010, when the protests over the fake encounter killings of three villagers from Nadihal village in Baramulla, engulfed the valley for several weeks. The then National Conference government led by Omar Abdullah allowed pellet guns to be used for controlling furious mobs. The government says pellet guns are non-lethal and is an effective way to control crowds. 112 persons were killed in those protests, one of them, 11 year old TufailMattoo who was playing cricket but got caught in the crossfire.
While pellet guns were introduced for ‘’non-lethal but focussed and effective crowd control’’, they can kill as well as maim. According to activist and writer Mannan Bukhari, the first death from such a pellet gun was on 19th August, 2010, when 20-year old MudassirNazir and his friends were sprayed with pellets when returning home after breaking the Ramzan fast in Avantipora. Mannan writes in his book, Kashmir: Scars of Pellet Gun, “Due to pellet injuries almost the whole small intestine of Mudasir was perforated with massive gangrene. Doctors faced massive problems while operating Mudasir who got multiple pellet injuries in multiple organs”.
Since 2010, at almost every small or large protest, whether in Srinagar or in smaller towns, the Central Reserve Paramilitary Force and the J & K police have been extremely generous with the use of pellet guns.While the older version of these pellet guns are like the pump-action shotguns that indiscriminately shoot 400-500 small pellets into the air.The newer ones are more compact and light. These pellets are made of lead and alimony, both poisonous, and cause infection which can also lead to eventual death.According to sources, these guns are being produced at the government ordinance factory in Khadki, Pune.
Blind to Pellet Guns’ Brutality
Last year, justifying the use of these guns in case of a blinding of a 16-year old boy, Javed Gilani, IG, J&K police said, “How can a deterrent be set then? How are stone-throwers to be stopped?” His comments are symptomatic of the well-entrenched attitude of security establishment. Deterrence over democracy and continuation of the conflict- compact between the various stakeholders like the police, the army, state government and mainstream political parties. They appear more than willing to turn a blind eye to the suffering of innocent Kashmiris in the name of ‘law and order’, and ‘security’.
Politics over Pellet Guns
Exact figures are hard to come by, but, by March 2013, the large-scale injuries being caused by pellet guns were enough for Mehbuba Mufti’s PDP to walk out of the assembly to protest the use of ‘harmful weapons on the public’, she was quoted by media reports as saying, “The use of pellets by the security personnel while dealing with the protesters is adversely affecting People’s health. People are being injured and killed by the pellet Guns”.
In March 2014, once again then opposition leader Mehbuba Mufti thundered in the assembly against the NC government’s use of pellet guns. She said, “Instead of their promised honey & milk, what they gave the people of Kashmir- pellet guns, chilli grenades, PSAs, arrests, disabilities and police cases”.
In March 2015, international human rights group Amnesty International explicitly demanded a ban on the use of pellet guns. It needs to be noted here that pellet guns are used in no other Indian state except Jammu and Kashmir. This writer could also find no reference or evidence of these guns being used for ‘crowd control’ anywhere else. Not even the recent Jat protests in Haryana in which more than 30 people died and the army had to be called in. Activists in Kashmir valley claim, that these guns are banned from testing on even animals in the USA.
The famous Prussian war strategist, Clauseuwitz said, “the supreme object of war is to render the enemy incapable of resistance”. The Indian strategy in Kashmir appears to be following this principle at the cost of further de-legitimisation of its rule. Law and order must be maintained but not by treating Kashmiris like enemies and by leaving hundreds of young men disabled and their families economically and emotionally crippled. The Mehbuba Mufti – BJP government should take immediate steps to ban the use of pellet guns in the valley. It might be a much-needed ‘healing touch’ and might just halt the cycle of violence.
(An edited version of this story first appeared in the Economic Times.)