Calling protesters “human obstacles”, media reports suggest that the government forces in Kashmir will switch to a sonic weapon – sound cannon or Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) – from shotguns used to shoot pellets at the protesters.
On June 24, 2019, news about the use of the sound cannons appeared in a newspaper. The report said that Ministry of Home Affairs headed by Bhartiya Janata Party’s former president Amit Shah has approved the use of the sonic weapon in Kashmir to shoo the protesters away. Experts say that LRAD can damage eardrums permanently and can cause anxiety and nausea to the people exposed to it.
Effects of LRAD
For humans, the sound range of about 120 decibels is considered to be painful. The sound cannon, however, emits sound of frequency 162 decibels, which is more than capable of impairing auditory sensation of a person.
While speaking to Kashmir Post, ENT specialist Dr Abdul Rashid said that sound cannon or LRAD is extremely harmful to human ears. “It is not only harmful to ears but also to eyes and other internal organs as well. The waves from the sound cannon can affect the central nervous system of a person and can cause an auditory shift. The vibration of the sound waves can create distortion of vision, unease, vibrotactile sensitivity change and improper muscle contraction. It can also cause problems with the wall of the lung tissues. It can lead to hypertension. A continuous sound from the cannon can affect people’s livers as well,” he explained.
“Perforation of the eardrums can definitely happen immediately due to these waves. I have seen many cases in which government forces slapped a victim, which damaged their eardrums permanently. Now, cannons will increase the number of people who might lose their hearing power,” said Dr Rashid.
Is it necessary?
Former Indian Police Service officer Shafqat Ali Watali, who served as Inspector General of Kashmir Police, said that forces in Kashmir aren’t following professional methods to control the protests, which is why they are switching to such weapons.
He said that it is very unfortunate to see these experiments being conducted on people. “Before, they used pellets, which gave an inhuman result. If—God forbid—I am a pellet victim and I lose my eyesight, I would prefer death over such a life,” Shafqat said. “Use of such weapons shouldn’t be permitted at all.”
He further said that whatever the police officers are trained for, they have gone beyond that. “They have included other things such as rubber bullets, which are considered “non-lethal”, but many people have died due to the rubber bullets and the teargas canisters. While dealing with protesters, it should be ensured that nothing causes permanent damage to them. If they follow standard operational procedures (SOP) while handling these weapons, the damage to the victim can be drastically minimised,” said Shafqat.
While talking about the treatment given by the forces to the protesters, Shafqat said that the government forces want to deal with protesters from a very safe distance. The problem lies there. “Forces are meant to use weapons and methods in different steps. But that is not happening,” he said. “Forces are supposed to take calculated risks while dealing with such incidents in order to save the lives and situation as well, but we don’t see that at all.”
Shafqat also said that the Jammu and Kashmir Police (JKP) are not used to stopping or controlling protests. For this purpose, JKP has a proper wing called Jammu and Kashmir Armed Police (JKAP). “But they aren’t mostly used. Instead of them, the Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF) are being deployed. While dealing with the protests, they probably think that protesters are the enemies, which is absolutely wrong. So, all the compassion will vanish. As per the law, JKP and JKAP are meant to deal with these kinds of situations,” he told Kashmir Post.
“In such situations, it is mandatory to have executive magistrate with the forces but it doesn’t happen at all. We aren’t able to control such a situation because we (forces) have forsaken effective professional ways of dealing with such a situation,” he added.
Watali believes that if forces want to control such a situation, they must be able to gain trust of the public. “Symbolically, police meet with the public, but it has no meaning. Police must have a permanent relationship with the public to handle them and to understand what exactly people want. Forces must exhaust all peaceful methods to control protesters and then, if at all necessary, can resort to non-lethal methods,” he added.
Reaction of The Civil Society
President and the founder of Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and human rights lawyer Parvez Imroz said that after facing shame globally for using pellet shotguns in Kashmir, government is still choosing such tactics to suppress people.
Referring to the extreme use of power in Kashmir by the government forces, Imroz, while speaking to Kashmir Post, said that Indian forces aren’t able to control the anger among the public which is definitely due to the killings of civilians, physical and mental torture and indiscriminate arrests in the restive state.
“Indian government is also conscious of how it could minimise international human rights outcry. After 2016, pellets fired by the shotguns became a cause of concern internationally. Because pellet injuries were visible. Now using weapons like sound LRAD, the injuries will be invisible and numerous, as it will be used in densely populated areas,” said Imroz.
He further alleged that after the Pulwama attack in which more than 42 CRPF men were killed, the central government has given a free hand to forces to use power to any extent in Kashmir. “In this situation, weapons like LRAD will be disproportionately used. Using such a weapon against civilian, in other words, non-combatants, is a crime against humanity that too when armed forces have the legal impunity. It is a serious matter of concern,” he added.
In 2016, following death of militant Burhan Wani, not less than 6,221 people were injured from pellets and were admitted in Shri Maharaj Hari Singh Hospital, Srinagar. Among the injured, 1,539 suffered severe injuries in their eyes.
For the first time, LRAD was used on the soil of America at Pittsburgh during a G20 summit in 2009.