Since 2010, it has reportedly killed 10 protestors in the Kashmir valley, left scores of people blind. In the past week, it’s struck more than 600 people, many of whom could lose their sight permanently. This is “non-lethal”, according to the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) police. Popularly referred to as the pellet gun, the weapon of choice for CRPF and J&K police in Kashmir is the “12 Bore Pump Action Gun”. Why? Because apparently it’s a non-lethal weapon.
Pellet guns were introduced to Kashmir because of the violence that erupted in 2010 when three young men from Nadihal village of Baramulla district were killed by the Indian Army. They were killed on the suspicion of being “Pakistani infiltrators”. This triggered a series of protests in the valley, which quickly took on terrible proportions. Protestors clashed with security forces, live bullets were fired and within three months, more than 100 civilians had lost their lives in police firing.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah realised protestors being killed was making the situation spiral out of control. He requested the central government to provide the state forces with non-lethal weapons that could help the police disperse the mob with minimum damage.
Coincidently, at that time, Jabalpur Ordinance Factory (JOF) was working on producing a much better variant of Double Bore Barrel Gun (DBBL), which is based on bolt action system. Based on ‘pump action’, the new gun was marketed as an apt gun for mob control with minimum injuries. “On a request from the Central government, we went for a mass production overnight and the first consignment of 300 guns was delivered to J&K police in August, 2010,” an employee of JOF told Newslaundry. By the first week of August, in 2010, the J&K police was equipped with these new ‘non-lethal guns’.
When on August 14, a mob of roughly 2,500 locals of Sopore, in Baramulla district, took to the streets, local police used the pellet gun for the first time. No one died that day, but many went blind.
Photographed by: Javed Dar
Since 2010, the pellet gun has proved to be a potent weapon both for the J&K police and CRPF. It’s only during the recent protests that the damage caused has come up for debate. “There are two reasons,” said freelance journalist Jamal Dar. “Firstly, the standard operating procedure (SOP) to use the guns was not followed. Secondly, the valley has never seen such a protest in last a few years and the number of protestors was unprecedented, resulting in increase of number of injured.”
More than 1,882 persons who have been injured in the ongoing protest across Kashmir over Wani’s killing, 600 of them have received pellet injuries while 125 were hit with bullets. This data was submitted by the J&K government to High Court in relation to a Public Interest Litigation filed by an NGO against the state crackdown on the protestors after Wani’s killing.
The images of people injured with pellet guns are all over social media and they become all the more disturbing when one hears the stories of the victims. On July 12, 15-year-old Insha was watching the protest on the streets from the window of her first-floor home. Suddenly, the police started using pellets guns on the protestors. A shower of pellets hit Insha as well. “We heard her scream. When we went upstairs, we saw her face pockmarked with pellets. Her eyes were shut,” said her mother. Insha has already lost sight in her left eye and chances of her recovering vision in her right eye are bleak. “She had big dreams for herself,” said her mother. “She wanted to become a doctor and talked about working hard to realise her goal. Now everything is finished.”
Muhmmad Farooq, 18, from Sopore is another victim. “He was hit by pellets on his face and head,” said a doctor treating him in Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital. “His left eye has been operated, but we don’t see any chances of him recovering the sight.” Fortunately for Farooq, his other eye miraculously escaped any injury.
So, with incidents like these, can the 12 Bore Pump Action Gun really be called a non-lethal weapon?
The JOF, which supplies the gun to CRPF and J&K police, defines it as a single barrel breach loading weapon with a tubular magazine. The magazine holds four cartridges of 12 bore and is placed parallel to and below the barrel. Extraction, loading and cocking of the cartridges take place in single ‘pump action’ by operating the handle and sliding along the magazine. Thanks to the rapid reloading by pump action and the spread of shots, it is an ideal weapon for counter ambush tactics. The gun weighs 3.05 kg and has a barrel length of 478 mm. “It is far more superior to a bolt action and a lever action gun because of its easy loading mechanism,” a JOF official told Newslaundry.
Two types of cartridges – 12 bore 2.5 inches or 12 bore 2.75 inches cartridges are used in these guns. The cartridges are filled with small metal balls or pellets. One cartridge contains as many as 600 pellets. These pellets are both the plain and rubber one. Once a cartridge is fired, the pellets spray out in every direction with speed of 1,000 feet per second. The pellets can penetrate human skin even at a range of 300 meters. “Imagine what damage it could when being shot from a very close range,” a doctor of Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital told Newslaundry.
Newslaundry has learnt the cartridges that were recently used in Kashmir were of 12 bore 2.75 inches, which pack more pellets.
“When shot from a short range, pellets could do grievous damage,” an ophthalmologist at SMHS hospital said. “One hit by a pellet the eye could be damaged forever. Even the best treatment will not help.” He said the hospital had so far performed “more than 150 eye operations”. Describing the eye as a “water ball”, he said, “The vision after the treatment can thus never be the same.”
Doctors operating pellet injuries in SMHS hospital said that due to the small size of pellets, it is highly complicated to remove all of them from the body and those pellets that remain in body could further damage internal organs. “The damage of internal organs has also resulted in death in a few cases,” said a doctor in SMHS.
Newslaundry spoke to a J&K police official to know what SOPs should be followed while firing a pellet gun. According to him, the gun should be fired from a minimum distance of 500 feet. The muzzle of the gun should always targetted below the waist. The number of injuries in recent protest reveals that pellets have by and large hit the faces of protestors making it a clear case of SOP violation. “We have used utter precaution while using pellet guns,” insisted a CRPF official whom Newslaundry asked about SOPs not being followed.
“For you, they are protestors,” Manoj Pandith, police PRO, J&K said to Newslaundry. “Tell us what do you mean by protestors? We will get killed if we don’t use pellet guns as deterrent during this mob violence.” When asked if the SOPs were followed while firing the pellet guns, he refused to engage in any further conversation.
His anger his based on the fact that more than 24 personnel, including that of J&K police and CRPF, have been seriously injured since the protest have started in the valley after Burhan Wani’s killing. Most of these injuries are from the splinters as a result of grenade throwing and because of stone pelting from the protesters.
On paper, the pellets and the gun that fires them are indeed non-lethal, but as the recent unrest has shown, the weapons are doing terrible and lasting damage. As the situation festers in Kashmir, the old adage of how an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind is taking on tragically poignant dimernsions in the valley.