The ‘Non-Lethal’ War Against Civil Protest in Kashmir
On the evening of 7 November 2015, Gowhar Nazir Dar, 22, stepped out of his home to buy some milk in Srinagar’s Zainakote locality. An eerie calm prevailed after a day of intense restrictions to foil the “Million March” called by separatist groups against the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Gowhar’s uncle Mohammad Yusuf Dar claims the young man saw a disabled boy surrounded by CRPF men, and tried to help him, when he was shot at by a ‘non-lethal’ bullet, that killed him on the spot. The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) men, reportedly on patrol without the mandatory police escort, fled in a Mahindra Bolero.
The killing hasn’t been owned by any agency. Gowhar’s family blames CRPF personnel from a unit headquartered in a defunct watch factory near their home. The CRPF has ordered a probe. The Jammu and Kashmir police has registered a case of “attempt to murder”. The State Government also announced a probe, amid allegations by the CRPF that a “stone”, and not a bullet or teargas shell, may have killed Gowhar.
Two days later, Gowhar’s grandmother died of shock when she came to know about the killing.
‘Non-Lethal’ Casualties Mounting
Gowhar Nazir’s death is the latest in a string of casualties caused by “non-lethal” weapons, reigniting the debate over the “lethality” of teargas, pepper gas, rubber bullets, pellet bombs, etc. which have been used to curb violent, anti-India protests in Kashmir.
Introduced during the civilian unrest of 2010 in the Valley, the rationale of using these weapons was to minimise the loss of life. Despite their introduction, in 2015 at least five civilians were killed in J&K during protests. Non-lethal weapons have been scarring a new generation of victims.
Coalition of Civil Society (CCS), a prominent rights group in Kashmir, says at least five civilians died due to “non-lethal” teargas and rubber bullets between 2011 and 2014. An RTI application has revealed that since 2010, at least 10 people have been killed and over 1500 have been wounded by pellets.
Political Blame Game
Kashmir’s regional parties – National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – have condemned the use of “non-lethal” weapons, but only when they have not been in government.
As Opposition leader, PDP President, Mehbooba Mufti, had walked out of the state assembly in 2014 to protest against Omar Abdullah’s government for sanctioning the use of “non lethal” weapons.
Today, her party has not only fallen silent on the issue but also defends the use of such weapons. Omar, on the other hand, wants the new government to review their use.
Meanwhile the J&K Police asserts that the use of “non-lethal” weapons will continue to minimise the human loss. “What is the alternative?” Inspector General of Kashmir Police, Syed Mujtaba Jilani asks.
‘Probes’ As Eyewash
But probes mean little to victims and their families, because justice is rarely delivered. According to the J&K’s home department officials, five probes were ordered into civilian killings by the state government in past nine months, but none of them led to any punishments.
Since 2003, according to the CCS, about 180 probes have been ordered by the J&K government with little or no justice for victims.
While it is almost certain that the use of “non-lethal” weapons will not be discontinued, despite the human cost, Gowhar’s father, Nazir Ahmad Dar, is willing to forgive although he may not forget so easily.
Will that happen? Only time will tell.