Government forces flouting SOPs to control mobs in Kashmir, allege activists; security forces reject charges
Srinagar: Human rights activists have alleged that government forces are defying standard operating procedures (SOPs) to control protesting mobs in Kashmir by engaging in targeted use of bullets and pellets instead of less lethal means of crowd control like water cannons or rubber bullets.
The police have recently listed out the different means under the SOPs that need to be followed, but rights activists and protesters say that they have not adhered to the guidelines. The SOPs were brought to the notice of State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) in July this year in response to a complaint filed by human rights activist and chairman of International Forum for Justice and Human Rights, Mohammad Ahsan Untoo, who had blamed the forces for violation of the SOPs.
Although the matter of implementation of SOPs was also brought to the notice of Jammu and Kashmir High Court by the High Court Bar Association earlier as well, the government refrained from disclosing the SOPs in response to the complaint with SHRC. Relying to the questions about the SOPs earlier in the Parliament, the Union government had held that disclosures can’t be shared as they fall under the domain of information which was classified in nature.
As per the SOPs, the authorities are required to use water cannons and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd and only open fire in case someone from the mob fires on them. Many people have died in protests at encounter sites after they were fired upon.
The SOPs specify the seven steps that need to be taken to control the crowd. Starting from the use of persuading protesters to desist from violence, it has been noted that if the crowd fails to disperse, water cannons should be used.
In the third stage, if the crowd still persists with the protest and violence, the forces have been authorised to use PAVA chilli shells and tear gas shells. In the fourth stage, the mob has to be baton charged while in the fifth and sixth stage, rubber and plastic bullets and pellet guns have to be used. It is only after all these measures have failed and the forces have been fired upon with bullets or grenades by the protesters that bullets are supposed to be used.
But Untoo said that instead of using water cannons or other crowd control means, “the forces turn to the use of bullets and directly turn to the application of seventh stage of mob control”.
As per the disclosures made by the police before the SHRC, it has also been noted that these SOPs have to be followed by both the police and central armed force personnel (CAFP), including the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).
Inspector General of CRPF, Ravideep Sahi, said that they are following the SOPs regularly. “We are always following the SOPs. Wherever there is a law and order situation, be it in city or elsewhere, we follow these SOPs.”
He added that the forces are being appraised about the SOPs. “As and when anybody is posted in the Valley, we go for pre-induction training of four weeks and thereafter, there is a periodic law and order training of one week in which CRPF and police personnel jointly participate,” he said.
However, president of the Pellet Victim Welfare Trust, Mohammad Ashraf Wani, said that the forces are directly firing at protesting crowds and have used pellets, leaving many youths blind. He said that in August 2016, after he had been protesting over the civilian killings following the death of Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander Burhan Muzafar Wani, he was shot in his chest during a peaceful protest in Pulwama.
Later, he said that on 31 October, 2016, a group of security force personnel turned to indiscriminate use of pellets at his village in Rohmoo, where he was shot in the eyes. “The forces came and even entered our houses and fired pellets. I have undergone seven surgeries and my vision has faded after I received the pellets,” he said.
In its report on Kashmir over the 2016 unrest by the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), an international rights group, it was said that not only did security forces fail to follow “international standards on the use of force, they also failed to adhere to domestic recommendations made in Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) on ‘dealing with public agitations with non-lethal measures,’ issued in 2012 by the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD).”
“Every protester and bystander interviewed by PHR stated that security forces gave no warning before firing on demonstrations, both with pellets and bullets, as is required by the SOPs. The SOPs state that the crowd must be warned before the use of force, both ‘non-lethal’ and lethal ‘as far as [it is] practicable’,” the report noted.