Srinagar: The JK Police have strongly supported the continuation of use of pellet guns in Kashmir. Senior police officials told Kashmir Reader that pellet guns were the most effective means of crowd control available at the moment, and that the lethality of pellet guns will be reduced by procuring new type of cartridges that have more, and smaller, pellets in them.
Senior officers involved in the decision-making on whether to continue the use of pellet guns or not said, “We have decided to increase the cartridge number from 8 to 12. We have decided to procure the new pellet cartridges which will decrease the lethal effect of the pellets. The discussions are on with the companies.”
The officials claimed that due to the “severity of protests” in Kashmir, pellet guns are the only weapon at hand to deal with such crowds.
“Pellet guns are the most effective deterrents. It is because of them we have been able to control the protests. You yourself have seen that the protests have died down. Even if some people have sustained life-threatening injuries and have been maimed in some cases, but pellet guns have reduced the number of deaths. Our main aim is to reduce the body count,” a senior police officer told Reader.
“If we are asked to stop the use of pellet gun, we think it will not be possible for us to control violent crowds. We will oppose such a move as we do not have any good weapon other than pellet gun,” he added.
Officials said that non-lethal weapons like PAVA and pepper gas had not proved effective in dealing with crowds. “We have been testing a new version of pepper guns. So far we have not been able to shortlist any new ones,” officials said.
Officials said that pellet guns were rationed properly to police stations. “Normally, one pellet gun remains with the station house officer and another with sub-divisional police officer. But in the latter part of the 2016 uprising, the number of pellet guns was increased to 5 for police stations,” an official said. “For the CRPF it is one pellet gun for ten jawans.”
Reducing the lethality
After 2010, officials said, the number 8 and number 9 versions of pellet cartridges were introduced to reduce the lethality of the ammunition.
“The lethality of pellets depends upon the cartridge that contains the pellets. If it is number 1, it will be more lethal than number 7 or 8. We have actually used cartridge number 1 during the 2010 unrest. It caused few deaths and serious injuries. So we stopped it and started using number 8 and 9,” a senior police official said.
“In 2016, the use of pellets across Kashmir led to some deaths and a high rise in injuries and blinding of protesters. It led to severe criticism. So we have now decided not to ban the gun but to use pellet cartridges number 12, so that it becomes more non-lethal,” the official said.
Once fired from the shot-gun, the pellet cartridge explodes and sprays out small, metallic spherical balls which have strength to pierce skin-deep only, officials added.
“The pellets are fired from a distance of 500 feet. But if you fire it from less than 50 yards, it can prove lethal,” the official said. “The number 12 pellet cartridges spray out more pellets. The size of pellets is small but their number is more and they are less forceful, making them less lethal,” the official said.
Pellet guns were introduced to quell protests in the summer uprising of 2010. According to Hurriyat leader Manan Bukhari, who compiled the cases of pellet victims from 2010 to 2015 in a book titled ‘Kashmir-Scars of Pellet guns’, the use of pellets by government forces caused the death of 10 people and injured about 1500 people.
“Of them, 75 were rendered blind in one or both eyes,” Bukhari said. “Some of the pellet victims remain unreported as they had no idea whether they were injured due to the bullets or the pellets.”
According to data compiled by the Health and Medical Education department, about 6,200 people sustained injuries till November last year due to the pellets during the 2016 uprising. More than 1,000 people were hit by pellets in their eyes, rendering them blind in one or both eyes.
The indiscriminate use of pellets on protesters has drawn sharp criticism from international and local human rights organisations, both pro-Indian and pro-freedom parties, and members of civil society who have strongly called for banning the gun.
When asked if the police was reconsidering the use of pellet guns on protesters, Director General of Police (DGP) SP Vaid said that the Government of India had constituted a committee to look into the alternatives to pellet guns. “Let us wait for their recommendations,” Vaid said. “Only then we will be able to decide what to do.”
CRPF spokesman Rajesh Yadav said the force has not been instructed to withdraw the pellet gun from use. “In our feedback we have not recommended the discontinuation of pellet guns,” Yadav said. “We have been strictly instructed that pellet guns are to be fired under close supervision. We have been told not to use them for simple law and order problems, but only when our jawans face threat to their lives, if their camps are set ablaze, for example, or if the bunker vehicles they are in are attacked by violent mobs.”
He said that CRPF was using the 9-number pellet cartridge to control protesters in Kashmir. “It is good if the number of pellet cartridges will be increased to 12. This means increase in the number of pellets and decrease in their size,” Yadav said. “Our pellet guns are being used only by a rank officer. They decide when and where to use them, while exercising utmost caution.”