On pellet gun, civil society should step up

It is now official, J&K has no plan to ban  the pellet guns. That is, if there was any hope that the government would take such a step on its own after the union government appointed review committee justified its use earlier this year. Replying to a question in the J&K Assembly, the government made it clear that there was no plan to ban the pellet gun, terming the weapon as  “the last resort to control violent mobs”.  Really? Was weapon used in Kashmir when all other means of crowd control failed? Not at all.  In fact, given the widespread havoc wrought by the  pellet guns in Kashmir over the course of the five month unrest, no one can argue that the weapon was used  only as the last resort. Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) itself told the Jammu and Kashmir High Court in an affidavit that in the first 32 days of the unrest, it had used 1.3 million pellets to control protests in Kashmir. The CRPF’s affidavit had come in response to  a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking a complete ban on use of pellet guns to control protests in Kashmir.  According to recent figures, 1178 out of over 15000 injured have been hit in the eye by the pellets and the sight of all of them has been affected in varying degrees with around 300 losing it completely in either one or both the eyes. The 991 of the pellet-hit have been admitted at SMHS,  Valley’s main hospital, and 135 at the SKIMS Medical College. The pellets have also impaired the vision of 150 minors, below 15 years of age. Among them is Insha whose plight has since become emblematic of the current Kashmir situation and her face a symbol of the mass blinding that has resulted from an indiscriminate use of the “non-lethal” pump action guns.

 This justifies the huge outcry in the state by various human rights and civil society organizations about the unrestrained use of the pellet guns. They want the government to explore alternative means of riot control like water cannons and tear gas. However, the government response as usual has been indifferent. But the widespread suffering in Kashmir  is a reminder that the government can’t be permanently blind to the situation. It is time that the government reacts and responds to the injustice.

But as rightly pointed out by some senior journalists including Shekhar Gupta and Harinder Baweja why should pellet guns be only used in Kashmir when these are not used during violent protests in any  other state of India. Pellet guns, as noticed by Gupta and Baweja  were not used during Jallikatu protests in Chennai even when the mob burnt police stations and the vehicles.  If anything, state government should have been the most sensitive to  the public resentment against the selective use of the pellet guns in Kashmir, but it has outrightly rejected any such possibility.   And left to the government it will do nothing. This is why it is time for the civil society groups to unite and build pressure on the government to act and the discriminatory use of this lethal weapon.

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