After much soul-searching, the Indian government has reportedly found an alternative to the pellet guns that have left such mayhem in their wake in the state of Kashmir -- chilli-filled PAVA (Pelargonic Acid Vanillyl Amide) grenades. The euphemistically-called "pellet guns" are basically shotguns, and have blinded hundreds of protesters over the last seven weeks.
Kashmir has been on the boil ever since July 8 when the Indian army killed the militant separatist and South Kashmir Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. Mass protests broke out the following morning and have continued ever since. And as many as 400,000 people attended Wani's funeral.
The government's decision however has not found favour with the central reserve police force (CRPF), which has been at the forefront of dealing with the unrest in the Valley.
Trying to put the humane face of the government forward, home minister Rajnath Singh had declared in Srinagar on Thursday that the Centre was keen on finding an alternative to the pellet guns. "When I came here last time I said I've set up an expert committee, which will submit its report in two months... I want to inform you that one month has passed and within three-four days expert committee will submit its report. Within a few days we will give alternative to the pellet gun," Singh had said.
Sources say the committee zeroed in on the chilli-filled PAVA grenades since simulation tests of the munition have been carried out even on children as young as 12 and that they have "proved to be safe". The grenades have been under trial for over a year now at the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, a Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) laboratory, in Lucknow.
Sources close to the committee said it has recommended that the Tear Smoke Unit (TSU) of the Border Security Force (BSF) in Gwalior be tasked with bulk production of shells -- the chilli can also be inserted into shells -- "immediately", with the first lot produced being no less than 50,000 rounds.
PAVA is categorised as "above peak" on the Scoville scale, meaning it will severely irritate and paralyse humans, but temporarily.
Once fired, the shells burst and temporarily stun and immobilise their targets in a "more effective way" than tear or pepper gas. The panel noted that PAVA is "biosafe, better than chilli grenade or tear smoke shell and can also be used in combination with stun and tear shells" by security forces. The committee is also understood to have recommended the supply of a few other non-lethal/ less-lethal munitions.
Too soon, says the CRPF
The CRPF however thinks the announcement has come too soon and without any proper preparation. "We are not yet ready for any other alternative yet. It is one thing to espouse ban on pellet guns and another to be on the streets and face bloodthirsty mobs of hundreds. The pellet guns are the least lethal weapon we can use to handle such mobs that are ready to overrun police stations and secure camps," said a senior CRPF official.
CRPF officials, who are handling the situation on the ground in the Valley, say these alternatives are going to be of little use against the fury of the crowd and are not foolproof against overzealous mobs that use their knowledge of the local geography to their advantage. "Committed agitators who are ready to risk their lives will find ways to outwit the alternatives. In such a scenario we may have to turn back to the safety of regular service weapons that will increase casualty rate," said the official.
From July 9 to August 11, the CRPF fired over 3,000 pellet cartridges containing 1.6 million pellets. Pellet or shotguns were first brought to Kashmir by duck-hunting Englismen. They have caused a number of fatalities since they were reintroduced in the Valley in 2010 and have blinded hundreds.
(Wion, this story first appeared on the DNA website)