March 2017 News
Six Youth Face Partial Blindness: Why Kashmir's Pellet Woes Are Far From Over8 March 2017
The Hindustan Times
Srinagar: The partial blinding of six young men over the weekend during protests in Tral has underlined the continued use of pellet guns in Kashmir despite criticism, calls for ban and even assurances from security forces. The six were injured on Sunday when security forces fired pellets at protesters who were allegedly trying to hamper a counter-insurgency operation in Tral in which two militants and a policeman were killed. A senior ophthalmologist at Srinagar's SMHS hospital where they are admitted told HT that the injuries were 'bad' and the patients would have to undergo at least two rounds of surgeries before ascertaining whether vision will be restored or not. Hospital figures show that more than 6,000 people have suffered pellet wounds with at least 1,100 eyes injuries in the unrest that began on July 8, 2016, after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. The use of the 'non-lethal' weapon in Kashmir drew international condemnation by rights groups and called for 'restraint' - including an appeal by home minister Rajnath Singh. The minister urged the youth not to engage in stone-pelting and also asked security forces to refrain from using pellet guns against protesters. Amnesty International in its annual report described pellet guns as 'inherently inaccurate and indiscriminate'. As an alternative measure, the CRPF proposed the use of a modified version of pellet guns with a 'deflector'. The new design would ensure that gunshots are directed at the lower body, saving the face and eyes of stone-pelting protesters. In February, CRPF's Srinagar-based IG Ravideep Sahi told HT that the force had nearly 800 pellet guns and deflectors would be installed by the end of March or early April. 'We have tested the deflector and it was found satisfactory,' Sahi said. Last month, the eyes of two teenaged boys were partially damaged when security forces used pellets to disperse a mob in Kulgam during an encounter. But while victims grapple with their blindness, the personnel on the ground say without pellets it would be 'very difficult to tackle to the violent stone-pelting mob'. 'It's very simple. If pellets are not used, then bullets will be used - which will take lives,' said a CRPF officer on the condition of anonymity. The officer, who has been at the forefront of stone-pelting protesters many times, said: 'The motive of the mob here is to lynch us and snatch our weapons - unlike in any other agitation elsewhere in the country. To keep them at bay, you need something which causes minimum bodily harm, not fatal.' The protesters, he added, are immune to crowd-control measures like tear-gas and rubber bullets. 'If pellets are not used, and the protesters feel there is no restricting force then the situation on the ground deteriorates further.' A recent report by a national daily stated that 5,000-odd pump-action guns and six lakh pellet cartridges would be issued to the CRPF in Jammu and Kashmir. Former chief minister Omar Abdullah had reacted on Twitter to the news of increased number of pellet gun injuries in Kashmir: 'So much for the assurance that pellet guns would be used in 'rarest of rare cases.' Sahi said every situation on the ground had a 'graduated response' and pellet guns were fired only if the situation took a 'very dangerous turn'. He added that pellets were fired after issuing necessary warning to and firing tear-smoke shells at the protesters. Asked about mitigating the effects of pellets, director general of state police, SP Vaid, outlined a four-point suggestion. 'First, it should not be used as a first resort but as a last one, short of opening fire. Second, the weapon should be used only by an officer's order,' said Vaid. He also said the weapon should not be fired from close range (which often leads to fatalities) and that the police and CRPF should start using the modified pellet guns - fitted with new deflectors - as soon as possible.