The Telegraph
Thursday , September 14 , 2017

Pellets' collateral damage: Kashmir law-keepers

Srinagar, Sept. 13: Pellets have exacted a terrible toll in Kashmir, not sparing even those in uniform.

An Amnesty International report has revealed that pellets left 16 policemen injured in just one district, Kupwara, during last year's unrest, underscoring the weapon is so indiscriminate that many of its victims could be innocent bystanders and even security forces who use them.

Pellets were blamed for 14 deaths and hundreds of injuries, with many of the victims losing vision in one or both eyes, during the unrest. The forces claim the weapons are used against stone-throwing mobs but the Amnesty report, titled "Losing Sight in Kashmir - The Impact of Pellet Firing Shotguns", sheds light on how its victims could be others as well.

"We had applied for data from the health department in all districts under RTI but only one district shared it with us. It shows the actual number of police and other personnel injured by pellets could be several times more. If pellets can injure those who fire them, the toll on others (who were not protesters) can be well imagined," Amnesty campaigner Zahoor Wani told The Telegraph .

The 16 cops were injured and admitted to a civilian hospital in Kupwara district, one of the 10 districts in Kashmir. In all, 648 people with injuries were admitted to hospitals in Kupwara last year.

The report has not gone into the details, such as whether the 16 cops were injured while firing the pellets or were accompanying those who did so.

Of the 16 men, 14 are from 9th battalion of Jammu and Kashmir Armed Police. One has suffered pellet injury in his eye, and others in the chest, spine, knee, hip, head and limbs.

It is not just police who use pellet guns in Kashmir. CRPF or other paramilitary forces also do so.

"Pellet-firing shotguns are inherently indiscriminate and their use risks injuring other members of the police or armed forces. The information obtained through an RTI application suggests these injuries have, indeed, occurred," the Amnesty report said.

The rights group had approached the police and the CRPF seeking details about their personnel injured by pellets but did not receive any information.

The report has documented 88 people - aged nine to 65 - whose eyesight was damaged "some temporarily and some permanently" between 2014 and 2017 by metal pellets. Thirty-one lost vision in both eyes.

Wani said of only four of the 88 victims admitted they were stone-throwers. "There could be others (who were involved in stone throwing) but more than a dozen of them are women and some are kids and they could not be involved in stone throwing."

Amnesty India head Aakar Patel pointed out the shotguns fire a large number of pellets, scattering them over a wide range. "There is no way to control the trajectory or direction of pellets and, therefore, their effects are indiscriminate," Patel said.

Wani said several victims have developed mental and physical problems. Many students have had to quit studies.

Shabroz was hit in the head when a hail of pellets slammed into her home as she was preparing for her Class X examination last year. "Whenever I try to focus on a book, my head aches. People come, take photos and leave," she said.

The Amnesty has called for a complete ban on pellets, saying their use violates international human rights norms. The Centre has ruled it out.

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