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Weapon of shame

Editorial | New Delhi |

It is not surprising that the Central Reserve Police Force should decline to respond to an RTI petition to furnish details of the use of pellet guns for crowd-control in the Kashmir Valley ~ earlier the producers of that highly-controversial weapon, the Indian Ordnance Factory Board, had cited “security reasons” for not presenting details of the gun, although its website virtually advertised much heavier weaponry. The refusal of both user and producers only adds up a confirmation that they are actually ashamed of the use of pellet guns, but are short of the moral courage required to withdraw it from “service”.
Although officially categorised as non-lethal, the guns are known to have killed in a few instances, but what is worse is that hundreds of persons have lost their eyesight when the pellets were fired directly into their faces. And neither the CRPF nor the J&K police have tried the “collateral damage” excuse to explain away the devastating impact of the guns first used when stone-throwing mobs crippled the Valley some years back when the National Conference (now the main Opposition party in the state) was in power.
 There may be some political element to the (mis)use of the pellet-guns, yet in reality they are “universally” hated and have played no minor role in the disruptions this summer which saw curfews being imposed for unprecedented lengths of time. While both the CRPF and the IOFB have relied on technicalities to circumvent the RTI Act, they stand discredited in the public eye ~ not just in J&K, human rights activists across the board have been appalled and likened the use of pellet guns with the unleashing of dogs on “black” protesters when apartheid prevailed in South Africa.
The role of the central government has been dubious. Five months back the home minister promised that an alternative would be found ~ a promise that has not been kept. Even the assurance that their use would be restricted to the “rarest of the rare” instances has proved hollow. When an all-party delegation visited the Valley, its’ Left party members condemned pellet guns, but thereafter Yechury and his comrades have looked the other way.
The chief minister has joined others in slamming the fact that pellet guns have not been used anywhere else in the country: which suggests that the folk in the Valley are second-class citizens, or worse. Alas, Mehbooba Mufti has not mustered the guts to order the state police to keep those guns in the armoury. Yet there can be no two opinions that the complex situation in the Valley will never be resolved until those guns are discarded. They are, unquestionably, a weapon of shame.