Plastic Bullets to Be Used in J&K: Are They Really Non-Lethal?

After the supposedly non-lethal pellet guns left scores of protesters blinded and even resulted in several fatalities during last year’s unrest in Kashmir, a fierce debate has raged about their usage.

Now, the Home Ministry has proclaimed that security forces will soon employ less-lethal plastic bullets to curb protests in Jammu and Kashmir, adding another intermediary step in the stages of escalation before pellets can be fired.

But what is the damage that a plastic bullet can cause, especially when compared to pellets or regular bullets? And are the injuries inflicted really as “minor” as claimed by the Centre? We find out.

Plastic Versus Pellets: A Comparison

An X-ray showing pellet injuries to a skull (L). A class 10 student who was injured in March (R). The X-ray and the photograph are unrelated. (Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Kashmir Scars of Pellet Gun)

Bhavesh Kumar, CRPF Spokesperson to The QuintPlastic bullets are less injurious than pellets. They can be accurately aimed at precise targets, whereas pellets can only be fired in a general direction, they are not aimed fire. Pellet guns will still continue to be used as the last resort before live ammunition. The plastic bullets will be an additional intermediary option before that.

Kumar adds that unlike regular bullets, plastic bullets do not pierce the body. He claims that, at the most, they can cause minor injuries such as abrasions and contusions. Plastic bullets can be fired from both AK-47s and INSAS weapons used by security forces.

On the other hand, a pellet gun is a 12-bore weapon which contains small balls made up of lead, which scatter in a given direction when fired. The heavy loss of lives caused by the firing of these ‘non-lethal’ pellets by security personnel in the Valley over the past year has forced New Delhi to reconsider their usage. Not only have pellets caused severe bodily injuries, they have proved lethal on multiple occasions, especially in cases of close-range impact.

Also Read: The Dead Eyes of Kashmir: Pellet Victims Share Their Stories

However, instead of ruling out the use of pellet guns, the Centre has chosen to introduce other options for security personnel before they use pellet guns as a last resort.

In line with that strategy, the use of chilli-filled PAVA (Pelargonic Acid Vanillyl Amide) shells was cleared by the Home Ministry in September last year.

PAVA shells have proved to be ineffective in dealing with protesters in Kashmir. (Photo: Reuters)

But security forces have found PAVA shells to only be slightly more effective than the tear smoke shells currently used. CRPF spokesperson Bhavesh Kumar says, “PAVA shells aren’t intended to be a replacement to pellets. They are only a little more pungent than the tear smoke shells we use.”

Kumar adds, “Rubber bullets too are hardly useful. They are made up of soft rubber and are less effective or impactful than even a stone thrown with force.”

And now, in the latest modification to the standard operating procedure, the Centre has directed security forces to use the snub-nosed plastic bullets before turning to pellet guns.

Added Options Before Escalation

It’s still some time though before security forces in Jammu and Kashmir get their hands on the new plastic bullets. They are being tested at Chandigarh’s Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory and will only be introduced once the testing procedures have been completed, reported The Hindu.

The options available to security forces before using live ammunition include tear smoke shells, PAVA shells, rubber bullets, plastic bullets and pellets guns.

CRPF spokesperson Bhavesh Kumar concludes, “The new plastic bullets will help in preventing escalation. We will use them on those leading the protests so that they leave the area with minor injuries. Because these bullets are not fatal, yet they will hurt. It will aid us in diffusing protests.”

Across the World

Rubber and plastic bullets were used extensively in Northern Ireland during the conflict in the 1970s, reportedly killing 17 people, eight of whom were children.

In a column published by The Guardian in 2011 titled ‘Plastic bullets should never be an option – history has shown this', human rights activist Marc Thomspon argued against the usage of such bullets.

He wrote, “There is a need to also take cognisance of the UN's committee against torture 1999 report into the use of plastic bullets in the north of Ireland, which deemed plastic bullets a 'weapon of torture' not to be used. And in 2002 the UN's committee on the rights of the child called for their ban.”