The Ministry of Home Affairs has sanctioned 4,949 pump action guns for Central Reserve Police Force units deployed as part of the Rapid Action Force in Jammu and Kashmir, taking the total number of pump action guns with the force to 5,589, up from just 640 last year.

This is an almost 10-fold increase in the number of such guns in the Valley, that too at a time when there is no unrest in the state – though there are vague apprehensions of another outbreak of protests in the coming months.

Should there be fresh turmoil, one can only imagine the havoc such a stockpile of weapons would wreak. That is, if we go by the fact that just 640 pellets guns last year left more than a 1,000 people with impaired vision – most of them youth. Scores have been completely blinded in either one or both eyes. But this deterred to the Centre from continuing with the indiscriminate use of the weapon.

At the peak of the unrest last year, the Ministry of Home Affairs had formed a committee to review the use of the pellet guns, but it ended up justifying their use. Besides, it added one more weapon, the PAVA shells, to the riot control gear. Now, it has turned out that the PAVA shells are ineffective in controlling the angry stone-throwing crowds, making the use of pellets guns a necessary evil.

This is a dodgy argument, almost like claiming that protests of the scale seen last year did not take place earlier. As if their provenance dates back to 2010 when for the first time the pellet guns were introduced in the state.

State assistance

However, the central government is not the only one culpable of advancing the use of the pellet guns in the state. The state government is equally responsible. During the Assembly session in January, the Jammu and Kashmir government ruled out a ban on use of the weapon in the state, terming the pellet guns as “the last resort to control violent mobs.”

Replying to a Cut-Motion of National Conference legislator Shameema Firdous on banning the use of pellet guns, the government said the weapon was being used in situations “where all other means of dispersing furious mobs become ineffective.” This from a party whose leader, when in the Opposition, had forcefully opposed the use of pellet guns and promised to check their use once in power. But as state chief minister, she has expediently forgotten her promise. Nor has she objected to the authorisation of more pellet guns to the CRPF.

There is one more troubling dimension to the Ministry of Home Affairs’ decision to put more pellet guns in the hands of CRPF. It once again highlights the policy of no political engagement with Kashmir. Though a recent home ministry report does suggest an outreach to the moderate Hurriyat groups in Kashmir, the proposed engagement amounts to little in terms of an effort to resolve the issues underpinning the longstanding turmoil in the state.

Instead, the report seeks to further complicate the situation by proposing measures to reign in the mosques, madrasas and the media. What is needed is a substantive political initiative and confidence building measures to regain the faith of people, not further alienate them by sending more weapons to suppress them.

This article first appeared on Kashmir Observer