Learning to control crowds

Updated - December 04, 2021 10:56 pm IST

Published - July 15, 2016 01:17 am IST

With the death toll rising to at least 38 in the clashes in the Kashmir Valley, the brutal crowd-control tactics of the police have come under the spotlight. They call into question the changes in standard operating procedure that were made after the violent protests of 2010, when scores of people died, mostly to bullet injuries. A decision had then been taken to introduce “non-lethal” pellets. But ammunition can only be as “non-lethal” as the tactics employed. And it is evident that the security forces have failed to exercise enough restraint, given the nature of injuries sustained by many young men and women. A high number of the injured have suffered pellet injuries in the eyes. For instance, in one Srinagar hospital alone, the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, of the 87 civilians who were brought in with injuries, about 40 had sustained pellet injuries to their eyes. Of these, doctors concluded that 19 persons, or almost half of those with eye injuries, may never recover their eyesight. Do the mathematics, and a terrifying picture presents itself. The Centre has obviously, and correctly, read the situation, and rushed a team of eye specialists to the Valley. But the tragically excessive loss of life, limb and sight this month must force a serious rethink on how policemen are equipped and trained to bring calm to the streets.

Pellets have been fired from 12-bore guns for riot control. These are not long-distance weapons. Police around the world have been trained to aim for below the knee. The idea is that the pain caused by the pellets, usually made of metal and sometimes encased in rubber, acts as a deterrent without maiming or causing serious life-inhibiting injuries. Theoretically, it sounds viable. The reality that’s obtained in Kashmir this month tells another story. It speaks to a lack of both training and leadership. It is nobody’s case that it is an easy job to control a violent crowd, but it is the duty of the police to do so by causing as little injury as possible. They must ensure that the force they use is never disproportionately excessive to the cause of action. In the heat of the moment, there was a clear lack of restraint, evident in the numbers injured by the spray of pellets. Even as the best medical care is now sought to be provided, a more holistic healing must be expeditiously administered. It has to be a political exercise. This week of violence must also end with the assurance that the security forces have learnt important lessons — the most important among them being the adoption of more humane measures for crowd control.

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