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How SC's condition for banning pellet guns highlights India’s apathy towards Kashmir

Tapan Bose | Updated on: 2 May 2017, 16:34 IST
(Mohammad Abu Bakar/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court reportedly told the Jammu and Kashmir Bar Association that it could tell the Centre to stop using pellet guns in the state only if the association could persuade the youth to stop pelting stones.

The apex court said this on 28 April at the fourth hearing of an appeal by the association seeking a ban on pellet guns in the Valley.

“We can direct them (the government) to suspend the use of pellet guns for two weeks, but you must assure that violence and stone pelting will stop," Chief Justice of India JS Khehar said.

Earlier, the Attorney General insisted that the Bar Association first come up with a solution that would get the youth off the streets.

A bizarre response

This was an odd response to the plea of a people who are being blinded and killed by a weapon which is not used anywhere else in the country for crowd control.

The Bar is asking the Supreme Court to look at the disproportionate use of force by the government and the massive damage that this so-called non-lethal weapon has caused to the people of Kashmir. The plea also points out clearly how security forces are using a weapon of which it has very little information. 

In the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) admitted it fired nearly 1.3 million pellets on protesters in Kashmir within 32 days. It also admitted that there was no way to predict how the pellets would spread once it was fired. The CRPF accepted that the pellets could also hit bystanders.

Critical questions

Though the government has been talking about replacing the metal pellets with less lethal munitions, there has been little progress on that front. In fact the government seems to be inclined to continue to use these weapons.

In the month of March, the government increased the number of pellet guns in the Valley to 5,000. These guns are capable of firing more than three million pellets at one go. According to doctors, the type of pellets that have been recovered in Kashmir indicate that the CRPF are using bare metal pellets.

The primary questions here really are:

* whether government forces should use pellet guns?

Is this weapon legal?

* Has its use in crowd control been approved by the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD)?

* What are the Standard Operating Procedures for using pellet guns in crowd control?

Over a period of 32 days, the CRPF admitted, it fired nearly 1.3 million pellets on protesters

More importantly, how and when was the use of pellet guns by the CRPF approved? Particularly as this is not included in the list of “non-lethal” weapons for the police force of the states. 

The other critical questions are whether the use of pellet guns conform to the Principle 4 of the Code of Conduct of Police in India, which says that as far as practicable, the methods of persuasion, advice and warning should be used. Section 130 Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) clearly states that if the use of force becomes unavoidable then only the irreducible minimum force required in the circumstances should be used.

The Manipur barometer

It is strange that the Supreme Court instead of going into the issues of the law, rules and regulations regarding use of force during crowd control seemed to suggest that it might order the government to stop using pellet guns if the Bar Association could get the youth to stop throwing stones at the security forces.

This response of the Supreme Court to the plea of the J&K Bar Association is radically different from the manner it treated the plea of the Extra Judicial Execution Victims’ Families Association of Manipur (EEVFAM).

In its order, the Court had noted that if members of the Armed forces are deployed and employed to kill citizens of the country on the mere allegation or suspicion that they are ‘enemy’, then not only the rule of law, but also democracy, would be in grave danger.

It said the use of excessive force or retaliatory force by Manipur Police or the armed forces of the Union is not permissible. It its order the court had directed that the Indian Army and other paramilitary forces cannot use “excessive and retaliatory force” in Manipur and that all allegations of such excessive use of force must be probed.

The government is dialoguing with the opposition groups in Kashmir, but not through words

One wonders why this difference in dealing with the issue of use of excessive force by the state in Manipur and Kashmir. While the Supreme Court has sent J&K Bar Association back to Kashmir to talk to the leaders of the agitating people of Kashmir, the government has also told the court that it was not interested in talking to the agitators and their leaders. The Attorney General said that “the court cannot direct the government to meet separatist leaders”.

The government says that it would talk with only “legitimate” political parties. The point is that the so-called “legitimate” political parties are not a part of the protest movement. They are a part of Indian “mainstream”. They contest elections, form governments and rule over the people of Kashmir. Talking to them is talking to your own side.

The government is dialoguing with the opposition groups in Kashmir but it is not conducting the dialogue through words. It is conducting this dialogue through guns. As we know War is also a form of dialogue. 

This is the reality of the government’s attitude towards the agitation people of Kashmir. The choice of the pellet gun fits into this.

First published: 2 May 2017, 15:50 IST
Tapan Bose @catchnews

Tapan Bose is Secretary General, South As‎ia Forum for Human Rights.