The ‘Non-Lethal’ War Against Civil Protest in Kashmir
Kashmiri govt employees hit by water cannon during a protest in Srinagar on June 10, 2008. (Photo: Reuters)
Kashmiri govt employees hit by water cannon during a protest in Srinagar on June 10, 2008. (Photo: Reuters)

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.

Gowhar Nazir Dar, 22, allegedly killed by CRPF personnel. (Photo: Jehangir ali)
Gowhar Nazir Dar, 22, allegedly killed by CRPF personnel. (Photo: Jehangir ali)

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.

The death certificate of Gowhar produced by the doctors at Srinagar’s premier SKIMS hospital. (Photo: Jehangir Ali)
The death certificate of Gowhar produced by the doctors at Srinagar’s premier SKIMS hospital. (Photo: Jehangir Ali)

‘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.

Hamid Nazir injured in pellet-firing by paramilitary forces to disperse a protest in Palhalan, Kashmir, on May 21 2015, death anniversary of Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq. (Photo: Shahid Tantray)
Hamid Nazir injured in pellet-firing by paramilitary forces to disperse a protest in Palhalan, Kashmir, on May 21 2015, death anniversary of Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq. (Photo: Shahid Tantray)

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.

Kashmiri govt employees hit by water cannon during a protest in Srinagar June 10, 2008. (Photo: Reuters)
Kashmiri govt employees hit by water cannon during a protest in Srinagar June 10, 2008. (Photo: Reuters)

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.

A protester runs from a tear gas shot by police explodes on February 20, 2013.
A protester runs from a tear gas shot by police explodes on February 20, 2013.

The injured need surgery. The costs are high which most families can’t afford. 70 percent victims have permanently damaged one or both eyes. More importantly, the psychological impact has changed the behaviour of many survivors.

Manaan Bukhari, Author, Kashmir – Scars of Pellet Gun

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.

PDP President Mehbooba Mufti. (Photo: Reuters)
PDP President Mehbooba Mufti. (Photo: Reuters)

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.

When my men are surrounded by a menacing hostile crowd, should they watch silently? Such weapons are necessary to prevent a higher loss of life. Besides, we probe such cases and responsibility is fixed.

Syed Mujtaba Jilani, Inspector General, Kashmir Police

‘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.

Nazir Ahmad Dar, Gowhar’s father, says the accused CRPF camp must be shifted from their locality in Srinagar. (Photo: Jehangir Ali)
Nazir Ahmad Dar, Gowhar’s father, says the accused CRPF camp must be shifted from their locality in Srinagar. (Photo: Jehangir Ali)

Since 2003, according to the CCS, about 180 probes have been ordered by the J&K government with little or no justice for victims.

Such probes serve the purpose of an ‘official cover up’. The outcome don’t lead to prosecution of criminals. Blaming the slain persons for their murder is the standard operating procedure of the government which leads to denial of justice.

Khurram Pervez, CCS Member

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.

Gowhar cannot return from his grave, but if the camp is removed, it will be a fitting tribute to my son’s martyrdom . Then I won’t pursue the case (against the CRPF).

Nazir Ahmad Dar, Gowhar’s Father

Will that happen? Only time will tell.

(The Quint is now available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

Follow our India section for more stories.

    Also Watch