The Jammu and Kashmir High Court has rejected Kashmir Bar Association’s plea to ban pellet guns and has refused to prosecute officers who ordered the use of the non-lethal weapon, pointing out that the government has already appointed an expert committee on the matter and the court, hence, cannot ban the use of pellet guns in rare and extreme situations while a decision from the government is awaited.
As protests continue in Kashmir for the third consecutive month, the 12-bore pump action gun remains in focus, with eight people killed due to pellet injuries and more than 1,200 injured with pellets in their eyes, according to police and hospital reports.
The latest injuries took place during an encounter at Aragam village of Bandipora on Thursday in which a large number of people were trying to break the security cordon. The protests were quelled by the CRPF who used pellet guns. While a young boy with multiple pellet injuries was taken to SMHS hospital, many other teenagers preferred to get treated at Sub-District Hospital of Bandipora in order to avoid police profiling.
Srinagar hospitals continue to receive dozens of pellet victims from different areas of Kashmir even as the protests have scaled down after the Army started dominating the highway and all South Kashmir districts. “On the 76th day of unrest, we received minors and a few women with pellet injuries in their eyes,” said a junior doctor of SMHS hospital of Srinagar.
Kashmir Bar Association had filed a petition in the J&K High Court, demanding a ban on the use of pellet guns by the security forces for crowd control.
Allegations have surfaced that pellet guns are being used by the security forces as the first option, but the government has categorically told the state HC that tear-gas shells and lathi-charge are used in most cases to disperse the protesters. “The government is not using tear-smoke shells and PAVA shells as alternatives to pellet guns. The security forces and police are using pellet guns as first option to disperse the protests,” alleged a civil society member at the SMHS hospital, while attending some fresh victims of pellet guns.
According to the Head of the Department (HoD), Ophthalmology, SMHS Hospital, Dr Tariq Qureshi, 60% of the injured are teenagers. “This is a lethal weapon. It has devastated hundreds of families as teenagers in these families have lost vision. Despite contrary claims by the authorities, pellet victims are coming to my ward on a daily basis,” Tariq Qureshi told The Sunday Guardian.
While talking to this newspaper, a group of doctors at SMHS hospital alleged, “We as doctors have witnessed the nature of deaths and injuries of patients admitted here… (We can say) that the security forces were targeting people from close range and they have intentions to kill and maim people here.” According to the doctors, at least 62 patients have lost vision in both eyes because of pellets.
Meanwhile, according to the attendants and the family members of pellet victims, they have to face police questioning in the wards of the hospital. “Police has been profiling patients admitted in SMHS hospital,” agreed Dr Sajjad Ahmad of the hospital. He said that due to the fear of police, many youngsters have not returned back for treatment to their ward.