Calling for "immediate ban" on use of pellet guns in Kashmir, the Amnesty International India, a human rights watchdog, on Wednesday advocated a trial in the civilian courts for police and paramilitary personnel involved in disproportionate use of the 'deadly' ammunition. It also said that the trail of destruction caused by pellet guns is the "human cost of the government's heavy-handed crackdown in Kashmir."
Addressing a press conference here, Aakar Patel, executive director of the Amnesty International India, said that eyesight of 88 people was damaged by the metal pellets fired from pump-action shotguns used by the police and paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force between 2014 and 2017.
The presser was organised to release a report titled "Losing sight in Kashmir—the impact of pellet-firing shotguns."
"World knows it as a shotgun which is used to kill birds. Pellets once fired have no control and they split. Those who fire pellets also get injured. 16 forces personnel got injured in Kashmir while firing pellets," Patel said in his inaugural speech at the press conference.
"We believe that stone-pelting should not happen, but that doesn't mean that pellets will be used if it happens," he said.
Kashmir, he said, is the only place where pellets are used as a crowd control measure.
The report reads that in J&K, the police state that cartridges of pellet guns commonly used contain 500 pellets which resemble ball bearings. "There is no way to control the trajectory or direction of the pellets whose effects are therefore indiscriminate," it reads.
The report strongly advocates that the J&K government must initiate prompt, independent and impartial civilian criminal investigations into all incidents where the use of pellet-firing led to deaths or serious injuries.
"This should be done to establish whether arbitrary or excessive force was used and where sufficient evident is found, prosecute those suspected for responsibility in civilian courts," the report states.
It says that the pellets should be immediately stopped. "(Central and State governments) provide relevant training on crowd control measures and the use of force and firearms to security forces as laid out in the UN Basic Principles on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials and UN code of conduct for law enforcement officials," the report reads.
The report states that the government must provide full compensation in line with the international standards to those injured by the pellet-firing as well as the families of those killed.
"This must include adequate compensation and rehabilitation including any medical and psychological care that may be needed," the report states.
Speaking on the occasion, senior campaigner at the Amnesty International India, Zahoor Wani said that during the course of research, it was found that FIRs were registered against victims in various police stations instead of those who fired pellets.
"We have seen only one case where FIR was lodged against police," Wani said. He said that the victims are in the age group of nine to 65.
"Of the total 88 victims hit by pellets in eyes, 31 sustained pellet injury in their both eyes. Among the victims, 14 were female, who were shot by pellets inside their homes," Wani said. "Pellets have rendered two victims completely blind."
Aakar Patel said in his I-Day speech, Prime Minister Narendera Modi said that change in Kashmir will not come from guns and abuses—"na goli say, na gali say." "If the government truly means this, they must end the use of pellet-firing which has caused immense suffering in Kashmir," he said.
The report further states that many victims show symptoms of psychological trauma.
"And all of them face everyday struggles: of dealing with the darkness they say has descended on their lives, of having to let go of simple pleasures, and of preparing for difficult future. This is the human cost of the government's heavy-handed crackdown in Kashmir," the report reads.
It states that pellet-firing has also injured the police and armed forces. "Information obtained through right to information application suggests that these injuries have indeed occurred. The Health department of the government of J&K in response to the RTI application submitted a list of persons treated for injuries in government hospitals in six blocks in Kupwara district in 2016," the report reads. "The list of 648 people includes the names of 16 men indentified as being members of the J&K police who suffered various forms of injuries caused by pellets."
The report states that the Amnesty International India wrote to J&K police and central reserve police force seeking information on whether any of their personnel had been injured by pellets. "No responses were received," the report reads.