Figures submitted by the deputy commissioners of eight districts in Jammu and Kashmir to the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) have revealed that at least 2,524 people were injured by the use of pellet guns by security forces during the protests that rocked the Valley following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in July last year. The government’s data, now public, speaks of the enormous costs — social, political and economic — of the indiscriminate use of pellet guns. By announcing compensation for the victims, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has taken the first step towards addressing and alleviating the grave hurt and damage that injuries, especially the loss of eyesight, has caused to victims. That the data has been made public also shows that the state government is willing to have a conversation on the conduct of the police and Central forces in the state. Now, the governments, both in J&K and the Centre, must go beyond piecemeal efforts and formulate a comprehensive policy for compensation as well as re-examine the use of pellet guns.
The state government has confirmed the identity and nature of injuries of about 1,700 victims, including 59 women. These numbers will only rise as more data comes in. So far, compensation has been provided to 22 people, from the discretionary Chief Minister’s Relief Fund. The decision to provide government jobs to those who have been blinded, apart from providing economic relief, could be a step towards giving the aggrieved and alienated a stake in the system.
Pellet guns were first introduced in the state after the 2010 protests, when 100 people were killed in firing by the security forces. The J&K police and Central forces were to have a non-lethal option to minimise casualties during crowd control. The sheer scale of the casualties last year, however, has put paid to that rationale. It has also become clear since then that the J&K government, as well as the Centre, are willing to re-think the use of pellet guns. In 2014, when she was in the Opposition, Mehbooba Mufti attacked the state government for “continuing with its brute pellet gun policy to render Kashmiri youth without eyesight”. In July 2016, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh told Parliament that the government was looking at non-lethal alternatives to pellet guns. J&K DGP S.P. Vaid told this newspaper last week that “we want them (pellet guns) completely phased out”. Given that the PDP is an ally of the BJP in Kashmir, there is no excuse for the state and Union governments not to act on their words.