Why more pellet guns?

The Ministry of Home Affairs has sanctioned 4,949 pump action guns for CRPF units deployed as Rapid Action Force in J&K,  taking the total number of pump action guns with the force to 5,589, up from just 640 last year. This is almost ten-fold increase in the number of such guns in the Valley.   And that too at a time when there is no unrest going on in the state – albeit there are vague apprehensions of a fresh outbreak of the protests in the coming months.  And should there be fresh turmoil, one can only imagine the havoc such a stockpile of weapons would wreak. That is, if we go by the fact that just 640 pellets guns last year have left more than a thousand people with impaired vision – most of them youth. Scores have been completely blinded in either one or both the eyes. But this has hardly deterred the central government to continue with the indiscriminate use of the weapon. Though at the peak of the unrest last year, MHA had formed a committee to review the use of the pellet guns, it ended up justifying their use. Besides, adding one more  weapon, the PAVA shells, to the riot control gear. Now, it has turned out that the PAVA shells are ineffective in controlling the angry stone-throwing crowds, making the use of pellets guns a necessary evil. This is a dodgy argument, almost like arguing that the protests of the scale of last year didn’t take place earlier. As if their provenance dates back to 2010 when for the first time the pellet guns were introduced in the state.   

However, central government is not alone culpable of advancing the use of the pellet guns in the state. The state government is equally responsible. During the Assembly session in January,  J&K Government ruled out ban on use of the weapon in the state, terming the pellet guns as “the last resort to control violent mobs. Replying to a Cut-Motion of National Conference legislator Shameema Firdous on banning the use of pellet guns, the government said  the weapon was being  used in the situations “where all other means of dispersing furious mobs become ineffective.”  This too from a party whose leader as an opposition leader had forcefully opposed the use of pellet guns and promised to check their use once in power. But now as J&K Chief Minister, she has expediently forgotten her promise.  Nor has she objected to the authorization of more pellet guns to the CRPF. 

There is one more troubling dimension to MHA’s decision to put more pellet guns in the hands of CRPF. It once again highlights the policy of no political engagement with Kashmir. Though a recent MHA report does suggest an outreach to the moderate Hurriyat groups in Kashmir, the proposed engagement amounts to little in terms of an effort to resolve the issues underpinning  the  longstanding turmoil in the state. Instead, the report seeks to further complicate the situation  by proposing measures to reign in the mosques, madrasas and the media. What is needed is a substantive political initiative and  Confidence Building Measures to  regain the faith of people, not further alienate them by sending more weapons to suppress them. 

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