Tiny pieces of metal shrapnel employed by police in Kashmir are causing havoc in the state. Known widely as pellet guns, these have been employed by police as a crowd control measure since 2010.
These guns, as explained the BBC, can hold up to 500 pellets, which are reportedly less lethal than bullets even if they do cause equally serious injuries — especially to the eye. Soon enough, doctors in Srinagar on 10 August, staged a silent protest by covering one eye with a bandage to represent those victims who have been blinded due to pellets.
In July, the Jammu and Kashmir government rejected the use of these guns by government forces and sought a report from the Centre on the handling of "lethal weapons by untrained personnel". However, the CRPF informed the Jammu and Kashmir High Court that a ban on pellet guns may cause more fatalities because they may be forced to fire bullets in extreme situations. Meanwhile, the Amnesty International, which termed the weapon as "less-lethal" with "deadly consequences", has asked the Jammu and Kashmir government to stop the use of pellet guns.
At a press conference in Srinagar, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that there should be an alternative to pellet guns. "It was believed in 2010 that the pellet gun is a non-lethal weapon that does not do much damage. But today, we feel that there should be some alternative to pellet guns," he said, adding that "the expert committee report will be out soon and we will find an alternative to pellet guns".
The expert committee has now proposed the alternative of chilli-filled PAVA shells, a less-lethal munition that temporarily incapacitates the target and renders them immobile for several minutes.
What does PAVA stand for?
The name PAVA expands to Pelargonic Acid Vanillyl Amide, also called Nonivamide, and is a organic compound found characteristically in natural chilli pepper.
On the Scoville scale — which is a measurement of the pungency of chillies — PAVA is categorised as "above peak", which means it will severely irritate and paralyse humans, but temporarily fashion. This is also used as a food additive to add flavour and spice to food.
PAVA is also "biosafe, better than chilli grenade or tear smoke shell and can also be used in combination with stun and tear shells" by security forces facing unruly protesters in place of pellet guns, the committee noted.
How do PAVA shells work?
PAVA, according to the committee, can be categorised in the less-lethal munition category and once fired, the shells burst out to temporarily stun, immobilise and paralyse the target (protesters) in a more effective way than a tear gas shell or pepper sprays.
According to a report in the Hindustan Times, the chilli-based ammunition was employed by US law enforcement agencies in the Ferguson unrest, where 18-year-old African-American Michael Brown was shot by police officer Darren Wilson. The report added that the CRPF has been using PAVA in the Valley for the last couple of days.
Other non-lethal weapons across the world
Tear gas is a popular measure for crowd control, having been used at Tahrir Square to control demonstrations, at Port-au-Prince to curb looting and increase security, and at Ferguson to keep protesters at bay, even though it's a chemical agent that has been banned in warfare as per the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, which the US and other countries signed.
Skunk, which is aptly named, has been employed by the Israeli forces since 2008 to scatter Palestinian protesters. It's a liquid made from ingredients such as yeast and protein and is non-toxic; it's developers maintain that it's drinkable. Side effects include the incredible stench that takes days to was off bodies and clothes.
Water cannons, that evolved from fire hoses and which first appeared in Germany in the 1930s, are still in use in Northern Ireland and Turkey. They are not, however, widely used in the US since the Civil Rights Movement.
During the Ferguson unrest, the Missouri police was reported to have shot protesters with wooden pellets, which are also known as "less lethal wooden baton rounds". Wooden pellets are just one of the four categories in baton rounds, with the other three being rubber bullets, plastic bullets and bean-bag rounds. The rubber bullets, which are used as a non-lethal alternative to standard bullets, are known to cause significant pain and result in haematomas (where clotted blood swells within the tissues) and bruises. Plastic bullets were introduced by the British Army in the 1970s to control Northern Irish protesters — these may be less deadly, but at close range they can be fatal.
Bean-bag rounds are also deemed "less-lethal" but are capable of knocking someone to the ground.
With inputs from PTI