A Blind Spot

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The CRPF Director General K Durga Prasad has ruled out avoiding the use of pellet guns in Kashmir, defending the  weapon as the least non-lethal. Prasad has also obliquely blamed the blindings in Valley to the inadequate “annual training” of his personnel fighting the protesters. He said that as many as 114 companies, or over 11,000 personnel, have been pulled out midway through their training so they can be deployed in Kashmir to control the unrest.

Prasad has been backed in his assertion by none other than Army. The Northern Command Chief Lieutenant General D S Hooda said there is a requirement of non-lethal weaponry, adding that pellet guns are classified as part of this weaponry. Incidentally, both statements have come in the wake of the home minister Rajnath Singh’s assurance in Parliament and Kashmir that the centre would review the use of pellet guns in mob control.  In fact, centre has decided to set up an expert committee to suggest alternatives in two months.

However, the state government, on the other hand, has by and large adopted silence. And this is inexplicable. One would have expected that the state government would be the most pro-active on the issue. More so, when the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has taken an aggressive stance against the use of pellet guns when she was in opposition.

 But it is also true that in more than 35 days of the recent Assembly session, if there was an issue that went conspicuously unnoticed, it is the use of the non-lethal weapons in the state and their lethal toll in the state: Apart from the unfolding tragedy of the blindings in Valley due to the use of pellet guns, over the past several years, scores of the youth have lost their sight in one or both the eyes as a result of the indiscriminate use of the so called non-lethal weapon. A predominant number of these youth is in their early twenties. Many are also teenagers, just starting out in their lives.

Theirs is a silent tragedy which has been sporadically taken note of by the media and then forgotten. Their families, most of them poor, are left alone to bear the prohibitive expenses on the treatment. A large number of the victims rush to eye-care hospitals in Chandigarh and Amritsar. But the treatment doesn’t necessarily succeed. If the data from these hospitals is anything to go by, around thirty percent of the pellet-hit youth lose the sight in one or both eyes. And considering hundreds of the youth have travelled to Punjab’s eye institutes over the  past five years, one can imagine the number of the youth who must have partially or completely gone blind.

But the ongoing unrest has wrought total havoc. Besides the death of around 50 people, use of pellet guns has either impaired the vision or partially or completely blinded more than hundred youth. But far from creating a discourse to do away with these lethal weapons, CRPF and Army has rallied around to their defence, much like they do in case of AFSPA. And the state government is acting like a spectator. Nobody from the PDP is saying anything. So much for self-cultivated image of the party with a difference.

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