The "indiscriminate" use of pellet-firing shotguns have caused immense suffering in Kashmir, says Amnesty International in a new report on the impact of the controversial weapon in India-administered Kashmir.

Amnesty says pellet-firing shotguns are not used anywhere else in the world to break up protests. (Reuters)
Amnesty says pellet-firing shotguns are not used anywhere else in the world to break up protests. (Reuters)

In his village, he is known for the shotgun pellets embedded in his right eye.

Last year in July, Bilal Ahmad was hit in the face when a squad of Indian soldiers fired at protesters inside the village of Sugan in India-administered Kashmir.

The government forces carry pump-action shotguns that use cartridges containing about 500 pellets, which resemble ball bearings. There is no way to control the trajectory or direction of the pellets, whose effects are therefore indiscriminate.

15-year-old Bilal was sitting on the front porch of his home when a burst of pellets hit the Year 9 student, blinding his right eye and disfiguring the boy's face, his father Ghulam Nabi Dar told TRT World.

“Pellets tore through his retina. In fact, eight metal balls are still stuck deep. He feels the weight in his eye. Doctors haven't been able to remove them because it's risky," Dar said.

"But I consider my son lucky. He is blind in one eye only. Others have lost both eyes or were killed by the pellets."

15-year-old Insha Malik from Sedow village in the southern part of the disputed region was blinded in both eyes when she was hit by pellets that Indian police and paramilitary soldiers were firing during a protest on July 12, 2016. 

The Year 10 student was looking out the window when almost 100 high-velocity metal balls ripped into her face.

"The government accepted that the soldiers committed a crime. To compensate for her lost eyesight, I was given a job," her father Mushtaq Ahmad told TRT World

"But it's not justice. Is it? My daughter has lost all of her dreams." 

Losing sight in Kashmir

Kashmir – disputed by Pakistan and India since 1947 – has been on edge since 2016 following the death of senior rebel commander Burhan Wani, whose killing triggered waves of pro-independence protests.

Widespread international condemnation has followed the use of pellet guns by Indian forces. The weapons have caused what is being called an epidemic of "dead eyes."

The cartridge of a pellet gun sends around 500 high-velocity metal balls spinning into human flesh, bones and eyes.

The ammunition of the pump action shotguns killed over a dozen civilians in 2016 during protests in the disputed region. 

Danish Rajab, a marketing executive from Srinagar city, had his left eye removed due to pellet-related wounds in July last year.

"I had 92 pellets hit my face. Who says pellets are not lethal? Ask us. Pellets killed our dreams and hopes. They bruised our souls. They made our lives hell," he told the investigators of global human rights body Amnesty International, which released a report on Wednesday documenting the impact of the shotguns on civilians in Kashmir.

Dangerous and indiscriminate

The report "Losing Sight in Kashmir: The Impact of Pellet-Firing Shotguns"  said that the pellet guns are responsible for blinding, killing and traumatising people in the Himalayan region, and that their victims also include government forces.

Calling India to "immediately" ban the weapon, in use since 2010, executive director at the rights group's Indian chapter Aakar Patel said, "Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently said that change in Kashmir will not come from guns or abuses. If the government truly means this, they must end the use of pellet-firing shotguns, which have caused immense suffering in Kashmir."

"Authorities claim the pellet shotgun is not lethal, but the injuries and deaths caused by this cruel weapon bear testimony to how dangerous, inaccurate and indiscriminate it is."

Mohammad Imran Parray got wounded after being hit by pellets during 2016 protests in Srinagar city. (AP file)
Mohammad Imran Parray got wounded after being hit by pellets during 2016 protests in Srinagar city. (AP file) (AP)

Victims liability for families

"School-going boys and girls have lost vision in one or both eyes, and have difficulty reading, playing with their friends, or watching cartoons. College students have had to give up their dreams of pursuing higher education. Young men and primary breadwinners of families say that they cannot earn a living anymore, that they are now a liability for their families," the Amnesty report reads.           

Amnesty also notes that several people have not regained their eyesight despite going through repeated surgeries, and are spending considerable amounts on medical treatment.

"This is the human cost of the government's heavy-handed crackdown in Kashmir," the report said.

A single cartridge of a pellet gun sends out around 500 high-velocity metal balls in spiral loops. (AFP file)
A single cartridge of a pellet gun sends out around 500 high-velocity metal balls in spiral loops. (AFP file) (AFP)

Some will have to live with pellets embedded in their eyes for the rest of their lives.

"Doctors have been afraid to remove the pellets, fearing that it will affect eyesight, but they are not sure what the long-term effects will be," said Zahoor Wani, a campaigner at the rights body.

Amnesty said that it's unclear if the weapon has been properly tested and its risks assessed, while the regional government has done little to support those injured and disabled by the pellet guns.

Ulfat Hameed, a Year 10 student, used to teach sewing and tailoring to girls in her village in north Kashmir,
Ulfat Hameed, a Year 10 student, used to teach sewing and tailoring to girls in her village in north Kashmir, "but not any more. Because of the injuries, I couldn't write my Class 10 exam." (Courtesy - Amnesty International) (TRTWorld)

Weapon injuring Indian forces

Amnesty said government officials had provided information suggesting that the use by Indian soldiers of the "inherently inaccurate" weapons had also led to injuries among their colleagues.

"At least 16 personnel from the Jammu and Kashmir Armed Police were treated for pellet injuries in 2016," the rights group reported.

The report said it is virtually impossible to control the trajectory and direction of the pellets fired from the shotguns. As a result, "the weapons have a high risk of causing serious and permanent injuries to the persons targeted as well as to others."

Since 2016, over 13,000 people have been injured by shotguns – introduced by the British to the Indian subcontinent during the colonial era to hunt birds – rights groups and local media say.

Amnesty said that the shotgun isn't used anywhere else in the world to contain protests, adding that even India uses pellet-guns in Kashmir only. 

Kashmir remains divided between Pakistan and India and both claim the territory in full. A sliver of Kashmir is also controlled by China.

Since 1989, over a dozen groups have fought Indian troops stationed in the territory, demanding independence for the region or its merger with neighbouring Pakistan.

Currently some half million Indian troops are stationed in Kashmir.

Around 100,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in the fighting since 1989. Rights groups say some 10,000 people have disappeared while in government custody in that period.

Click here for the full Amnesty International report 

Source: TRT World