It has become a trend in law enforcement that for every problem, there is a single solution: the use of force. This trend extends to Jammu and Kashmir (India), where state authorities are using force as a form of crowd control, arming themselves with lethal and non-lethal weapons and inflicting series injuries on demonstrators.
Jammu and Kashmir is a state where the permanent deployment of security forces has been maintained by the Government of India to fight cross border insurgency and infiltration. A conflict is being fought between India and Pakistan for sovereignty over the region, known as the infamous ‘K-issue’. Regular ceasefire violations, border skirmishes and terrorist acts continue to this day. Throughout all of this, the deployment of central security forces with extraordinary powers like AFSPA, 1990 and local police with PSA has resulted in serious human rights violations in the region, including many incidents of fake killings, mass graves, rapes.
Based on critical findings that security forces had regularly opened fired on peaceful protestors, the Government of India began to adopt ‘non lethal’ weapons, introducing pellet guns and pepper guns from 2010 onwards.
The paramilitary forces and J&K policemen firing the pellet guns have been accused of using them at close range, aiming at the chests and heads of protesters. So too have they ignored government advice by extending their use beyond the capital, Srinagar, to the downtown areas of the city, as well as in villages.
Recently, it was reported that Hamid Nazir Bhat, a 16 year old boy from Palhalan village (Jammu and Kashmir), had lost vision in his right eye after it was pierced by pellets, while more than a hundred iron balls pierced his face and body. It’s claimed that Bhat was taking part in protest when police shot him, however his family claims that he was actually going to an after school tuition class.
A report outlined that one cartridge of pellet guns contains 400-500 pellets, resembling ball bearings. They come in grades of 5 to 12, five being the largest, fastest and with the widest range. Though written instructions have been given to use the number 9 pellet for crowd control, as it does not cause lasting damage, the directive isn’t followed. In villages number 6 and 7 pellets are being used regularly.
Though no definitive record of those injured by pellet guns in recent years is available, some figures suggest more than 700 people have suffered extreme injuries as a result of hundreds of the iron balls penetrating their skulls, face and eyes. Approximately 70% of victims have lost sight in one or both eyes. Proper treatment and recording of injuries is also made difficult due to police spies recording victim’s details with the intention of arresting them and often extorting money.
Pellets are being used by security forces in a manner that violates the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. The Basic Principles state that law enforcement shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence and the legitimate objective to be achieved. Furthermore, it requires that governments shall ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offence under their law.
By paying scant regard to such concepts, officials are inflicting serious injuries and ‘permanent disability’ to protestors. It is unclear whether any standard operating procedures are in use or not. There is also a lack of protection for those injured by pellets as they are subject to further harassment from the police and military during their care at hospitals.
A public interest litigation case filed in the High Court of J&K was dismissed on the basis of insufficient research. However, after a state minister in the J&K government demanded the end of the use of pellet guns, and criticism from Amnesty International and Doctor’s Association, police officials have hinted that the guns may be withdrawn from their armoury. Hopefully the practice will end before more protestors are shot.