Kashmir: Indian Police Look to Replace Pellet Guns For Crowd Control

By Adeel Shah
150623-IN-pellet-620 Tariq Gojri, who lost his right eye to a pellet gun, sits with a relative at his home in Khanpora, Kashmir, March 22, 2013.

Police in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir have acknowledged that pellet guns can be harmful, and they are exploring safer alternatives to dispersing crowds of stone-throwing demonstrators.

“The idea to introduce pellet guns in 2010 was to cause less injury to the protesters,” J&K Director General of Police K. Rajendra Kumar told BenarNews.

“Since pellet guns – a non-lethal weapon – are causing injuries, we are now in the process of looking for an alternative and introducing a weapon which would be less harmful and also help our men to disperse the protesters.”

He added: “During the protests, minors who are involved in stone-pelting activities usually became the victims. We have initiated steps to identify these minors and provide them counseling session, so that they can stay away from these activities.”

Tenth-grade student Hamid Bhat is a recent casualty. Doctors at a hospital in Amritsar, in the northern Indian state of Punjab, are trying to restore his lost eyesight.

The 16-year-old said he was walking to a tuition class from his home on May 21, when he was caught up in a crowd of protestors observing a general strike to commemorate the death anniversary of Mirwaiz Mohammed Farooq, a prominent Kashmiri separatist leader.

He was badly injured in both eyes by pellets allegedly fired by Indian police, who were trying to break up a public demonstration in Pattan, a town in northern Kashmir.

“Initially, we admitted Hamid in Srinagar, but we didn’t take any risks and rushed him to Punjab for the treatment,” Hamid’s father, carpet weaver Nazir Ahmad Bhat, told BenarNews.

“Doctors have removed the pellets from his eyes and, slowly, his eyesight is coming back.”

‘My life has changed, for worse’

Hamid is luckier than other people in the Kashmir valley, who have gone blind as a result of injuries from pellet guns.

Ishtiyaq Ahmad (name changed), 45, a resident of the old city in Srinagar, was shot in the eyes with pellets two years ago.

He said he was shopping for vegetables at a market when he was accidentally injured by pellet-gun fire as police dispersed a crowd of stone throwers.

“I was not aware that the stone-pelting was going on. I was returning home from the market, when the pellets hit my eyes,” Ishtiyaq told BenarNews.

“I’ve undergone a few surgeries in Kashmir, but still I’ve not been able to see properly through my right eye,” he said. “My life has changed, for worse.”

At very close range

Pellet guns were added to the police’s arsenal in 2010, during a surge in anti-India unrest. Kashmir, a Himalayan region claimed by both India and Pakistan, has long been at the center of tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals.

According to doctors who treat people injured by pellets, most have been hit from very close range.

Dr. Waseem Rashid, a physician at the state-run Sheri Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) Hospital, said that most of his patients who had suffered such injuries had gone blind.

“When a pellet hit an eye from a close range, it causes severe damage,” he told BenarNews.

Demand for ban

Political parties and human rights groups, meanwhile, have severely criticized the security forces for using pellet guns, and are demanding that the weapons be banned.

Amnesty International India has called to the state government end the use of pellet guns.

“The police have a duty to protect lives and safety and prevent violent crimes. However, in carrying out this duty, they must use non-violent means, as far as possible,” Shemeer Babu, program director at the Indian chapter of the human rights watchdog, said in a statement last month.

“When the use of force is unavoidable because of compelling reasons, it should be only what is strictly necessary and to the extent required,” Shemeer added.

Junaid Matoo, spokesman of the National Conference, a J&K opposition party, told BenarNews that the pellet-gun policy was “very sad” and needed to stop.

Responding to the criticism, a senior state minister said the government would take measures to avoid such incidents in the future.

“When we were in opposition, we had raised voice against the use of pellet guns. Today, we are the part of the government, so it is our duty to avoid such incidents,” Naeem Akhter, J&K’s minister for education, told BenarNews.


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