The most disturbing news that came a few weeks ago was the induction of thousands of pellet guns into Kashmir for use against civilians. Efforts to increase the number of these guns from the current 640 to an unbelievable 5589 is already on fast-track anvil. These 12-bore pump action guns fire bursts of irregularly-shaped metallic shrapnels that get lodged in the body organs badly damaging or altogether destroying them. The number of cartridges for these guns will also see a phenomenal jump from the current 1.25 lacs to six lacs. Each cartridge carries around 300 projectiles that disperse when fired. The recent catastrophe created by the indiscriminate use of 600 odd pellet guns is too well-known. The epic tragedies that 5589 guns will unleash cannot even perhaps be imagined. That, this fact was not even a consideration for the governments in Kashmir and Delhi, tells us something about the State’s policies towards Kashmiris that border on sadism, to say the least. Clearly, the State attaches no value to the person or dignity of Kashmiris who are perpetually in its line of fire.
Originally reported by the Delhi-based DNA newspaper, this story of a fresh induction of pellet guns was reproduced in parts by some of Kashmir’s local dailies, that too in the inside pages. There was no follow-up in the local press of this development which can potentially create an immeasurable humanitarian catastrophe as recent use of these guns on civilians has shown. Dailies that claim to be leading newspapers of Kashmir should have taken up this issue with the toughness and gravity it deserves. These dailies with their extensive reach and huge influence should have gone beyond copying sketchy details from the DNA story to some first-hand reporting to bring out the terrible consequences of this grave development. It also demanded a robust editorial line to put pressure on the government to rethink such a dreadful policy of indulging in mass blindings in the pretext of maintaining law and order.
Local dailies have beaten to death stories of youth blinded by pellet guns, repeating the same details to the point of making readers apathetic to what the Guardian newspaper had called the ‘world’s first organised mass blinding’. But these mass-circulated newspapers found no value in taking a tough stand on this move of induction and subsequent use of thousands of pellet guns on civilians.
One ‘leading’ newspaper carried a front page story of Insha Mushtaq, the fully-blinded 15-year-old girl from Shopian, under a rather grotesque and sickening headline sadistically playing on this girl’s unimaginable tragedy: Symbol of Kashmir’s pellet horror returns to her school after 8 months. What ‘symbol’ in having your eyes pierced to leave you completely blind for the rest of your life and that too when you are just15? On the same day, the paper buried in its third page this news of paramilitary forces procuring thousands more pellet guns which will obviously give us tens of hundreds of more Inshas.
There was hardly a murmur against this development from the self-described ‘civil society’ of Kashmir. The use of such huge number of pellet guns on civilians with all its cataclysmic consequences should have brought out the so-called civil society on the roads. Unfortunately, the university academia too has fallen silent. The doctors have lost their tongue as well. The business community sees no value in coming out strongly against this issue. The human rights defenders, who have made huge worldwide reputations and careers by overplaying select instances of human rights violations in Kashmir or at times raking up phony issues, seem to have found new prudence in their silence over this matter. True, the State doesn’t wear any velvet gloves and anyone raising a voice against such moves will face the State’s open iron fist. But, it is situations like these that test the character and integrity of a people to stand up against the horror being rolled out for them.
For the self-styled resistance leaders, imbecile press notes was all they could manage. With an eye on the proposed elections, pro-India leader Omar Abdullah too made some self-serving noises about it. But he has conveniently forgotten, or thinks people have forgotten, that he was the one who introduced and consented to the use of pellet guns in Kashmir in 2010 when he was chief minister.
For all the big talk of the current BJP-RSS aligned Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti about her father’s purported ‘vision’ for Kashmir, and her own smokescreen phrases, this new move once again points to her policy of leaving civilians without any vision.
