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Monday, December 16, 2019

Aiming it wrong

Untrained personnel firing pellets responsible for eye injuries in Kashmir

Written by Harjit Singh Bedi | Updated: July 23, 2016 10:40:18 am
Mother of Tabish Bhat,16, whose eye was damaged after Indian government forces fired pellets at him during a protest shows his damaged eye as he rests on a hospital bed in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Wednesday, July 13, 2016. Hospitals in India's portion of Kashmir are overwhelmed, with hundreds of wounded patients pouring in as the region reels from days of clashes between anti-India protesters and government troops. The violence erupted over the weekend after government troops killed a top leader of Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest rebel group fighting Indian rule in the troubled Himalayan region. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin) Mother of Tabish Bhat,16, whose eye was damaged after forces fired pellets at him during a protest shows his damaged eye as he rests on a hospital bed in Srinagar, Kashmir, Wednesday, July 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

Since the past 10 days or so, news channels and newspapers have been reporting the happenings in Kashmir and the reactions of the armed forces. One fact stands out amongst the horrific scenes that have been played out: The kind of injuries suffered by the protesters. As many as 130 have sustained injuries to the eyes caused by shots fired from 12 bore shotguns. It has also been pointed out that many protesters, some as young as 10 years of age, both boys and girls, have lost their eyesight with no possibility of it being restored.

The above information is, however, not what prompted me to write this article (though it is in the aftermath of what has happened). During a recent TV discussion, one of the guests, B. S. Jaiswal, a former chief of the Northern Command, when questioned by the anchor about the injuries suffered by the protesters, especially those caused by pellets that resulted in damage to eyes, pointed out that shotguns were basically weapons of sport which were being used in preference to high velocity rifles to minimise serious injuries or fatalities.

But while talking about the injuries to the eyes of the protesters, the general suggested that the force had apparently not been trained and instructed in the use of such weapons. If what he said is right, the omission is indeed a serious one as a shotgun at short distances can be literally a weapon of mass destruction. It can cause extensive damage.

Unlike a rifle which fires only one projectile, which has to be accurately “aimed” at its target to cause any damage, a shotgun “pointed” (as against “aimed” in the case of a rifle) can cause extensive damage with the spread or dispersal of the large number of pellets that constitute a cartridge. The general observed that the security personnel had perhaps used shot no 9. This is used for shooting small birds and animals.

A shot 9 charge in a 12-bore shotgun is about 30 gms and that charge is divided into about 600 pellets, each weighing 0.05 gms with a diameter of 1.2192 mm. When the shotgun is fired, the pellets remain bunched together for a distance of about two metres from the muzzle after which they start dispersing. Forensic expert B.R. Sharma has pointed out in Forensic Science in Criminal Investigation and Trials that the “area covered by pellets fired from a shot gun is proportional to the distance between the muzzle of the firearm and the target. Greater the range, greater is the area covered”.

pellet chartAssuming that the shotguns with the armed forces were “true cylinder” weapons, that is a barrel having a uniform diameter from the breech (the place of loading) to the muzzle, the dispersal would be as given in the table (Pellet spread varies with range). With thousands of protesters bunched together at various distances from the security personnel, a single cartridge fired at head or shoulder height can cause extensive damage to the eyes and face of several persons at one go. This is what appears to have happened.

Instead of firing low, or at the feet of the protesters, to scare them away, their heads and shoulders appear to have been targeted. Little wonder Sudarshan Khokhar, an ophthalmologist from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, has been quoted by The Indian Express “that pellet guns should not be used”. This may not be strictly correct in the given situation as the careful use of shotguns can reduce the chance of fatalities. A shotgun must be used as a weapon of deterrence rather than damage.

I must emphasise that the purpose of this article is not to criticise the armed forces. However, as an informed citizen, my concern is at the loss of eyesight for this is an injury the victim will never be permitted to forget.

The writer is former judge, Supreme Court of India

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