Heed to SC advice on pellet guns

The continued use of pellet guns by the security forces against protesters in Kashmir has attracted opposition and criticism from civil rights groups, other sections of people and the judiciary. In spite of claims about improvement in the situation, there has hardly been any respite in the unrest in the Valley. Apart from firing and the use of tear gas and other conventional deterrents, pellet guns remain the staple tools to deal with aggressive and violent crowds. The guns invoke difficult associations and for many, they have become symbols of excessive force, cruelty and oppression. The Supreme Court has long been seized of the matter and it again expressed its reservations about the use of pellet guns last week. The court has admitted that the matter is not strictly judicial but said it was constrained to intervene because the interests of people who are victims of violence, including those belonging to the security forces, had to be protected. It wanted the Centre to explore other means than pellet guns.

The court had earlier warned against the “indiscriminate and excessive use’’ of pellet guns and told the forces to use them only after “proper application of mind.’’ The government is not willing to stop the use of the guns and the talk about alternatives has not yielded concrete results. The government had made promises about this, but they have not been kept. The CRPF was expected to make some modifications in the guns to prevent them from being fired into the upper bodies of protesters. But this does not seem to have been done or perhaps had no effect. It is difficult to escape the impression that the authorities are not very keen to make such changes. Persons close to the authorities have commented that the state should not be seen as soft and tough measures are needed to handle difficult situations.

But the state will lose its credibility and legitimacy by ignoring the human side of the situation. Hundreds of people, including women and children, have been injured and many have lost their eyesight for ever. The attorney-general told the Supreme Court that the forces do not have many options when they face stone-pelting crowds. But the court has told the government to evaluate an alternative mechanism and report back to it. If the government thinks that moderating the use of force will be taken as a sign of weakness, that is wrong thinking. Kashmir cannot be won over by the gun, whether it is the pellet gun or better ones. Only after abandoning the language of the gun can there be any useful conversation with the people of the state.

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