450 tear gas shells fired in 5 days at 2 sites during Delhi protests
Delhi Police fired at least 450 tear gas shells over the past five days to quell protests in Jamia Nagar and Seelampur, three senior officers in the know said on Wednesday, admitting that it could be the largest quantity of the ordinarily non-lethal ammunition used in a comparable time span in recent history in the Capital.
To put that in context, 180 tear gas shells were fired on December 22, 2012, during a protest at the India Gate lawns in the aftermath of the December 16 gang rape and murder case that sparked nationwide outrage. That was the highest figure until Sunday’s violent protest in Jamia Nagar, the officers cited above said.
According to preliminary details collected by the force, the south-east district police on Sunday fired at least 200 shells in and around the Jamia Millia Islamia campus. The protesters torched five buses in the area. Over 200 people, including 15 police personnel , were injured in the clashes that ensued. At the Seelampur protest on Tuesday, where protesters vandalised 20 vehicles and set a police picket on fire, 247 tear gas shells were fired. At least 15 shells were fired on Friday outside the Jamia campus. The details will be part of a report to be sent to the Union ministry of home affairs.
Delhi police spokesperson, deputy commissioner of police Mandeep Singh Randhawa, said police had no option but to fire tear gas. “Some of the unruly protesters were pelting stones and setting public vehicles on fire. They were pelting stones at the police and public, too. At both places, the protests were spread across a large area. In Jamia Nagar, the protests spread from the university campus to Mathura road near Ashram, the Friends Colony, and Suryaa Hotel in New Friends Colony. Using tear gas was the best option. It is non-lethal and safer, too,” Randhawa added.
One of the used tear gas shells was seen on Monday in the reading room of the new library building in Jamia Millia campus.
According to a report by news agency Reuters, between June 9 and August 4, the Hong Kong Police fired at least 1,000 rounds of tear gas. Tear gas, which contains the chemical compound 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile that causes eye irritation and a burning sensation in the throat and the nose, is commonly used by police forces across the country to disperse protesting crowds.
Several activists as well as students, who were injured in Sunday’s protest, criticised the police action as excessive. The police in their defence said many unruly protesters, who were not students, had joined the protest and hid inside the university campus.
Vikram Singh, former director general of Uttar Pradesh Police, said it was not wrong to use tear gas if it is deployed correctly. “If it [tear gas] is fired from a 45-degree angle, it is the most effective and non-lethal form of dispersing protesters. At the most, people suffer from irritation in the eyes. But if it is shot parallel, it can prove lethal. Reports of injuries on bodies of students because of tear gas shells are a matter of concern because that would suggest that the tear gas shells were not fired properly,” he added.
According to the standard operating procedure adopted by security forces, they first issue a warning, followed by the use of water cannons if the protesters do not disperse. Police have to issue another warning before ordering the use of tear gas. If tear gas is not effective, police then resort to a lathi-charge. If that proves ineffective as well, the use of rubber bullets and then live rounds comes into play.