Where blinding a person is a lesser punishment than killing him

On Saturday, J&K Government told High Court that around 446 people had been hit in their eyes by pellets over 42 days of the turmoil. But the figure was only about the patients admitted to the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital. Government has yet to get the numbers from the other hospitals of the Valley including that of Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences and those who have gone outside the state for treatment. Still the number presented to the court by the Advocate General Jahangir Iqbal Ganaie is unconscionably large. His affidavit mentions the “multiple structural damage” to the   eye balls  About 358 patients have had “open globe injuries” and have undergone  primary repair of the injured eyes.

However, the  Government affidavit has stayed short of revealing the status of the eye-sight of the persons, 14 percent of whom reportedly are below the age of 15.  So far, a random figure of more than a hundred youth losing their eye-sight either partially or permanently is doing the rounds for the past one month. This figure is quoted by the media more or less of its own. There has been no revision despite the fact that the number of the persons hit in the eye by pellets has risen exponentially.  According to the CRPF report to the High Court, the force has used as many as 1.64 million pellets and 3665 cartridges, in just 34 days of the uprising. This is a disproportionate use of force which belies the CRPF claim that it uses the pellet guns only in extreme situations. Truth is that this so called non-lethal weapon has been used in a callous disregard of its lethal consequences. And both J&K Police and the CRPF have continued to use the weapon despite the calls for restraint from no less than the home minister Rajnath Singh.

The CRPF has justified the use of the pellet gun on the grounds that there was no less lethal alternative to them. "In case this (pellet shotgun) is withdrawn, the CRPF would have no recourse in extreme situations but to open fire with rifles, which may cause more fatalities," the paramilitary force told the High Court. The argument hardly stands to reason. This almost means as if Kashmir is the only place in the world experiencing the protests and CRPF is the force charged to deal with them. Or that the ferocity of Kashmiri unrest has  no parallel anywhere in the world and blinding protesters is the only recourse available to the law enforcement agency next to killing them. One can’t but wonder how the governments dealt with the protests of similar intensity and scale in the past. Or why talk of past, Government didn’t use pellet guns to quell recent violent agitations in Haryana and Gujarat.

CRPF has a point when it talks about preventing killings. But has it? Or for that matter J&K Police? The loss of Kashmiri lives in this round of uprising has been worse than the three successive summer unrests until 2010. And pellet guns were only introduced towards the end of 2010 uprising. Besides, any law enforcement system that makes blinding a person in some way preferable to killing him suffers a serious problem in its moral compass. And one of the major factors fuelling the current cycle of unrest in Valley is that there is none on the government side who can speak from a moral high ground or can at least muster a degree of empathy for the continuing tragic state of affairs. 

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