New Delhi: Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik has been claiming a dip in pellet injuries and no loss of life in clashes reported from the Valley since 5 August, when the Modi government imposed a lockdown in Jammu and Kashmir.
According to a report in The Hindu, at least 36 people have been injured by pellets in the Kashmir Valley since 5 August, none of whom have been blinded. The report goes on to add that barring four, all the others have pellet injuries below the waist.
Officials in the CRPF say that it is due to a deflector placed on the pump action gun (PAG) that diverts a maximum number of pellets to the lower half of the body, making it less lethal. Another reason is a new standard operating procedure (SOP) for the force with clear instruction to “show restraint” and “fire only as a last resort”, the CRPF says.
This is in stark contrast to 2016 when violence erupted in the Valley following the death of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani. As many as 51 people were killed in Kashmir between 8 July 2016 and 27 February 2017.
Then chief minister Mehbooba Mufti had said in the state assembly that 9,042 people were injured in the firing of bullets, pellets, PAVA-shells and other ammunition during the period. At least 782 people suffered injuries in the eyes, Mufti said, of whom 510 were hospitalised.
So what is a deflector? How does it work? What is the research behind creating it? How is it less lethal than the PAG without a deflector? ThePrint went through a detailed study carried out by the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) and the TBRL (Terminal Ballistic Research Lab) to get answers.
Deflector ensures 90% pellets hit the lower half of the body
The deflector is a muzzle made of steel that is now placed on the Shot 9-Pump Action Gun (PAG) used to fire the pellets. Once a shot is fired from a PAG, 616 pellets are released at one go in an umbrella formation.
In the earlier version of the gun, 41 per cent of the pellets hit the upper part of a body while 59 per cent were targeted at the lower half of the body. With the use of the deflector, however, 98 per cent of the pellets are now directed at the lower half of the body, a CRPF source said.
“These pellets are a big deterrence, yet not fatal. When used with the deflector, most of these pellets hit the lower half of the body that only leave scars. Moreover, it doesn’t hit the eye, head, neck, which often proved lethal,” a second CRPF source said. “In fact, earlier when used without the deflector all 600 pellets hit the target, with the muzzle only 450 hit the target and the rest are wasted.”
It was only after the CRPF received a lot of flak for using pellets at protesters, killing many in the Valley in 2016, that a high-powered committee meeting was called with the CRPF and the J&K police. They debated on devising “less lethal” weapons.
Following the meeting, a detailed study was carried out by the DRDO and TBRL and a lethality assessment of the pellets was carried out.
“It is after extensive research that they came up with this deflector, which has resulted in minimum injury,” the second CRPF source said. “We started using this from December 2016 and it has considerably brought down fatalities caused by pellets. In fact, the number of petitions in the court by Kashmiri protestors against the force too have gone down drastically.”
Energy, depth of penetration studied through gelatin blocks
A pellet is 2mm in diameter and made of lead. In order to test its depth of penetration inside the human skin and what it does, the researchers imported gelatin blocks from Germany.
“Gelatin is a human tissue simulant,” the second source said. “It is a material that reacts to bullets in a similar manner as the skin tissues with regard to elasticity, capacity to absorb energy and strength.”
The study showed that when a shot from the Carts 12 bore, shot 9 PAP is fired from a distance of 50m, it penetrates 22 mm inside the gelatin.
“The average depth of the pellet inside the gelatin was found to be 22 mm,” the source said. “But when the gelatin block was covered with cloth, the average value of penetration of the pellet was much lesser. It was just 11.30mm.”
The gelatin block was covered with a cloth and tested as when the pellets hit protesters, they first pierce through clothes before entering the skin. In the case of Kashmiris, the CRPF claims, they wear woollens that have more cushion and hence bring down the impact of the hit even further.
So, if most pellets are concentrated in the lower half of the body, will it not harm more because of increased density in one area?
To this, the first CRPF officer said that the researchers also made sure to keep the energy density of the pellet to a minimum. “What if 50 pellets hit at one place? This muzzle even avoids that concentration and controls the energy of the pellets being fired,” he added.
The DRDO, the officer said, also studied which weapon will prove to be less lethal while firing the pellets. “We studied over nine weapons and found the shot 9 gun to be the safest,” the CRPF officer added.
“Along with the study of which weapon must be used and depth of penetration of pellets, the kinetic energy on impact and energy density of the pellets too were studied and this combination of a shot number 9 pistol with a muzzle was found to be the safest and least lethal,” the source said.
7 stages of the new SOP — when in doubt, don’t shoot
In April 2017, the CRPF and J&K police worked out an SOP on the use of “less-lethal weapons”, clearly spelling out the “hierarchy of usage of force”.
In the first instance, the SOP says that a medium of “persuasion, mediation, negotiation and warning” must be used with the protesters.
The second stage is the use of water cannons. “The SOP clearly states that the CRPF needs to show restraint and try and pursue and mediate with the protesters before use of any force,” a third CRPF source said. “If they do not budge, then water cannons can be used.”
The third stage is the use of tear gas munitions — CS, PAVA or Oleoresin. While CS is a chemical that is an irritant, which causes burning and itching in the eye and skin, PAVA is synthetic dry chilli and Oleoresin is a lachrymator (a substance that irritates the eye) used for riot control.
The tear gas shells being used in Kashmir are the ones with PAVA. The SOP also mentions the way the tear gas shells should be fired.
“The first stage in this is to lob tear gas shells by hand,” the officer said. “If the crowd goes out of control then use the gas gun to fire shells and the last resort is to use a multi-shell launcher.”
The SOP also states that one “cannot aim” a direct hit at a protester as it can cause fatality. “As a direct aim of the shell on a protestor can cause fatality, we are ordered not to do it,” he said. “The shell has to be thrown on a side or the ground.”
The fourth stage is the use of TS grenades through a 12 bore PAP. “This is done only when the crowd does not come under control from the lobbing of shells,” the officer said.
The next stage is the use of rubber and plastic bullets. “Though we are advised against it as the rubber and plastic bullets cause grievous injury,” the officer said.
The sixth stage is the use of the PAG with deflector. “It has been spelt out clearly that the pellets will not be fired without the deflector,” the officer said. “Since 2017 onwards, the use of a deflector has been made mandatory.”
The SOP further states that “when in doubt, do not shoot”.
The seventh and the last resort is to use live ammunition. “This is the last resort and is used only when the crowd outnumbers the force and is constantly attacking with stones and blocks,” the officer said. “This is only for very unusual circumstances.”