As a nation we are unable to comprehend the magnitude of the calamity awaiting us once these guns are in the hands of troopers who, for the most part, are trigger-happy when faced by protesting civilian crowds. The fact that we have let an atrocity like deliberate mass blinding by government forces to be normalised has only galvanised the State to get ever more repressive under the veil of ‘security’ and ‘maintenance of law and order’. We have been unable to mount a vigorous and sustained campaign against such a policy which under international humanitarian law easily falls in the category of war crimes.
Sometime ago, a PIL was moved in the High Court seeking a ban on the use of pellet guns in Kashmir. The Court in its considered opinion threw out the PIL in September last. In the operative part of its ruling, the Court said, “It is manifest that so long as there is violence by unruly mobs, use of force is inevitable.” May be use of force, but not blindings and not use of weapons that blind. The Court did not consider that many times civilians were blinded by pellets fired point-blank at them when they were not indulging in any kind of violence as in the case of Insha or another 14-year-old girl Ifrah of Pulwama. The Court further observed: “What kind of force has to be used at the relevant point of time or in a given situation or place, has to be decided by the persons in-charge of the place where the attack is happening.” An “attack” — when did the likes of Insha or Ifrah or Zuhaib and so many others mount an ‘attack’ on the forces that warranted their blinding? One would have thought over 1200 partial and complete blindings by the use of pellet guns would invite suo moto cognisance from the Court ordering a summary ban on this weapon. That too when the honourable judges of the Court have taken upon themselves overseeing administrative matters like road construction projects or lake preservation. This was, by all calculations, a far more serious matter involving human life and physical well-being for the judges to give it a miss.
Pellets just don’t blind, they pierce vital body organs, as a shower of nearly 300 shrapnels from single cartridge brings the entire body in its coverage. Post-July 2016, when pellet guns were extensively used many civilians mostly youth, some of them girls, have had their internal organs and genitals damaged in pellet fire.
Most pellet victims since 2010, when these guns came to be first used here, have been left to their own fate. Their treatment is unaffordably costly, their lives have been destroyed and that of their families too. Their visual disability apart, their psychological trauma is going unattended as there is no regime of psychological treatment in place to alleviate the trauma. The rich in our society spend unbelievable amounts on their personal life and accompanied extravaganzas, but only few have come up with some rehabilitation plan for these victims. If nothing, at least a Braille school. Our navel-gazing approach to our personal life and an obsession with azadi politics has also taken away focus from so many critical matters of our society and social well-being. The sick, introverted mentality that thus breeds in us at a collective level is seriously undermining our well-being and character as a nation. The altruism that situations like the silent suffering of those blinded or injured demands is all but dead. Our collective tragedy is that after breaking into spasms of feverish chest-beating, we abandon all concern for victims of state violence leaving them at the mercy of the very entity that brought their suffering in the first place.
May be one day we may wake up to a real or false dawn of azadi but the direction events are taking, there’ll be many among us blinded in one eye by pellets and in the other by our apathy and lack of moral uprightness. But the indifference towards victims of state violence our society has lapsed into can be reversed. It can begin with a robust campaign from varied platforms to pressurise the government to stop using pellet guns on civilians. Over the decades we have somehow developed a flawed vision that every issue can be countered through the agency of street protests and stone-throwing. The educated class has divorced itself from critical issues facing the society and instead busied itself in the humdrum of material gains. This is costing us heavy. Above it all, we often think that to achieve our long-cherished goal of azadi, we have to and must suffer. This is obscenely erroneous and self-defeating. It is like scoring a self goal to give victory to your opponent. Time we stood up in ways that can make a genuine impact.
At the political level, this heavy induction of pellet guns for use against civilians is an open admission of three things. One, the State has concluded that extreme forms of militaristic violence is the way to deal with Kashmir. Two, despite the repression and pounding of recent months, Kashmiri resistance to Indian rule is getting stronger. Three, behind the fakery of democracy and deceptive noises of ‘peace’ and ‘development’, it is the unremitting and unforgiving use of force that is being used as a matter of policy to sort out Kashmir for India.