Disperse crowds in Kashmir but banish the bullet, say experts

August 2nd, 2010 - 8:15 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 2 (IANS) Can Kashmir find its way out of the vicious cycle of protests and police firings that has seen 36 civilians being killed in six weeks? Yes, say outraged experts and rights activists who wonder why security forces haven’t used non-lethal methods like rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse protesters in the valley.
A milder response by security forces and the use of internationally accepted ways of dispersing crowds would have reduced civilian killings and helped rein in tensions that have once again put Kashmir in the international spotlight is the widely held view.

“I do not think at any occasion in recent times has firing by security forces been warranted,” said E.N. Rammohan, former Border Security Forces (BSF) chief and head of the commission that probed the Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada region in April.

“Kashmir needs better policing not repeated firing. An effective lathi-charge, teargas shelling or the use of water cannons could have been better than the bullet firings.”

Rammohan, who had worked in Kashmir during the peak of militancy in the mid 1990s, added: “If you abide by international practices, the administration is supposed to deploy baton squads with shields to tackle rioting mobs or stone-pelting protesters.

“Firing is not permitted unless security forces are fired upon or their lives are endangered. Even if you fire, it should be at the legs, not above the chest.”

Of the 36 people, most of them teenagers and youths, killed during protests since June 11, 29 died in police firing. Four of them Monday.

“Police, paramilitary forces and the army have to evolve a new strategy to avoid excessses while dealing with protests,” said Jammu and Kashmir Congress chief Saifuddin Soz. “The aim should be not to kill while controlling mob protests,” Soz told IANS.

Stressing the use of water cannons and bullets, he said security forces should be given refresher courses how to deal with street protests and stone-pelters.

Human rights organisations have also criticised the “excess use of force” by security personnel in Kashmir.

“It is clear security forces are not at all equipped to deal with crowd control. If law enforcement agencies start firing on the protesters, it will ignite more anger amongst the people. It will build a momentum for another round of protests and violence,” Suhas Chakma, director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights, told IANS.

Security agencies, he said, should use rubber bullets instead of live bullets. The criminal procedure code (CrPC) and the UN code of conduct prohibits security personnel from shooting any protester above the waist, Chakma pointed out.

“People will protest in a democracy. These protests can take place in any other city of India. But that doesn’t mean that security forces should use live bullets to contain the crowd.”

Adding to the chorus of protest, Gautam Kaul, former director general of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), said the formation of peace committees comprising prominent citizens, social activists and community leaders was the need of the hour.

He was critical of the methodology of the police action in Kashmir. “I do not see any riot drill undertaken by the police. Instead, there is a formation of uniformed uniformed groups, engaged loosely,” Kaul, himself a Kashmiri, added.

Forget about bullets, even rubber bullets should not be fired at close range, he said.

Muhammed Yusuf Tarigami, legislator and state secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, told IANS over the phone that “coordinated panels of the police and the security forces” should be formed at all levels so that the bloodshed is stopped.

“They are not the traditional AK-47 wielding militants. But a new group of stone-pelting youngsters. With the media spreading its network, forces should know that the entire world is watching what they do,” Tarigami said.

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