If anything, Mehbooba Mufti should have been the most sensitive to the huge public resentment against the selective use of pellet guns in Kashmir.
It is now official. J&K has no plan to ban the pellet guns. That is, if there was any hope that the state government would take a step on its own after the union government-appointed review committee justified its use earlier this year.
On Saturday, 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 eyes. The 991 of the pellet-hit have been admitted at SMHS, the Valley’s main hospital, and 135 at the SKIMS Medical College. The pellets have 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 indiscriminate use of the “non-lethal” pump action guns.
This justifies the huge outcry in the state by various human rights and civil society organisations 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 early this week by some senior journalists including Shekhar Gupta and Harinder Baweja, why should pellet guns be only used in Kashmir and not during violent protests in any other state of India. Pellet guns, as noted by Gupta and Baweja, were not used during Jallikatu protests in Chennai even when the mob burnt police stations and the vehicles.
If anything, the state government, headed by Mehbooba Mufti, 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.
As an opposition leader, Mehbooba 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.
Her government has argued that there is no feasible alternative to the weapon in crowd control, almost implying that the protests in Kashmir are more violent than anywhere in the world. And also as if the protests of such violent nature only took place after the advent of the pellet guns. Haven’t there been protests before in Kashmir and were they not controlled with traditional methods of crowd control? They certainly were.
Second government argument is that the use of pellet guns saves lives. Really? Is the loss of nearly a hundred lives a lesser number? Not at all. On the contrary, only 60 lives were lost during the summer unrest sparked by Amarnath land row in 2008 when there were no pellet guns.
Beside, the stubborn refusal to ban the pellet gun assumes that blinding a person is a lesser punishment than killing him. There can be no assumption, more callous than this. It is time that the death and blinding a person is treated at par. In fact, blinding a youngster is worse than death. It renders him dependent on his family for the entire life.
But as things stand, the state government is in no mood to budge on pellet guns, probably under duress from the security establishment. Hence the need for the civil society in Kashmir to unite and build pressure on the government to act and end the selective use of this lethal weapon.