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‘Non-lethal’ weapon hospitalizes Kashmir boy

Police fire in Kashmir

The state defends its use of 'non-lethal' weapons on the streets of Kashmir, despite the many deaths and injuries that result. Kashmir Global under a Creative Commons Licence

In Indian-controlled Kashmir, the brutality of the state’s vocabulary evolves every day, just like the brutality itself. What doesn’t evolve is the violent logic in the way the Indian state operates: an act of brutality is followed by an act of erasure and denial.

‘Flash-bang’ or ‘stun grenade’ is a recent addition to this vocabulary. For India’s thriving defence industry, the laboratory for such experiments is Kashmir; the most recent ‘subject’ is a 9-year-old boy.

Aamir Ahmed Ahanger, a primary-school student, lies on a hospital bed, his arm burnt and fractured. His cornea is lacerated. His face is disfigured and swollen, scarred with severe burn injuries. According to his family, he had gone out to fetch milk when police began firing on protesters in Srinagar’s Old City.

The protesters were demonstrating against the implementation of an 83-year-old law banning beef in Kashmir. The strict implementation of the ban, announced days before the Muslim festival of Eid, was followed by the state imposing an 82-hour internet blackout. The blackout coincided with the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (accused of complicity in the 2002 pogrom against Muslims in the Indian state of Gujarat) to the Silicon Valley, where he vouched to ‘transform India into a digitally-empowered society’. The announcement of the beef ban was marked by arrests, shutdown and widespread protests. On 9 October, Muslim truckers in the Udhampur district in the Jammu region suffered serious burns when rightwing Hindu activists attacked a Kashmir-bound truck with petrol bombs.

On 11 October, people were out on the road in the Old City protesting against the attack on truckers when Aamir was injured. While some reports says that his injury was caused by a teargas canister exploding near him, doctors termed it a rare case; other reports maintained that the injury was caused by the use of a flash-bang grenade.

A dissenter and activist following Aamir’s case explains: ‘It is unlikely a simple teargas canister is capable of inflicting such damage, even if it catches fire. If it had been a simple teargas canister, then we would have seen many such cases in the last 25 years.

‘Aamir recalled that a rapid fire hit his face. He tried to protect his face with his arm, which also got burnt,’ he says. Aamir told the press that a blast and flash of light hit him suddenly and he experienced a blackout. His medical reports reveal that the burn injuries are concenerated in his head region and his right arm, with some marks on the left arm. Amir will need to undergo plastic surgery.

Flash-bangs, on explosion, create a bright burst of light and an intensely loud noise, temporarily numbing the senses. Touted as ‘non-lethal’, these grenades can cause severe injury or death if targeted at a human body from close range.

A police officer, denying that such weapons can be lethal, told the local press that ‘sometimes these kids fiddle with teargas shells and that may cause an injury.’ However, sources have revealed that police uses new grenades which ‘explode with a bang and there is a fire’; the source said that these grenades cannot be held in hand and ‘thrown back on police as the protesters used to do with traditional teargas grenades.’ He revealed these ‘stun grenades, along with some innovative grenades like triple-smoke grenades, are new additions to the police’s anti-riot arsenal.’

‘Non-lethal’ weapons such as pepper guns, pump guns and tasers were used in Kashmir prominently in 2010 for ‘crowd control’ and to quell protests. However, this resulted in a large number of deaths; treatment of the injured was also complicated because of the nature of the wounds. Reports have shown that such weaponry is targeted above the waist and from a very close range. About 700 people have been disabled by pellet guns since 2010, with 70% of them having lost their sight in one or both eyes. The frequency of such cases is also alarming. Each week there are fresh cases of injuries due to pellets and teargas. Owing to considerable police presence in major hospitals, the injured may fear going to hospital for proper treatment in case they are arrested or detained.

Justifying the use of pellet guns, a senior police official said: ‘How can a deterrent be set, otherwise? How are stone-throwers to be stopped?’ The state has used carrot-and-stick methods in their crackdown on protesters. Yet despite the unhealed scars left by the violence, protesters haven’t stopped demonstrating against the state.

Beyond carefully crafted vocabulary of lethal and non-lethal, the Indian state must learn to call a spade a spade if it is ever to recover from its ethical bankruptcy.

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