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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 37 New Delhi September 3, 2016

On the Lethality of Pellet Guns

Monday 5 September 2016, by Mukul Dube

I recently wrote the following letter to newspapers:

“It is deceitful to describe pellet guns as ‘non-lethal’. While they may not kill, they have maimed people permanently, specially by causing loss of vision. Breaking up a public gathering by blinding those in it is inhuman. Tear gas is at least as effective and does no long term damage.”

An English friend reacted thus: “I find it outrageous that the situation in India has deteriorated to the point at which you are advocating the use of tear gas.” I pointed out that tear gas had been used extensively in India for decades as a form of crowd control and said that he should not compare India and England.

My friend responded with: “Maybe I’m just too naive when I see the use of tear gas condoned as an acceptable form of crowd control. This is no reflection on you, but a comment upon the times in which we live: in many parts of the world protesters expect to be met with water cannon, batons and tear gas...”.

Minister Rajnath Singh said, during his visit to Kashmir on August 24-25, “In the coming few days, we will give an alternative to the pellet guns. These guns were earlier considered non-lethal but some incidents have taken place... We formed an expert committee a month ago which was expected to give report in two months but it will be coming very soon” (The Hindu, August 29, 2016).

And what is this alternative? “The pump action guns from which pellets are fired are here to stay. From now on, the pellets will not be of metal but of soft material like polymer, soft plastic, rubber and even paper. The Ordnance Factory Board, which manufactures the pump action guns, has been asked to produce the other types of pellets as well,” said one of the members of the committee (same source).

It is a matter of common sense that tightly rolled or crumpled paper becomes hard, and that a projectile of such material which travels at high velocity can cause considerable damage to human tissue. At school in the early 1960s, we boys would fire pieces of rolled up paper at one another with stretched rubber bands. This “sport” was banned after a boy lost the vision of the eye in which he was hit. It cannot be said that the proposed alternative is any less damaging than metal pellets.

I do not know if the “pellet guns” are ordinary shot-guns (12 bore or other), but even if they are not, they work on the same principle. What we have is guns with cartridges which are ordinarily used to kill birds being used against humans. So much for “non-lethal”.

The author is a writer, editor and photographer.