SRINAGAR: With no end in sight over the growing resentment against establishment, the State government is using many ‘Non lethal weapons’ to crush the protesters. Irfan Quraishi tracks new additions of crowd control arsenal state government procures, notwithstanding the damage it causes.
With no end in sight, the deadly use of weapons like pellet guns and pepper gas in Kashmir valley besides new additions to the anti-riot arsenal, raising a question mark over the ruling People’s Democratic Party’s repeated assertion that it was against use of such weapons on demonstrators.
Riot Control Grenade Exploding after Fired by Government Forces on Protesters in Srinagar. If sources are to be believed, the Jammu and Kashmir police procured innovative anti riots tear gas grenades called ‘flash bang grenades’, ‘stun grenades’, ‘triple smoke grenades’ which are the new additions to the anti-riot arsenal of police. Sources said that these type of tear gas grenades cannot be picked or held in hand and thrown back on police as the protestors used to do with traditional tear gas grenades, adding that these grenades explode with a bang sparking fire.
Pertinently the revelations of new additions to the anti-riot arsenal of police according to the reliable sources float up when an eight year old boy suffered serious burn wounds in the face after a teargas canister exploded near him in Saraf Kadal on October 11.
Doctors treating him in the SMHS hospital say his is a rare case of burn injuries caused by a teargas canister, however police officials refutes the argument that tear gas shell can cause a burn injury.
Aamir Bilal, 3rd standard student had gone out to fetch milk when the canister, fired by the police at protesters demonstrating against immolation bid on Kashmiri truckers in Udhampur, exploded in front of him in Saraf Kadal on Sunday last week, his family said.
Hamid Nazir Lost Partially Eye Sight after Receiving Severe Injuries
According to his medical file he has suffered critical burns on his face and arm, and there is a laceration of his cornea. Doctors said that tear gas is supposed to cause just a burning sensation, not burns, but Aamir’s case is the first of its kind in which a person’s entire face burns with tear gas shell. “It is probably a new teargas shell as we have seen cases where people have suffered irritation in eyes or respiratory complications. And in some cases people have suffered wounds after being hit directly by the tears gas. They are using some new teargas or whatever it is, but in no way is non-lethal,” a doctor at SMHS said. Adding that, Aamir has 18 per cent burn injuries and will recover in time.
Reportedly not only over dozen youth across Kashmir valley sustain pellet injuries during the present People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Bhartiya Janta Party’s (BJP’s) regime, but ironically two youth identified as Muhammad Asif of Hawoora Khudwani in south Kashmir and Hamid Nazir Bhat of Palhalan, in north Kashmir has lost their eyesight partially due to pellet guns.
On August 25 this year, Muhammad Asif, 18 year old boy according to his family was not part of the protests and he had gone to Anantnag town to bring some medicines. They said that he was caught in the clashes between protesters and forces, where Asif was hit by multiple pellets. Asif is eldest among his six siblings. His father is farmer and the family is living in abject poverty. Due to “critical” pellet injury Asif was shifted to SMHS hospital in Srinagar for advanced treatment.
Dr Sajad Khanday, Senior Consultant, Ophthalmology at SMHS hospital said Asif has “lost vision in one eye.” He said the chances that the youth’s vision in the affected eye will recover are “bleak.” “The youth had a perforating eye injury, inflicting severe trauma to his eye ball and the visual prognosis seemed to be very bad. The pellets had pierced through his left eye and the injury was penetrating,” said Dr Khanday.
Amir Bilal Undergoing Treatment for Severe Burn Injuries after Hit by Smoke Shell.
On May 25 this year, Hamid Nazir Bhat, a 16-year-old boy, lost vision in his right eye after he was shot at by police in his village, Palhalan. Doctors say at least 100 pellets hit Hamid’s head and eyes; two pellets remain in his right eye, causing vitreous haemorrhage, a leakage of blood in the space between the lens and the retina. The police allege that Hamid was taking part in a protest on the 25th death anniversary of leader Mirwaiz Molvi Farooq while his family says he was going for tuitions.
Meanwhile in the month of August this year, over a dozen youth sustain pellet injuries alone in south Kashmir’s Kaimoh tehsil, besides Muhammad Asif lost vision in one eye. Kaimoh area in South Kashmir saw massive clashes and protests against arrest of youths, particularly in nocturnal raids.
According to sources in Sub-District Hospital Kaimoh, the hospital in the month of August received dozens of people who had pellet injuries on their face and body, in which on August 21 (Friday), the hospital received nine cases of pellet injuries. Hospital sources said among them, two were seriously injured and referred to District Hospital Kulgam for advanced treatment, adding that among the two youth referred, one had an eye injury while the other had “multiple body injuries.”
