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Who says pellet guns and teargas shells—the weapons mostly used by forces to break up protests in Kashmir—are non-lethal or less lethal? The official ‘theory’ that these are non-lethal falls flat given the figures of casualties caused by their use.

Details gathered by Greater Kashmir reveal that 29 persons have died after being hit by pellet gunfire and tear-smoke shells in Kashmir since 2008—the year massive anti-India uprising took place against transfer of land to Amarnath Shrine Board by the then PDP-led government.

While 16 persons were killed by pellet guns in 2010 and 2016, 13 civilians lost their lives after being hit by teargas shells in vital parts of their bodies since 2008, the details reveal.

The high incidence of civilian causalities by the so-called non-lethal weapons has raised a question mark on the methods adopted by forces while dealing with street protests in Kashmir.

“It seems the authorities have not learnt any lessons from 2008 and 2010 agitations as people are continuously getting killed during protests in this part of world. Moreover, the fatalities by so-called non-lethal weapons are showing an alarming increase. This is a matter of serious concern,” a senior official, preferring anonymity, said.

The use of pellet guns during the ongoing uprising has come under sharp criticism, with international rights bodies and Members of Parliament from opposition parties demanding a blanket ban on their use in Kashmir.

In the ongoing uprising which entered its 70th day Friday, 13 civilians were killed by pellet gunfire and teargas shells. Of them, 10 were killed by pellets and 

three by tear-smoke shells after the July 8 killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani by forces in south Kashmir’s Islamabad (Anantnag) district.

Earlier this year, a youth was killed in Drugmulla area of Kupwara when police fired teargas shells to disperse people protesting against civilian killings by Army in Handwara.

In 2010, when pellet guns were used for the first time, six civilians lost their lives after being hit by pellet gunfire. This was also confirmed by a study conducted by medicos at SK Institute of Medical Sciences at Soura here. In 2008, two civilians died after being hit by teargas shells in Srinagar and Budgam districts.

Next year (2009), two persons were killed by teargas shells which are described as “most non-lethal weapon” by government and police authorities.

In 2010, three youngsters including Tufail Matto, whose death led to three-month-long uprising in Kashmir, died after teargas shells hit them in vital parts of body. 

Another teenager, Arif Ahmad Bhat who had sustained critical injuries in 2009 after being hit by a teargas shell, also passed away in 2010. Last year an engineering student was killed by a teargas shell at Zainakote on the outskirts of Srinagar. However, his family contested the official claim, saying he was hit by a bullet.

A former police officer, wishing not to be named, said the killings by “non-lethal” weapons need to be “looked into seriously.”

“Over the past eight years, we have been repeatedly hearing that forces will use newer crowd control measures to avoid loss of human lives during protests. But these words are not followed with action on the ground,” he said.

The officer underlined the need for overhauling the crowd control mechanism in the State.

“While on one hand, authorities need to find benign methods of crowd control, on the other, they also need to train forces so that they are able to handle street protests and properly use riot-control weapons.”