In response to a political storm over the numerous killings of unarmed protesters by the security forces in Kashmir in 2010, the UPA government belatedly tried to change tack by procuring “non-lethal weapons” for the security forces and the police deployed in Kashmir. The introduction of non-lethal weapons was meant to minimise the number of deaths caused by the security forces while trying to curb protests. The government procured pepper grenades, and pump guns that release a barrage of steel pellets. In a context like Kashmir, merely introducing fewer lethal weapons was never expected to work. The paramilitary forces and J&K; policemen who wielded the pellet guns, used them at close range aiming at the chests and heads of protesters.
The fallacy of pellet guns being “non-lethal weapons” became obvious during their earliest use in August 2010 when Irshad Ahmad Parray, a nine-year-old boy in Anantnag, was killed after receiving pellet injuries in his chest and abdomen. When these guns don’t kill they leave behind a world of darkness by blinding the injured. Although an exact number of people who have lost their eyesight to pellet gun injuries is yet to be tabulated, requests under the Right to Information Act have revealed that between 2010 and 2013 in the two major hospitals of Kashmir, 36 persons had been recorded as having suffered serious eye injury from pellets. In 2010, 12 people were left completely blind. The number has grown, the latest case being that of a Class X student, Hamid Nazir Bhat, in Palhalan village in Baramulla last week: his right eye has been destroyed by pellets fired by the men of the J&K; Police.
Last year, Mehbooba Mufti, the president of the People’s Democratic Party, and her fellow-legislators walked out of the Assembly in protest against the blinding of unarmed protesters in Shopian in south Kashmir by the “uninhibited” use of pellet guns by the J&K; Police. After the PDP formed the government in coalition with the BJP, Ms. Mufti and her Chief Minister-father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed appear to have forgotten the outrage they had felt over the blindings in Kashmir by pellet guns when Omar Abdullah was Chief Minister. The promise of a “healing touch” that helped the reinvention of Mr. Sayeed in Kashmir politics in the 1990s will lose credibility unless it is applied in ground operations. Mr. Sayeed has maintained a shocking silence over the case of the 16-year-old Hamid, but Javaid Gilani, Inspector General of Police, in an interview to a Srinagar-based newspaper has justified the pellet gun blindings by asking, “How can a deterrent be set then? How are stone-throwers to be stopped?” Such callousness amounts to adding wounds to a wounded body, an attitude that can push Kashmir back to the brink.