When chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed claimed last month that no civilian has been killed by government forces during his tenure, he was perhaps expressing an unconscious desire that he should at least escape the taint of having killed boys during protests. But he was promptly reminded of the facts––government forces have shot dead three protesters, a schoolboy among them, during this period.
The chief minister made this ‘mistake’ probably because his predecessor, Omar Abdullah, was undone by the killing of more than 120 persons, mostly young, unarmed boys who, when denied all vistas for peaceful protests, had thrown stones during street protests in 2010. When the chief minister’s fallacious claim shifted the debate to the number of the dead, an equally disturbing fact about the lives of dozens of boys maimed by pellet and other ‘non-lethal’ firearms got sidelined. At least two boys have lost their eyesight and more than a dozen others have suffered devastating pellet injuries since the PDP-BJP coalition took over. When a class 10 student, Hamid Nazir Bhat, suffered grievous injuries to his eye because of pellet ammunition in May this year, junior health minister and PDP legislator Asiea Naqash, ironically, asked her own government to ban the use of pellet guns. Her statement, laughable as it is, however, was the reenactment of a cruel drama the politicians in the state are playing over this issue.
“If your son’s eyes are damaged by pellets what will you do?” PDP president Mehbooba Mufti had asked then legislative assembly speaker, Mubarak Gul, in February last year. “Our youth are being rendered blind and disabled. Which government behaves in such a brutal way with its people?” another PDP legislator Peerzada Mansoor had asked Gul. A year later, Mansoor’s rhetorical question is being answered in practice by his own party. We will now be hearing such questions from the National Conference and Congress legislators, but not only will protesting boys continue to face pellets and other brutal forms of crowd control, but their parents too will not be spared. Last month, the police dragged an ailing Nowhatta man out of his home because his son, who had been hit by at least a 100 pellets in his back during a protest, had refused to turn up at a police station. As home minister of the state, if the chief minister cannot ban the use of pellets despite having cornered his opponent for using this lethal ammunition “as a policy”, we are only again reminded of the oft-repeated line that “they are only following New Delhi’s diktats”.