Kashmir – a bloody tale of lost vision


The death toll in Kashmir due to the recent flaring up of protests continue to rise. Now it is put at 37, most of them young street protestors, falling to bullets of the security forces.

In the wake of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffer Wani’s killing in an encounter on July 8 in Anantnag, Kashmir has been seething. Paramilitary forces and the Jammu and Kashmir Police have been deploying excessive measures to counter the violent protests.

The death toll on the sixth day has increased to 37 and over 1,500 others have been injured in the clashes. The Valley remains curfew-bound since the protests broke out. This is the worst violence in the state since 2010, when massive demonstrations were held.

Apart from the needless loss of young lives, the worrying thing is the nature of injuries to protestors and even many bystanders. A large number of those injured will lose their vision permanently. This happened because since 2010, security forces in Kashmir is using pellet guns.

From Facebook - Scar of pellet guns

From Facebook – Scar of pellet guns

Balls made of iron, pellets can be of varying weight and size. Pellets were one among three “non-lethal” weapons for crowd control introduced in Kashmir in the aftermath of the 2010 protests in which more the 120 people were killed. The other two were pepper sprays and taser guns.
Made of metal, they may or may not be covered by a 1 or 2 mm rubber coating to minimize impact. But this is not to say that a rubber covered pellet, or a rubber bullet as it is commonly referred to, can’t kill.

The ones that have been recovered from the injured in Kashmir in the last four days indicate that the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) is using bare-metal pellets.
Also used for hunting, the metal pellets used by the Indian forces are shot from a 12 bore gun armed with a cartridge that can carry as many as 600 pellets. When fired, it sprays, not shoots pellets.
The iron balls are shot at a speed low enough for the person under attack to discern that he’s under threat, but the spray is wide enough to ensure the target is unable to escape.

Taking into account their lethal potential, pellets should be fired from at least a distance of 500 feet. If shot from a closer range, the chances of causing permanent damage increase. Also, the pellet gun should be aimed to shoot below the waist.
In the four days of protests following Burhan Wani’s death, 92 people have undergone eye surgeries at Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS).

“They deliberately fired at our houses,” says Shameema, Tamanna’s mother, while trying to feed her daughter in Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital. (Photo: Pradeepika Saraswat) “They deliberately fired at our houses,” says Shameema, Tamanna’s mother, while trying to feed her daughter in Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital. (Photo: Pradeepika Saraswat)

“They deliberately fired at our houses,” says Shameema, Tamanna’s mother, while trying to feed her daughter in Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital. (Photo: Pradeepika Saraswat)

A recent report by Physicians for Human Rights said this about Kinetic Impact Projectiles:

The findings of a systematic review of medical literature indicate that KIPs cause serious injury, disability, and death. Our study identi ed 1,925 people with injuries from KIPs; 53 of these individuals died from their injuries and 294 suffered permanent disabilities. Of the injuries, 70 percent were considered severe. The data demonstrates that severe injuries are more likely when KIPs are fired at close range; some types of KIPs have the same ability to penetrate the skin as conventional live ammunition and can be just as lethal. When launched or fired from afar, these weapons are inaccurate and strike vulnerable body parts, as well as cause unintended injuries to bystanders. Therefore, there are significant doubts that these weapons can be used in a manner that is simultaneously safe and effective.

Use of this pellet guns on street protestors is only one of several measures taken by the government that betrays a severe lack of vision. This confused policy was very well elucidated by Sushil Aaron in a recent article.

But how we got here has a longer history. It has proximate roots in a controversy over the Amarnath Yatra in 2008 and summer-long protests in 2010 where 120 youth were killed by security forces. What we are seeing is an outcome of the way Kashmir has been handled by India’s political class and security establishment. If Delhi’s policy towards Kashmir during the UPA years and now is to be represented as a manifesto for Kashmir then the establishment’s playbook would read something like this:

Insist that Kashmir is an integral part of India, but treat it like you treat no other state. Trigger unrest when even none exists…..

When civilian protests erupt, react with gratuitous violence. Let paramilitary forces do crowd control which they are not trained for. Don’t invest in adequate riot control gear. Induct non-lethal crowd control equipment after using live ammunition against protesters three summers in a row. Buy some non-lethal gear but don’t train security forces to use them. Institute judicial probes to buy time. Let the media do the job of forgetting them for you.

Show little contrition for excessive force. Instead blame hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Pakistan for poisoning Kashmiri minds. Arrest thousands of youth after protests, release them after making families grovel. Deny right to assembly by frequently pre-empting protests. Block student politics, hold up passports, put separatists in preventive detention, impose curfew for extended periods, cut off the Internet and text messaging on occasion. Get security forces to video street gatherings…

Ignore moderate separatists; refuse to distinguish them from radicals. Nurture an uncomplicated view of their past and present. Don’t take cues from foreign and Indian governments who sign peace deals with insurgents. Allow Naga warlords to run parallel economies, but detain Kashmiris each time they want to take out street protests. Be very afraid of foreign media’s coverage of unrest.

Meet separatists once in a decade. Ask them for ideas and ignore them when they come back with policy documents. Refuse to believe that moderates are opposed to religious extremism; that they are among the few options left to pacify the Valley. Don’t treat them as political peers who have the visibility to shape Kashmiri opinion. Instead outsource contact to intelligence agencies — who view them with contempt because they know a lot about their past.

Institute a process but back out — every time. Appoint well-known figures as interlocutors. Arrange their meetings with Kashmir stakeholders but ignore recommendations when they call for a “new compact” between Delhi and Kashmir. Hold out the promise of autonomy without disclosing what it takes to restore it. ….

In short, stick to blaming extraneous factors and malevolent actors. Avoid doing what is in your control to restore dignity, agency and democratic practice. Don’t grapple with Kashmir’s complexity. Wait for Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizbul Mujahideen and the ISI to make things simpler for you.

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I think it is also high time that independence seeking Kashmiris realise the after effect of a hypothetical Kashmiri independence. If Kashmir become independent and Indian army withdraws, Islamist extremists with the help of Pakistan army will take full control. There won’t be any real independence.

The political leadership in Delhi and Srinagar should do everything possible to win the hearts of Kashmiri people within the frame-work of a secular democratic state under Indian Union. There is no military solution for a political problem.

Comments welcome