In terms of direct firepower there is no comparison between the 155 mm Bofors field howitzer and the “non-lethal” pellet-guns of Kashmir infamy, but the political back blast of both is as devastating as it is unending. Every now and then kickbacks in the Swedish gun deal ~ which caused the ouster of the Rajiv Gandhi government ~ hits fresh headlines, while the fires of alienation of the people of the Kashmir Valley are consistently re-fuelled by the government’s refusal to withdraw those much condemned riot-control weapons from the central and state police forces in J&K.
The pellet-gun controversy has been recently revived, following a report from the Indian chapter of the respected human rights crusader, Amnesty International. In a study captioned “Losing Sight in Kashmir” the organisation has highlighted the cases of 88 persons “whose eyesight was damaged by metal pellets fired from pump-action shotguns used by the J&K police and CRPF between 2014 and 2107.” The report also stressed the victims having faced “serious physical and mental issues, including symptoms of psychological trauma”.
The report noted several cases in which the pellets remained in the skull of victims as doctors felt their sight would be risked by surgical intervention to try and remove them ~ though there could be long-term implications of the metal remaining embedded in their bodies. It is not as though the pellet-guns have been slammed for the first time.
Even the all-party delegation that had visited the Valley in 2016 had demanded their scrapping, The CRPF had announced a scheme to modify the weapons, instructions were issued not to fire them at the face or upper bodies of rioters but damage to the eyes continued to be reported. The home ministry had directed they be used as a last option, in the “rarest of rare cases”, but all such action bore little fruit.
Perhaps an admission of shame is the Ishapur ordnance factory, where the weapon was made, deleting the pellet-guns from its website hailing its products. The cops’ preference for the weapon is confirmed by the home minister having just admitted the failure of PAVA guns, touted as an alternative.
The pellet-guns were introduced in 2010 when stone-throwing first rocked the Valley: Omar Abdullah was chief minister then, and Manmohan Singh called the shots in New Delhi. The “politics” of the story is not a Congress-BJP or NC-PDP scrap, but the fact that they have not been used anywhere else in the country. On Independence Day Narendra Modi had stated that ‘gallis and gollis’ were no answer to Kashmir’s problems, and Rajnath Singh has recently attempted to extend that welcome outreach.
Withdrawing the pellet-guns would have given a practical dimension to the revised strategy for as long as they retain a place in the police armoury, “peace” overtures will have a hollow ring.