Pakistan showed a wrong image at UNGA, but Kashmir’s pellet woes are real
Pakistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations Maleeha Lodhi on Saturday made a faux pas at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) – she tried to pass off a photograph of an injured girl in the Gaza strip as that of a pellet victim in Kashmir. The photograph was clicked by photographer Heidi Levine in Gaza in 2014 and captures the face of Rawya abu Jom’a, a teenaged girl injured in an Israeli air strike.
Lodhi’s mistake was caught by the Indian media and the conversation on social media steered towards how Pakistan used a “fake” photo to further its propaganda.
But Lodhi’s failure to show a correct photograph of a Kashmiri pellet victim doesn’t mean that the state’s pellet woes are non-existent.
The use of the controversial weapon during 2016’s five-month-long unrest, following the killing of Hizbul Mujahedeen militant Burhan Wani, blinded and maimed thousands. Over a dozen persons were also killed. And the wounds caused by pellets are not only physical, they leave deep psychological scars and patients often slip into depression.
Data from Kashmir’s hospitals show over 6,000 people – including children as young as four and teenaged girls – had suffered pellet injuries, with over 1,100 hit in the eyes. Amnesty International says at least 14 people were killed due to it in during the unrest.
Introduced in the Valley during the unrest in 2010, this “non-lethal” weapon of crowd control in Kashmir has drawn international condemnation attracted calls for “restraint”.
“When a shotgun is being used on a crowd, it does not surprise us that it causes injuries such as we have seen. It is not meant for crowd control. It’s not used anywhere in the world. It’s not used anywhere in India either,” Aakar Patel, the head of Amnesty International in India, told HT in an interview earlier this month. The rights body has launched a campaign to seek an immediate ban on the weapon.
At the peak of last year’s unrest, when scores of youth injured by pellets were rushed into hospitals every day, home minister Rajnath Singh asked security forces to refrain from using pellet guns against protesters and urged the youth not to engage in stone-pelting. Consequently, the government announced that the newly developed PAVA shell – a chilli-based less-lethal munition which temporarily incapacitates the target – would replace the pellet gun in Kashmir.
In February, officials said that pellet guns would be modified and fitted with a reflector so that the shots are automatically deflected towards the lower part of the target’s body and not hit the eyes or face, hence minimising the injury.
Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti has also on several occasions called for restraint on the usage of the weapon. But despite such assurances pellet guns continue to be used as a mob-control measure in the strife-torn Valley.
Senior security officers operating in Kashmir say that the pellet gun is never the first response in an emerging law and order situation – it is the last one. Moreover, they add, if pellets are not used to restrict the violent mobs, then bullets would have to be used – which will cause immediate casualties.
Authorities definitely have the task of maintaining public order in the face of violent stone-pelting protests, but the use of what is seen largely as an indiscriminate and disproportionate weapon need not be the answer.
So, before we crack a joke on the Pakistani diplomat using a wrong picture, let’s remind ourselves that the issue of pellet gun usage in Kashmir is a grave humanitarian one for which we soon need to find a suitable answer and an alternative.