Having Taken 88 Lives, Are Pellet Guns Really ‘Non-Lethal’?

Posted by Gaurav Mehta in Kashmir
April 3, 2017

“I only see a blurred image when I look at a book or newspaper,” said Ifra Shakoor, a class VII student to The Week when she was asked about her injury due to pellet guns.

The pandemonium that stirred up in the valley last year, reportedly claimed 88 lives due to injuries from pellet guns leaving an additional 10,000 people injured. The so-called “non-lethal” weapon, shamelessly defended by the Indian government, does not only make a mockery of democracy (which is supposed to protect its own people even while taming the violence) but, is also a scathing attack on the fundamental right of a human, the right to live.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which comes under the UN, in its Article 7 states, “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Consequently, the use of pellet guns is not only a gross violation of human rights but, is also contemptuous of this treaty.

It was in the year 2010 when pellet guns were first introduced as a “non-lethal” crowd control method. Since then, it has not only claimed hundreds of lives but has also drawn sharp criticism from various corners of the society. In July 2016, the Jammu and Kashmir Bar Association filed a plea in the High Court to ban the use of pellet guns as a crowd control method. The court not only quashed the plea, it also directed the state health agencies to arrange better facilities for those who were suffering.

Unfazed by this development, the bar association moved to the Supreme Court. The SC observed that the use of pellet guns is “a life and death issue” but also exhorted the government to look out for better methods of crowd control, using better technology. This clearly indicates that even the Supreme Court was uncomfortable with the use of pellet guns.

Despite so much criticism and hullabaloo over the indiscriminate use of these guns, the government has stated that if alternative crowd control methods fail, pump action guns may still be used in the Valley. The new pellet guns, as they argued, would consist of a “deflector” on the muzzle to hit the protesters below their waist, thus, minimizing the chance of blindness.

Even then, many experts term this decision as a part of the Centre’s iron fist policy to tackle protesters. The opposition leader of the J&K assembly, and former Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah lashed out at the government over the way it handled the uprising of summer, 2016.

Many experts, including the retired Major Gaurav Arya, speculated that the unrest that the valley grappled with last year could return this summer, and the valley would once again slip in this quagmire of unending stone pelting and perpetual curfews.

Nursing staff of Sri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital, Srinagar staged protest against civilian killings and use of Pellet guns by Government forces.

The intransigence on the government’s part is absolutely appalling. The impassiveness of the government raises some very pertinent questions: Is the government actually resolute to offer Kashmir the peace it deserves? How fair is to use such torturous tactics to tame its own people, even if they are misled?

How just is it to term the use of pellet guns as completely non-lethal even when scores of people have died because of them, thousands being injured with the state’s health machinery incapable of handling pellet injuries?

What the government needs to understand here is that there is a huge trust deficit between Delhi and Srinagar. To fill this gap, proactive approach with the concocted mixture of kashmiriyat (Kashmiri consciousness), jamhuriyat (democracy) and most importantly, insaniyat (humanity) is required. The use of pellet guns only exacerbates this situation by fueling the already unrestrained unrest.

Until and unless this gap between the world’s largest democracy and the world’s most heavily militarized region is filled, we will continue to have more Ifras losing their eyesight and ultimately, their dream to see peace!