Srinagar, Feb 28:A study of injuries caused among youth in Kashmir by rubber bullets has pitched for categorization of the bullets as “lethal weapon.”
The study that appeared in an international journal – Chinese Journal of Traumatology – focused on the severity of the injuries including nerve and tendon damages and fractures caused among youth who were hit by the rubber bullets fired by police and paramilitary forces during protests in the Valley.
“It is important to understand that these weapons are capable of causing significant morbidity and hence there is a need to reclassify them as less lethal or lethal weapons,” reads the study titled ‘Pattern of Rubber bullet injuries in the lower limbs: A report from Kashmir’. The study was conducted by a team of doctors led by well-known orthopedic DrShabir Ahmad Dhar at Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences here.
The rubber bullets, categorized as “non-lethal” at present, were used by police and paramilitary CRPF in Kashmir for the first time during the 2008 unrest.
Though security agencies claim that the bullets only cause pain, abrasions and contusions, they however end up causing severe injuries. In 2008, a downtown youth, Javaid Iqbal, was killed when hit by a rubber bullet in Nowhata.
The study covered 28 civilians, in the age group of 11 to 32, who had suffered penetrating rubber bullet injuries of upper and lower extremities from 2008 to 2010.
Of these 28 patients received at Bone & Joint Hospital Barzulla and Department of Orthopaedics, SKIMS Medical College Bemina, 19 had injuries of the lower limbs and nine patients had injuries of the upper limbs.
There were eight fractures, four nerve injuries, three tendon injuries and 10 isolated lacerations, as per the study.
The lethality of the rubber bullets also increases as they cause life threatening infection if left inside the body unlike the fire bullets and pellets.
The rubber bullets, which are fired as a single projectile, are blunt-nosed with a muzzle velocity of around 70 m/s and a kinetic energy of nearly 400 J.
For many years now, human rights groups in Kashmir have been seeking an end to the use of pellet guns and pepper gas which were used as “non-lethal” weapons in 2010 summer unrest in which 120 civilians were killed.
Pellets are small iron balls fired at high velocity and a single pellet gun cartridge contains 400 to 500 pellets.
The use of pellet guns by forces in Kashmir has resulted in 10 deaths and 1500 cases of ‘serious injuries’ including loss of eyesight in one or both eyes since 2010, as per a study by Hurriyat Conference (M).
A report published in Journal of Public Health Policy in May 2014 titled ‘Exposure of Pepper Gas Explosions on Non-Combatant Bystanders’ stresses that pepper gas has been causing serious respiratory problems among people in Kashmir who were living in and around areas where it was being used for crowd dispersal.
The study on rubber bullets highlighted that the bullets can cause significant morbidity and hence they should not be considered a safe method for controlling crowds.
“Also, the rubber bullets have to be removed for their propensity to cause severe infection while fire bullets and pellets could be left inside body if not dangerous,” said a doctor.
During the study the doctors had interviewed many victims. While one of the victims revealed to the doctors that muzzle of the gun was kept on his knee before he was shot at, other patients reported that they were shot from “close range”.
“That can be corroborated by the gravity of the wound the victims had suffered,” the study reads. “Our findings suggest that these weapons are capable of causing significant injuries including fractures… The report is also supportive of the opinion that these weapons are lethal and should hence be reclassified.”