Tear gas in Kashmir: Not only for tears, corpses too

The tear gas shell smoke, fired in the Srinagar during civilian protests after the hanging of Afzal Guru on 9 February 2013. Photograph by Shahid Trantray
The tear gas shell smoke, fired in the Srinagar during civilian protests after the hanging of Afzal Guru on 9 February 2013. Photograph by Shahid Tantray

During the recent uprisings in the valley of Kashmir, one of the major tools used by the Jammu and Kashmir police and the Indian Paramilitary forces has been the tear gas shell. The tear gas shell is not an alien instrument: it has been used freely on peaceful protesters as well as stone throwers. There have been a large number of civilian killings, mostly teenagers, due to the tear gas shells. More than often, it causes serious injuries, leaves victims bed ridden for years, and results in loss of eyesight.

“If there are tourists visiting Tulip Gardens and there is no stone-throwing they (India) would portray it as normalcy. But we are under occupation and we want this occupation to end!” says Faisal Ahmad, a 20-year-old stone-thrower from Old City, Srinagar.

Most of the neighborhoods where Faisal resides are prone to stone-throwing. Like the majority of the youth from his area, stone-throwing is a routine for them, and he is no exception to the rule. Till date, he has been hit twice by the tear gas shells. “In 2008, CRPF personnel aimed a tear gas shell at me from a close range. But I was fortunate that it caused no major injury.  The shell went away, kissing my right arm” he said.

The “Mo-i-Mukadas” – the holy relic of Prophet (PBUH)- agitation in 1963 was the first incident that rooted the culture of stone-throwing across Kashmir. The state police, including the Border Security Force then implemented a “non-lethal” weapon: tear gas smoke, as a public control measure,” said Dr. Sheikh Showkat, who teaches law at Central University, Kashmir.

[pullquote]“I was shifted to SKIMS hospital in Srinagar. When I opened my eyes, I saw many people crowded around me. I asked for the date and was dumb founded. One whole month was missing from my life. I had been in comma for a month!”[/pullquote]In the 2010 mass protests, Faisal says that he received severe burn injuries by a tear gas shell that left him bed-ridden for several weeks. “That pain was unbearable and indescribable,” he recalls. However, the recent unrests have proved the definite lethal nature of tear gas shells which have claimed more than 120 lives, mostly youngsters, and left thousands injured. In the 2008 mass protests, more than 80 people lost their life due to this form of “non-lethal” control measure: “In order to tackle public demonstrations and prevent large casualties, this “non-lethal” weapon was readily accepted for usage,” Dr. Sheikh remarks.

On 20 August 2010, Adil Farooq of north Kashmir Varmul was hit by a tear gas shell, allegedly fired by CRPF personnel, during a protest near his home in the town. He was on his way to a barber’s shop when the shell hit him on the head. “I did not know that the protests had started on the other side of the cement bridge and found myself being chased by CRPF personnel,” he said.

Farooq recalls those moments of his life as ones that changed him forever. He maintains a dignified posture while saying but his haunted looks give away the trauma he has experienced.  The shell had hit his forehead and his condition was declared critical at the District Hospital Varmul.

“I was shifted to SKIMS hospital in Srinagar. When I opened my eyes, I saw many people crowded around me. I asked for the date and was dumb founded. One whole month was missing from my life. I had been in comma for a month!” he told The Kashmir Walla.

After recovering from the comma, he witnessed another moment of misery and shock. He could not feel the entire right side of his body because half of his body had been paralyzed since the shell had hit the center of his brain. This incident negatively impacted his education as well.

Due to the memory loss and paralysis attack, he had to leave his B.Ed. degree unfinished. It took him two years to recover from the paralysis attack. Farooq’s 22-year-old brother Umer went to a local police station to file an FIR against the CRPF personnel but the police refused. “I was not allowed to register any case,” said Umer.

During the 2010 unrest, the then Inspector General of Police (Kashmir), S M Sahai was quoted by a local newspaper as saying that the policemen are trained to fire the tear gas shells in a parabolic way and not directly. On ground, the exact opposite is witnessed.

Parents of Wamiq Farooq, a 12-year-old school going child hailing from Rainawari Srinagar, claim that on 31st January 2010, an assistant sub-inspector of Jammu and Kashmir Police fired a tear gas shell in an apparently un-parabolic manner that hit his head and killed him instantly. On 11 June 2010, another youth, Tufail Mattoo was killed in the same manner. A tear gas shell was fired on his head, leaving him dead on the spot. Three years later, the case has been closed and the killers have been declared as “untraced”. The Special Mobile Magistrate of Srinagar accepted the closure report filed by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the police, constituted by the High Court, and closed the case in trial court on 27 February 2013.

Health experts say that the tear gas shell works by irritating mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, mouth and lungs. “It causes severe pain in the eyes, crying, sneezing, coughing, and choking are a few side effects,” say experts. “Injury in any soft organ or any facial injury caused by a tear gas shell has high chances of producing delayed complications such as infections and cosmetic problem,” adds Dr. Irshad Ahmed, who has experience treating such patients. As such, it is obvious that the use of tear gas shells is not “non-lethal” and has dire impacts on the lives of those it touches. One does not have to be a protestor or an attacker to be hit or killed by these tear gas shells: it has taken lives of the innocent just as readily.

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