On August 24 (Monday), the SDH again received five pellet injury cases and two of them were shifted to District Hospital Kulgam for further treatment, sources added. “They had multiple injuries all over their body,” they said. “On August 25, we again received 12 cases of pellet injuries. One among them had “critical” pellet injury and was shifted to District Hospital Anantnag from where he was shifted to SMHS hospital in Srinagar for advanced treatment,” they added. Worth to mention this critical pellet hit injured boy was Muhammad Asif of Hawoora Khudwani, who has “lost vision in one eye.”
Among these dozen pellet injured youth were 15-year Navid—a class 10 student from Redwani village in Kaimoh who has also suffered multiple pellet injuries all over his body. Naved, suffered multiple bruises all over his body. “On Friday I was riding a motorcycle and going to deliver lunch to my grandfather who was admitted in District Hospital Anantnag when the forces fired pellets towards me,” he said. Another 10th class student—Danish Ahmad Parray son of Abdul Rehman of Gufbal, Kaimoh—was also hit by multiple pellets all over his body.
Manzoor Ahmad, a youth from Khudwani, is recuperating after being hit by pellets in his eye and a youth from Arampora, has received grievous injuries all over his face and body due to pellets. Many other youth, who have sustained pellet injuries, refused to divulge their identities before this reporter “for fear of police reprisal.”
However, on October 5 this month, the state government claimed that during the current year, only three persons sustained pellet injuries during various protest marches in Kashmir Valley. Two out of three injured youth, according to the State Home Department, lost eye sight and were undergoing treatment.
In a written reply to the question raised by National Conference legislator from Habbakadal constituency Shamima Firdous in Legislative Assembly seeking the number of persons injured due to the pallet gun firing in various clashes in Valley during 2015 resulting in loss of their eye sight, the Minister for Home said, “As per reports furnished by the police headquarters, one boy has sustained pellet injury in police action in the month of May at Palhalan, resulting in impaired eye sight for which he is undergoing treatment.” The Minister further stated that 2 persons reportedly sustained injuries due to Pump Action Gun fire while police was handling an ‘irate mob’ at Kakapora Pulwama on 7 August 2015. “One of the injured persons has reportedly sustained injuries in his eyes and lost eyesight and he is undergoing treatment,” the Chief Minister, who also holds portfolio of Home Minister.
Although despite demands of avoiding the use of pellet guns and other lethal weapons from many legislators against protesters, the new addition of innovative lethal tear gas grenades is worrisome. The ruling PDP has broached the subject many times, even, the party’s president Mehbooba Mufti demanded an ‘official ban’ on use of pellets as a means of crowd control, staging a walkout in 2014 from the state’s legislative assembly in protest against the use of pellet guns.
PDP’s General Secretary, Rafie Ahmad Mir, when asked about the stand of his party now in government over the use of pellet guns and new addition in the anti-riots arsenals, he said, “Police must be soft towards people and that is our party’s stand. Government can’t let its people to suffer. If something has happened which is beyond our policy matter, action should be taken and inquiry is to be initiated,” he said.
Mir, however, showed ignorance about the injuries to a minor Amir Bilal. “I have no information about him. It must be condemned and enquiry must be initiated,” he said. “Since this is the new government and this is not our policy. Those who do not follow the law action must follow. I will take it up with the government,” he said.
Pellets are small iron ball bearings that are fired at high velocity. According to Amnesty International India, the pellet gun cartridges used in Indian Kashmir contain 400 to 500 plastic pellets. When fired at short range, a single shot can pierce the target’s body with hundreds of pellets.
According to police officers, pellets are ranked from grade five to grade 12 — with five being the largest and fastest pellets with the widest range. Pertinently the officials have been ordered to use the number nine pellet for crowd control, as it does not cause lasting damage. However, the instructions are not followed strictly and police officials choose to use number six or seven pellets according to sources.
According to one official wishing anonymity, “Pellet guns have to be used from a range of 500 feet or more. Any closer than that become lethal weapon.”
Doctors say patients sustaining pellet injuries are hard to cure. “Pellets often pierce the eyeball, causing blindness, or even death if the pellet damages a soft spot on the back of the head or in the chest.
Pertinently during National Conference and Congress coalition as many as 127 civilians with pellet injuries have been admitted to Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital in three years from March 2010 to October 2013, official data has revealed.
The author is Kashmir based Broadcast & Multimedia journalist and can be mailed at [email protected]