J&K: give non-lethal methods a chance

People react next to the body of 16-year-old girl Andleeb Jan, a civilian who according to local media died during clashes between protesters and Indian security forces, during her funeral i

Kashmiri anger with the Indian state will intensify if the Indian security forces continue to resort to extreme force in dealing with civilian protests. On Saturday, three civilians, including a 16-year-old girl, were killed when security forces opened fire on a mob of protesters at Redwani village in South Kashmir’s Kulgam district. The security forces were on a cordon-and-search operation when local villagers began pelting stones on them. According to a spokesperson of the Indian Army, the soldiers showed restraint in handling the situation. It was only when an “aggressive and menacing crowd of 400-500 persons” came “dangerously close” to the soldiers and some “unidentified terrorists” among them fired that the latter opened fire. Kashmir has been in a state of heightened alert this past week. It is two years since Hizbul Mujahideen ‘commander’ Burhan Wani was killed by security forces. Intelligence agencies had warned of mass protests and even violent attacks to mark Wani’s death. In the circumstances, the security forces should have anticipated provocations from civilian mobs and stone-pelters and should have been prepared to disperse the protesters using non-lethal methods.

Dealing with civilian mass demonstrations is not easy, especially when the participants use slogans to provoke the security forces and stones to attack them. Fashioning a strategy to take on stone-pelters is not easy. Although a stone cannot be equated to a bullet, it does injure people, sometimes grievously, and even causes death. While stone-pelting in Kashmir has assumed serious proportions over the past decade, authorities are still to put in place an appropriate strategy to deal with these protests, let alone a political process to ensure that they do not occur in the first place. Kashmiri police have used pellet guns and rubber bullets against stone-pelters, which have ended up blinding scores of youth in the Valley. There are less lethal methods of dispersing crowds, and they are particularly important to adopt in Kashmir today.

Importantly, India must avoid deploying the army to deal with civilian protests as soldiers are trained to shoot to kill, not shoot to disperse. When the situation in the Valley improved in the early 2000s, the military and paramilitary forces were gradually pulled out from urban areas, but with the situation deteriorating of late, soldiers are not only carrying out counter-insurgency operations but are also having to deal with civilians who converge at encounter sites and funerals. It is the police, not the army, that should be dealing with civilian mobs. Soldiers are trained to defend our borders and should not have to deal with domestic challenges they are not trained to fight.

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J&K: give non-lethal methods a chance

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