SRINAGAR: An international human rights group urged India to immediately ban the use of shotguns by government forces in suppressing protests against Indian rule in disputed Kashmir, saying pellets fired by the weapons have blinded and killed people indiscriminately.
Amnesty International also criticized Indian authorities for failing to support those who have been injured and disabled by the weapons.
“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. There is no proper way to use pellet-firing shotguns,” said Aakar Patel, head of the group’s Indian chapter.
Patel said shotguns have caused immense suffering in Kashmir and are not used anywhere else in India. “This weapon has only been reserved for Kashmiris,” he said. “It is irresponsible of authorities to continue the use of these shotguns despite being aware of the damage they do.”
The group issued a report, “Losing Sight in Kashmir: The Impact of Pellet-Firing Shotguns,” which profiles 88 people whose eyesight was damaged by metal pellets fired by Indian forces between 2014 and 2017, showcasing what it called the “human cost of the government’s heavy-handed crackdown in Kashmir.”
The report includes 14 female victims who were wounded inside their homes.
Indian authorities did not immediately respond to the report.
Although shotguns have been in use in Kashmir since 2010, government forces fired them widely during months of civilian protests against Indian rule in 2016 after Indian forces killed a popular militant leader. At least 90 people were killed and thousands injured, hundreds of them blinded and maimed, by firing by Indian troops during that year’s clashes.
“These inherently inaccurate shotguns fire hundreds of metal pellets which spread over a wide area,” the report said. It said pellets alone have killed at least 14 people in a little more than a year since then.
Although daily anti-India protests have subsided, unrest has continued to simmer in Kashmir with over 100 young Kashmiris joining rebel ranks, reviving a largely crushed armed insurgency.
“Authorities have a duty to maintain public order, but using pellet shotguns is not the solution,” Patel said. “Security forces must address stone-throwing or other violence by protesters by means that allow for better targeting or more control over the harm caused.”
He said the government should “immediately stop the use of pellet-firing shotguns and ensure that the use of all other weapons is in line with international human rights standards on use of force.”
Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim the territory in its entirety. Rebel groups demand that Kashmir be united under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir’s mostly Muslim population and most people support the rebels. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.
India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, a charge Islamabad denies.