In Indian occupied Kashmir, at least 14 civilians lost their lives to the deadly lead pellets and more than 1700 people including children as young as-20-month old were partially or completely blinded since 2016. Other than eye injuries, nearly 8000 more have been wounded by the pellets. The record reveals that the most affected age group is between 15-20 years.The name can make people sound like toys, but “pellet guns” cause death and permanent blindness.
In August 2016, India’s paramilitary force Central Reserve Police (CRPF) admitted before a court in Kashmir to have fired nearly 1.6 million lead pellets at civilians from July 8 to August 11 alone. The figures does not include ammunition used by the police. India, it seems, want to maim, kill or blind every Kashmiri in order to control them.
The most recent outbreak of anti-India protests began in 2016, when Kashmir’s most popular rebel leader Burhan Wani was killed by the Indian army. Protesters—some of whom threw stones—filled the streets of Kashmir valley, seeking end to the Indian occupation. Indian forces responded with ‘pellet guns’.
“The Indian forces call it a pellet gun, but it is a pump action shotgun,” says a spokesman from the Omega Research Foundation, a U.K. based charity that monitors military technologies. The only difference is the type of ammunition: a cartridge with up to 500 tiny lead pellets, which disperse in all directions when fired. They are commonly used by hunters. “The ammunition is not designed for crowd control,” he says.
Following the spate of injuries in 2016 the Indian government said they would issue “deflectors”— attachments to stop pellets traveling upwards into people’s eyes. The official guidance is to shoot downward. But still, reports of eye injuries keep emerging. “This weapon should not be used at all”, The Omega Research Foundation spokesman said. “No modification could make its use compliant with international human rights law and standards.” Those laws state the use of force must be strictly proportionate and targeted. Pellet guns, on the contrary, spit a cloud of lead in all directions, making it impossible to guarantee bystanders will not be injured.
We tend to only be interested in weapons that kill, says Dr. Anna Feigenbaum, an expert at Bournemouth University, U.K., on the rise of what she calls “less lethal” (as opposed to “non lethal”) weaponry. “In the era of drones and missiles and police firearm killings, a pellet gun can seem frivolous,” she says. “Except when you’re looking at these kinds of images (from Kashmir).”
In August 2016, the Executive Director of Amnesty International India, Aakar Patel, said: ‘Pellet guns’ are inherently inaccurate and indiscriminate,’ adding that their use is: “not in line with international standards on use of force.
In December 2016 , the Nobel Peace- Prize -winning US rights group, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) in its report called pellets ‘indiscriminate, inherently inaccurate and capable of penetrating soft tissues even at a distance’. The report states that the Ordinance Factory that manufactures 12-gauge pellet shot guns, has conducted no testing on the safety of the 12-gauge shot gun and that the weapons are produced with little regulatory oversight and accountability.
In the report, it has been asserted that these types of weapons cause ‘serious injury, disability, and death’,and that it was misleading to call the weapon that were ‘inherently lethal and indiscriminate as less than lethal’.
‘Pellet guns’ are used with such little precision that those firing them know they are targeting civilians as there are no military targets. Furthermore, the pellets guns are being used against civilians in Kashmir despite the absence of an imminent threat from the opposite side. There is, in short, no legal justification for the disproportionate use of inherently indiscriminate weapon against civilians protesting against Indian rule. Even if there were a threat, there would be no reason to use a weapon which can harm civilians. Pellet is a ‘statistics weapon,’ not a ‘precision weapon’.
On August 25, 2016,the then chief minister of Indian occupied Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti, asked about the use of ‘pellet guns’ against children, said those hit by bullets or pellets had not gone to fetch milk or toffees.
A day after Home Minister Rajnath Singh concluded his two-day Kashmir visit on July 24,2016, the then Director general of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) K Durga Prasad , who seemed to be encouraged by the then Kashmir chief minister’s statement said that though he felt “sorry” for injuries caused to people by use of ‘pellet guns’, the force would continue to use it in the Valley.
Prasad said there was no such thing as a “non-lethal weapon”—the state government describes pellet ammunition as such—and maintained that the pellet guns were the “least lethal” option available with them.
A day later the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) said it would continue to use the pellet gun in the valley.
On July 26,2016, the Indian Army said the weapons were the ‘least lethal’ option available: Lieutenant General D S Hooda said there was a requirement for ‘non-lethal’ weaponry such as pellet guns. On August 6,2016, India’s official news agency the Press Trust of India (PTI) reported that there will be no blanket ban on ‘pellet guns’ in Kashmir, though it may be used rarely. ‘The expert panel, set up by the Home Ministry to find an alternative to ‘pellet guns’, was believed to have zeroed in on ‘PAVA shells’ which is less lethal and immobilises the target temporarily…. ‘Pellet guns’ are, however, unlikely to be completely banned but will be fired in rarest of rare cases,’ it reported.
On August 10, 2016, the then Director general of Indian paramilitary Force CRPF Durga Prasad made it clear that there was no ban on pellet guns He said he was not under any pressure from the government of India to stop the use of such guns and compared use of pellet guns in Kashmir to wife beating. On September 6,2016, in its objections to the Bar PIL—while justifying use of ‘pellet gun’ in quelling protests—the Indian occupied Kashmir government stated that ‘pellet gun’ was a modern method to deal with crowd.On Sept 9,3016, the CRPF told high court ‘if ‘pellet guns’ are banned, its personnel will be forced to fire bullets in extreme situations, which can cause more fatalities.
On Sept 11,2016, Indian minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh, also a former Indian Army chief, described pellet firing as non-lethal and said it was a “sensible and well-thought” decision by the Union Home Ministry to use the weapon for controlling protesting ‘ crowds’ in the Kashmir Valley.On Sept 22, 2016, the high court dismissed the petition against use of pellet guns after Indian state opposed ban of ‘pellet guns’.On Jan 8,2017 India’s paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) refused to disclose information about the use of pellet guns during the five-month uprising, saying “it is not related to human rights violations.
Noted RTI activist and Programme Coordinator at Commonwealth Human rights Initiative VenjateshNayak had sought information from the CRPF headquaters about the use of ‘pellet guns’ in Kashmir. It means Indian forces don’t consider killing, maiming and blinding people by lethal weapon as human rights violations.Despite International outcry Indian government has not banned pellet guns in Kashmir and India’s most preferred weapon to control people in Kashmir is the ‘pellet guns’.
The number of fatalities and injuries declined after November 2016, because there were fewer protests, not because India has stopped using live bullets or pellets.These statements of Indian officials provide enough evidences that India is willfully targeting civilians in Kashmir with indiscriminate weapons which constitute a war crime. The guns are a new addition to an old conflict. India introduced a Pump action shot gun known as ‘pellet guns’ in Kashmir since 2010. Many civilians were wounded or killed even before 2017.