It took more than six weeks – and a petition in court – for the Jammu & Kashmir government to officially make a statement about the number of people who sustained eye-injuries during various protests and clashes with security forces since militant commander Burhan Wani’s killing on July 8.
As many as 446 people with eye injuries have undergone treatment in Kashmir’s Shri Maharja Hari Singh hospital after receiving pellet injuries in their eyes, the government said in the state high court on Saturday, following a petition of the Kashmir Bar Association which had sought complete ban on the use of shotgun pellets on Kashmiri protestors.
The Central Reserve Police Force said in response to the same petition that it had used 1.3 million pellets against protesters in 32 days.
There has so far been no formal complaint against anyone in the state police or the CRPF for being involved in inflicting extensive damage to the eyes of 446 people.
Contrast this with a case in Egypt, following the Mohamed Mahmoud Street clashes in November 2011.
“Many people told Amnesty International that shotgun pellets were fired towards protesters from a distance of just a few metres,” said the Amnesty report published in the World Affairs Journal. “This caused many injuries to the eyes, leading to loss of sight in many cases. A number of human rights organisations condemned the deliberate targeting of protesters’ eyes and called for the trial of senior military and police officials.”
Eventually, Mahmoud Sobhi Shannawi, a first lieutenant with the Central Security Forces, who according to an Amnesty International report and Egyptian media reports was known as eye-hunter or eye-sniper, was charged with deliberately attacking the eyes of protestors and in 2013 was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment following court trials.
The officer was tried and punished after two reported eye-injuries. Why is it then that those guilty of inflicting more than 446 grave eye injuries in Kashmir, as per the official figures alone, which resulted in the blindness of a 14-year-old girl and possibly of several others, are yet to be identified?
Unlike in Egypt, the discourse is entirely different in New Delhi and in Srinagar. It is only about looking for possible alternatives for pellet guns, though the seven-member team that has been assigned this job by the home ministry is yet to produce any report.
There is no word on charging those who have allowed its use without any prior study or those who have used it in violation of standard operating procedures.
Demanding a ban on shotgun pellets, Amnesty International India says that the organisation has consistently opposed the use of so-called pellet guns by police during protests in Jammu and Kashmir.
“These guns, which are in fact pump-action shotguns, are inherently inaccurate and indiscriminate, and their use is not in line with international standards on the use of force,” Aakar Patel, executive director Amnesty International India, told Scroll.in.
He added: “Their use has led to hundreds of injuries, and many people – including bystanders to protests – have been blinded. The state government must immediately end and prohibit the use of these weapons.”
Asked about the need for a probe to identify the police and paramilitary personnel involved in targeting pellets at upper body parts including eyes, Patel said: “International human rights standards require an effective investigation to be carried out in all cases of death or serious injury as a result of the use of force or firearms in law enforcement. Anyone suspected of having used arbitrary or abusive force in Jammu and Kashmir should be prosecuted.”
Activists say that punishing the guilty will at least send the signal that the government is serious about enforcing law and order, for the law of the land has to apply not only to the protestors, but also those charged with maintaining it.