CRPF men are part of the landscape of Kashmir. They stand by the Dal Lake, looking like alien warriors in the mist, wrapped in camouflage and automatic weapons slung over across their shoulders. They peer out of machine gun nests, their eyes roving warily, alert for any militant with a grenade or an AK-47 hidden under his voluminous feran. Residents of the Valley and the state police hate them because they are “outsiders”.
A CRPF soldier on duty in central Srinagar talked to The Sunday Standard on the condition of anonymity. He had come a long way from the sandy contours of Rajasthan where he was born, to a cold and beautiful place where death and hatred kept him and fellow soldiers on edge. And the scourge of the Valley—the pellet gun.
“On occasions, we had to fire pellet guns but only after the mob hurled petrol bombs at us,” he says. “And only when we feel that we are under threat of sustaining severe injuries.”
He explains the decision to use pellet guns are not that of CRPF soldiers. “We fire only on the directions of our officers,” he says.
According to him, mostly security personnel in south Kashmir use pellet guns. “We have used them to control violent protests in Brein, Nishat and downtown Srinagar,” he says.
Pellets have hit over 3,000 people in Kashmir; over 500 received eye injuries.
The CRPF man explains the mob’s modus operandi and their counter strategy. “We are not being targeted by a single person. A group of around 20-25 young men start to pelt stones at us in a systematic, intense manner. They intend to injure or kill us and snatch our weapons. We fire pellets in self-defence,” the jawan says. If they do not fire, they will be lynched for their weapons.
He was posted in Srinagar for five years from 2002. This is his second posting in the Valley. “It was a totally different situation from 2002 to 2007. Our focus then was anti-militancy operations. Now it is to maintain law and order and take on youth who resort to stone pelting,” he says.
The jawan says there is a visible change in the behaviour and attitude of people towards the force. “Those days, most people were friendly, but today, the majority see us as their enemy who has come to deny them their right for which they are fighting”.
He says CRPF men are trained in crowd control. They do not usually fire to kill, but only to injure attackers by trying to hit them below the waist.
Asked why this method is not being followed in the Valley, he says the situation in Kashmir is entirely different because the youth hurl stones and petrol bombs at security personnel to injure or kill them, while in other parts of the country, mob clashes are infrequent and rarely lead to death of security personnel.
“In Kashmir, we don’t need written permission from a magistrate to fire on protestors. Here, the mobs are very violent and we have to use different means,” he says.
The jawan says before being sent to Kashmir, soldiers are given PI training. “We are briefed about the situation in Kashmir, the laws there and how to tackle the mobs and maintain law and order. We undergo a refresher course,” he says.