Kashmir
One need not be part of the protests to be a victim of this ‘non-lethal’ weapon.
PTI/file photo

A week after the poster boy of new age Kashmir militancy, Burhan Wani, was killed by Indian security forces in an encounter, the number of people who have lost their lives in the subsequent protests that have erupted in the Valley stands at 37 (including security personnel).

Among the hundreds who have been injured, there is a significant number who are at risk of losing their eyesight permanently after ‘non-lethal’ pellet guns were used against them in an attempt to quell the protests.

Use of pellet guns is one of the many human rights violations being perpetrated in the Valley.

However, one need not be a part of rallies or retaliate against the police to be a victim of this ‘non-lethal’ weapon.

Nine-year-old Tamana Ashraf was admitted to SMHS Hospital in Srinagar on the evening of July 10 after her mother found her bleeding from her left eye. Tamana was hit by a pellet while she was watching a clash between protestors and security forces through a window from the confines of her home in Ganderbal.

Although there are no official figures, a NDTV report on the same says that within a space of five days, at least a 100 people were admitted with pellet injuries on their eyes and all of them could lose their eyesight according to doctors.

Thankfully, Tamanna’s eyesight won’t be affected, doctors told her mother.

Pellet guns were introduced in the Valley for the first time in 2010, according to Kashmir: Scars Of Pellet Gun by Mannan Bukhari, head of Kashmir Rights Monitoring Center. 

A Hindustan Times report states that 300 people in the valley have suffered eye injuries due to pellet guns and out of them at least 16 have lost their eyesight till date.

In his book, Bukhari writes how the ‘non-lethal’ bullets actually prove to be quite fatal in real life, with serious injuries inflicted on innocent, unintended targets.

As opposed to bullet wounds, injuries from pellet guns require the intervention of multiple specialist doctors as innumerable pellets can penetrate multiple parts of the body in a single instance, he points out.

The book also cites a 1997 American Academy of Paediatrics study which said that 66 percent of eye injuries due to pellet guns result in partial vision loss or blindness. The same study says that other than eye injuries, pellets can also cause severe infections.

Incidentally, the PDP - the current ruling party in J&K - walked out of the state assembly protesting over the use of these guns in February 2014.

Human rights group

Human rights organizations like Amnesty International have called for prohibition on the use of pellet guns.

“In policing protests, the police must also distinguish between persons engaging in violence and peaceful demonstrators or bystanders. Any force used should be only against those acting violently, and the police should always ensure that uninvolved persons are protected from injury.

“When the police are trying to contain violent persons, it is important that they focus any use of force accurately at those individuals. However, pellet guns cannot ensure well-targeted shots and risk causing serious injury, including to bystanders or other protesters not engaging in violence. These risks are almost impossible to control.”

“Because of this high potential to cause unwarranted injury, including to bystanders and others, pellet guns should have no place in law enforcement,” said Shemeer Babu, Programmes Director at Amnesty International India in May 2015.

Legality

“The use of pellet guns is not in line with international standards on the use of force. The objectives of the police should be achieved in a less harmful way with other devices which can be more accurately aimed, and where the risk of harm can be better controlled,” added Babu.

Further, it does not conform with Section 129 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) argues Bukhari in his book.

According to a report in DTE, the pellet guns used by the CRPF and the state police are made at the Indian Ordnance Factory Ammunition Factory in Pune and the shots are generally made of lead-based alloy. 

The report states that the usage does not meet UN standards according to ‘Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials’ as pellet guns are meant to be used at some distance.

Although most of the political class elsewhere in the country has remained silent on the issue, AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi on July 12 sought an all-party meeting to discuss the issue.

Also, a petition on Change.org addressed to the Ministry of Home Affairs has attracted more than 6,000 signatures within two days.