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Here is a math question. If a pellet gun muzzle is fixed with a deflector that prevents the pellets from flying upwards, and reduces the chance of injuries above the abdomen from 40 per cent to 2 per cent, how many of the 1,200 people who were hit in the eyes last year would be hit in the eyes with the new attachment? While you work on the answer, ask yourself what is an acceptable number. Last August, when Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited Srinagar during the height of the trouble, he acknowledged that pellet guns, despite their classification as non-lethal weapons, had caused “some incidents”, and promised in his meetings with several groups of Kashmiris that the government would consider an alternative. In September, the Ministry of Home Affairs cleared for use PAVA shells, which use an organic compound — pelargonic acid vanillylamide — found in chilli peppers, and temporarily disable targets by causing a burning sensation. But the outgoing director general of the CRPF has said these are ineffective, and the modified pellet gun is to make a comeback. That our security forces can think of innovations to guns in order to bring down casualties is commendable. But innovations in weaponry, of the lethal or non-lethal kind, are not what Kashmir needs today. For Kashmiris, and indeed in the entire world, the pellet gun has become a powerful symbol of the Indian state’s brutality, and dressing it up and sending it back is no solution to the alienation that afflicts large sections of the population in the Valley.
What the Valley needs more urgently are innovative political strategies to reach out to the people. Unfortunately, the army chief Bipin Rawat’s warning that the army would treat all those in Kashmir who do not support army operations or obstruct security personnel during encounters “as overground workers of terrorists”, and now the decision on deploying the pellet gun once more are the only two “political” signals that the Kashmiris have received from Delhi. A recent report by the Ministry of Home Affairs suggests that the Centre seems to believe that it can manage the situation in Kashmir by controlling mosques, madrassas and the media, and by reaching out to moderate politicians. The Centre would do better to reflect on the dynamics of last year’s unrest in the Valley, the participants in it, and why the tensions continue to simmer today.
Labelling huge sections of the population of Kashmir as “terrorists” in the pay of Pakistan is certainly not in the national interest, even if they throw stones. Nor is using the pellet gun to disperse such stone throwing civilians. The PDP, the BJP’s alliance partner in Jammu & Kashmir, which has more credible ideas to deal with home-grown militancy, should convey as much to the Centre. For those still trying to work out the math question, the answer is 60. Sixty too many.