Indian security forces will soon have a new weapon to take on insurgents or rioters -- a chilli bomb.
With the pattern of wars around the world changing to more low-intensity conflicts, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is testing hand grenades stuffed with Bhut Jolakia chillies from Assam -- termed the world's hottest chillies.
"The trials have been done for the hand grenades. It gives out such pungent smoke that it makes one come out of one's hiding place," RB Srivastava, the director of the Directorate of Life Sciences in DRDO, told IANS.
The bomb is non-lethal. It's just that the smoke from it brings tears to the person coming in contact and chokes his respiratory tract.
"War scenario is changing. Low intensity conflict is the norm of the day. The paramilitary forces face the problem of forcing the terrorists out of their hideouts. Nowadays even a handful of people can take the country for ransom.
"We wanted to find a non-lethal way to tackle the insurgents and the mob during riot controls," Srivastava added.
Srivastava was head of the Defence Research Laboratory (DRL) in Tezpur, Assam, that found out that the Bhut Jolakia chillies were the hottest in the world.
The hotness or pungency of a chilli is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHUs), that is, the amount of capsaicin (a chemical compound that stimulates nerve endings in the skin) present.
Until recently, fiery hot Red Savina Habaneros developed in Mexico -- with a rating of 350,000-580,000 SHUs -- was regarded the hottest chilli in the world.
In 2000, the DRL claimed that it had discovered a chilli with a pungency of 850,000 SHUs. Later experiments by independent scientists showed that the pungency of the Bhut Jolakia chillies measured over a million SHUs.
The chilli samples were then sent to the DRDO lab in Gwalior to study its effects on the human body. And thereafter it was sent to the High-Explosive Material Research Laboratory in Pune, which brought it out in the form of hand grenades.
"We are awaiting commercialisation of the chilli. It can be used in sprays by women to scare away eve teasers. Private companies have to come forward to take up the project," Srivastava added.
The chilli is also being tested in food. "We want to see the feasibility of the chillies in the diet for soldiers in high altitude areas," Srivastava said.
The chilli has another use -- to scare away elephants.
"We have found that elephants are scared of this chilli. So nylon ropes spread with chilli powder can be used to encircle camps to keep away the jumbos," said Srivastava.