Kashmir unrest

Rubber bullets in 2013, pellets in 2016: Why non-lethal weapons turn lethal?

APTOPIX India Kashmir Protest (File) An X-ray sheet shows pellet injuries on Insha Malik, 14, as a relative sits by her hospital bed in Srinagar. Insha was hit by pellets while watching a protest | AP
  • The trust has been eroded once again, much before it could be built upon by the new governments, both at the Centre and the state.

At the centre of the relentless turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir are bleeding faces of young men and women with heart wrenching injuries, leaving scars in the hearts and minds of many that may last a lifetime.

These pellet injuries suffered by hundreds of people, that has claimed at least 37 lives till now, carry a story of decades of deep alienation and divide between the central security forces deployed in JK and the locals. The trust has been eroded once again, much before it could be built upon by the new governments, both at the Centre and the state.

The horror of the alleged use of indiscriminate firing by the security forces has also given an advantage to inimical groups operating in the valley who can paint the security forces in black. A committee is being setup by the home ministry to look into the use of pellets by the CRPF.

While Home Minister Rajnath Singh has spoken of maximum restraint by security forces, the damage is already done.

“We feel very sorry for them as youngsters have to bear injuries due to firing of pellet guns. We will try to limit their use to bare minimum,”said Director General of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) K. Durga Prasad , whose years of experience in battling counter insurgency in the country tell him that it would neither be practical nor prudent to promise out of the box solutions.

Critics, however, cry foul questioning why is the CRPF using pellet guns in JK when it does not use them to quell agitations in the hinterland like the Jat agitation in Haryana?

READ: Kashmir unrest: Pellet-hit faces of celebrities, leaders go viral

Former chief of the border security force (BSF), D.K.Pathak explains that the pellet gun which is actually known as Pump Action Gun is popularly used by the US police and many other countries for crowd control.

“Various number of cartridges are used depending upon the number of pellets. We use 7 number which contains approximately 100 pellets. This weapons was selected after detailed deliberations in the home ministry. It was first procured for the BSF about a decade back to be used on Eastern border, as a non lethal weapon, to deal with cattle smugglers. Because Bangladesh was making a lot of hue and cry for use of lethal weapons, this was to improve relations with them,” former BSF Director General told THE WEEK.

“Subsequently this weapon was issued to CRPF also for Law and Order duties,” he said.

Top security officials posted in JK said the question that arises now is whether it should be used by the CRPF in the Valley, where central forces are not seen as best friends of the local population anyway.

There is a counter argument ready with the forces deployed on the ground.

“In the past rubber bullets were used to deal with stone peters in JK . Rubber bullets are also considered non-lethal. But during 2013-14 agitations rubber bullets also caused fatal and serious injuries and a lot of hue and cry was made so much so that they went to JK high court to ban it's use by the CRPF. After detailed deliberations high court didn't agree and refused to ban its use as non-lethal weapon,” the official said.

The next question that arises is why are non-lethal weapons becoming lethal?

“All these weapons are supposed to be used from beyond a certain distance so that it makes sound and its pellets don't cause lethal injuries. But on the ground, the security forces wait till the cries (of protestors) comes too close and there is impending danger to their life. Till then they avoid using it.”

“These challenges and their use can best be judged and assessed by the person on the ground,” explained a central paramilitary force official who sat in his dusty humid room in the force headquarters in CGO complex (a building that houses the CRPF, BSF, CISF, ITBP in the National Capital) going through pictures of bleeding and injured CRPF personnel who were trying to control the mob throwing stones and kicking them as they fell on the ground, all in the line of duty.

The pictures bring out the raging discontent and anger of the stone pelters as well as the agony of the force personnel entrusted with the responsibility of maintaining calm in the Valley. Clearly, the solution lay not between the two confronting sides but somewhere else.

''Public outreach is the key to deal with the present crisis. Such situations can't be handled by security forces alone," said Pathak.

Officials in the home ministry said the government is keen to hold dialogue with all sections of the society and is closely working with the Mehbooba Mufti government to bridge the vast divide with the youth who are indulging in violence. But before that, the focus is on helping the survivors of the large-scale violence whose wounds will take long time to heal.

Expert committee constituted

The home minister has approved the constitution of a seven-member expert committee under the chairmanship of T.V.S.N. Prasad, Joint Secretary in MHA, for exploring possible alternatives to pellet guns as non-lethal weapons.

Other members of the committee include Atul Karwal, IG, CRPF in Srinagar, Rajeev Krishna, IG (Operations) in BSF, Rajesh Kumar, IPS, J&K Police, Tushar Tripathy, DDG, Small Arms, Ordinance Factory Board (OFB), Dr. Manjit Singh, Director, Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory (TBRL) which functions under DRDO in Chandigarh and Dr. Naresh Bhatnagar, a Professor in IIT, Delhi . The committee has been asked to submit its report within two months.

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