India to swap pellet guns for chilli shells in Kashmir

More than 3,800 people have been wounded and one killed by shotgun pellets since protests against Indian rule erupted in July, with more than 100 left partially or fully blinded
Indian paramilitary troopers stands guard during a curfew in the Batmaloo area of Srinagar on August 17, 2016.  Tauseef Mustafa/AFP
Indian paramilitary troopers stands guard during a curfew in the Batmaloo area of Srinagar on August 17, 2016. Tauseef Mustafa/AFP

SRINAGAR, INDIA // Police and troops in Indian Kashmir will use chilli-based shells instead of pellet guns to quell protests, a minister said on Monday, after widespread use of the weapons wounded thousands and inflamed public anger.

More than 3,800 people have been wounded and one killed by shotgun pellets since protests against Indian rule erupted in July, with more than 100 left partially or fully blinded, official figures show.

More than 70 civilians have been killed and thousands injured in the worst violence to hit the disputed Muslim-majority territory since 2010.

The government has been coming under growing pressure over the level of casualties in Kashmir since the death of a popular rebel leader on July 8 in a gun battle with soldiers.

Speaking on a visit to the state capital Srinagar, home minister Rajnath Singh said an expert panel had recommended the use of Pelargonic Acid Vanillylamide (Pava) shells as an alternative to the mainly lead-based pellets.

Pava, also called Nonivamide, is present in chillies and is commonly used to make pepper spray.

When fired, the chilli compound is thought to cause severe irritation and temporarily immobilise the target.

“The expert panel suggested the use of Pava shells and I understand that no one can die from it,” Mr Singh said as fresh violence erupted in parts of the territory.

“Since yesterday, 1,000 shells have already reached Kashmir,” he added.

The pellet guns are meant to minimise fatalities in protests although the law gives the armed forces a relatively free hand to use lethal force, especially against suspected militants.

Although they rarely result in deaths, the birdshot from the pellets can often blind victims if the fragments hit them in the eye.

Hospitals say they have treated around 600 patients with eye injuries in the last two months, many of whom will never recover full vision.

Mr Singh’s trip to Srinagar appeared to make little headway in resolving the crisis.

On Sunday, separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani turned delegation members away at the door of his home, where he is under house arrest.

Mr Singh said India was “pained” by the unrest in Kashmir, but lashed out at separatists for refusing to talk.

Authorities lifted a curfew in most parts of the territory late last month, but schools, shops and many banks remain closed while residents struggle with a communications blackout.

Fresh clashes were reported at protests in large parts of Kashmir on Sunday, with sources putting the number of injured in three figures.

“We have not the actual count of the injured but it is certain that a considerable number of forces personnel are also among them,” a senior police official said on condition of anonymity.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the two gained independence from British rule in 1947. Both claim the territory in full.

Several rebel groups have for decades fought Indian soldiers — currently numbering around 500,000 — deployed in the territory. They demand independence for the region or its merger with rival Pakistan. Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have died in the fighting.

* Agence France-Presse and Reuters

Published: September 5, 2016 04:00 AM

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