A human rights organization in the US has unveiled the truth behind India’s claims of its use of non-lethal weapons against protesters in Kashmir. Mainly, the spotlight has been occupied by the use of “pellet guns” which have rendered hundreds of people partially or completely blind and has injured several thousands since a massive uprising began in July after young Kashmiri student turned freedom fighter was killed by the Indian Forces.
Physicians of Human Rights (PHR) has released a report which has brought to light the fact that what the Indian Forces are claiming to be pellet guns are actually 12-gauge shotguns which are in no way, as the claims suggest, non-lethal and certainly not made for using against protesters. Indian Forces are also using tear gas grenades, pepper gas shells and also live ammunition in the name of dispersing protesters’ assemblies so that any fatal results could be avoided. This clearly serves as an example of worst form of state terrorism on Earth.
The level of violence in Jammu and Kashmir resulted in fierce criticism from across the world; however, the use by security forces of the purported “less than lethal” 12-gauge shotguns, misleadingly referred to as “pellet guns,” was particularly scrutinized. Media reports, doctors working in Jammu and Kashmir, and civil society organizations monitoring the numbers of injuries and deaths reported that an estimated 12 to 15 deaths and an estimated 5,208 injuries could be attributed to the use of 12-gauge shotguns. The rest of the deaths and injuries are attributed to gunshot wounds or blunt trauma from batons, tear gas canisters, or other types of crowd-control weapons.
The specialists have found that the 12-gauge shotgun is characteristically inaccurate,
indiscriminate, and it can penetrate soft tissue even at a distance. In general, kinetic impact projectiles – a class of weapon that includes the 12-gauge shotgun firing cartridges of pellets – should not be used for crowd dispersal or for crowd management, as most of these weapons cannot be used safely or effectively against crowds. What surprises the most is the fact that, at close range, the lethality and patterns of injuries of weapons firing cartridges of pellets or rubber bullets become similar to those of live ammunition.
“I saw this one boy who was dead by the time he reached the hospital. He had been shot by a pellet gun from such close range that the pellet cartridge had entered his body like a bullet does and then inside it had burst.”
Trauma surgeon at Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital in Srinagar.
The indiscriminate and excessive use of force by Jammu and Kashmir police and the Central Reserve Police Forces against protesters in Kashmir violates India’s obligation to protect the rights to life and health, and the country’s obligation to uphold and facilitate freedom of expression and assembly. A failure to distinguish between legitimate exercises of freedom of expression and “unlawful” assemblies, as well as legal protections for police against prosecution for the use of force, have contributed to a lack of accountability for security forces who use unnecessary and excessive force on protesters, including where the use of force results in death or serious injury.
The term “pellet gun” is misleading when used to describe the shotguns used by Indian security forces in Kashmir. “Pellet gun” typically denotes the compressed air guns used in other parts of the world for recreational purposes. Unlike these pellet guns, which use compressed air to create force, the 12-gauge shotguns used by Indian security forces use explosive powders, which are more powerful and can be lethal.
In addition to the lethal design of the shotgun, the ammunition – No. 9 shot – used against protesters in Kashmir during the 2013 and 2016 protests cannot be classified as “less than lethal.” The No. 9 shot is a lead alloy pellet which is loaded into cartridges filled with up to 616 pellets. The pellets are known by hunters in other parts of the world as “birdshot” and are designed to be lethal to birds and small animals. At shorter distances, the pellets will remain clustered together, and the impact on soft tissue will be concentrated on a smaller area, meaning the ammunition can be lethal to humans at close range.
The report has also claimed that authorities actively obstructed protesters’ access to urgent medical care. This is mainly done by either harassing medical workers attempting to treat protesters or by preventing doctors from reaching the hospitals. Several instances were documented where police were present at hospitals and observed protesters being admitted for treatment. They were reported to have asked for the names and medical information of patients admitted at the end of the day in order to later arrest them for “unlawful assemblies”.
During July and August 2016, Indian security forces carried out both targeted and indiscriminate attacks on medical staff, and, in particular, on ambulance drivers as they transported those injured by police action to hospitals in Kashmir. Medical workers providing assistance to the wounded and sick are afforded special protections under international law. Various civil society organizations and media in Kashmir have independently documented assaults on health care workers and ambulances attempting to provide care to the sick and wounded.
“Moving around, including trying to get to the hospital, has become so difficult. Despite all our identity cards, white coats, and stethoscopes, it is hard to get past the Indian security forces. I cannot even imagine how our patients get past them to reach the hospital.”
Doctor at Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital in Srinagar
This practise is not self-improvised tactic being used by the Indian forces rather they are completely supported by legal acts such as the Public Safety Act (PSA) which empowers the State government to detain a person without trial for two years under the pretext of maintenance of public order and Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1990 (AFSPA) makes any assembly of five or more people unlawful (section 5), regardless of intent, and empowers military personnel to use lethal force to disperse the assembly.
The tail of Kashmir’s dilemma is not a new one. The blood of countless innocent Kashmiris have been spilled for almost 7 decades now. As evil exists in the world but so does the forces for peace. But the plight of Kashmir falls on deaf ears with every single day’s silence coming at the price of innocent’s lives being lost.