At the centre of the relentless trouble in Jammu and Kashmir are the bleeding faces of young men and women. These pellet injuries suffered by hundreds of people, carry a story of decades of deep divide between the security forces and Kashmiris. Though Home Minister Rajnath Singh has assured maximum restraint by security forces while using these weapons, the damage seems to have been done.
Singh has approved an expert committee under T.V.S.N. Prasad, joint secretary in home ministry, to explore alternatives to pellet guns. “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 K. Durga Prasad, director general of CRPF.
But, why are they used only in Kashmir, and nowhere else in India, during trouble? Former Border Security Force chief D.K. Pathak said the pellet gun was being widely used in many countries for crowd control. “It was first procured for the BSF about a decade ago to be used on the eastern border, as a nonlethal weapon, to deal with cattle smugglers. Subsequently it was issued to CRPF for law and order duties,” he said.
A CRPF officer said the force used the weapon in the valley only when it was forced to. “Rubber bullets are also considered nonlethal. But during the 2013-14 agitations rubber bullets caused fatal injuries and people went to the High Court to ban its use by the CRPF. The High Court refused to ban its use as nonlethal weapon,” he said.
Why are these nonlethal weapons becoming lethal? “All these weapons are supposed to be used from a certain distance. But on the ground, the security forces wait till the protestors come too close and there is impending danger to their life. These challenges and their use can best be judged and assessed by the person on the ground,” said a Central paramilitary force officer.
Officials in the home ministry said the government was keen to consult all sections of society and was closely working with the state government to bridge the divide with the youth. But before that, the focus was on helping the survivors of the violence whose wounds would take a long time to heal.