By Fayaz Bukhari
NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - India plans to reconsider the use of pellet guns by security forces when controlling crowds, its interior minister said on Thursday, after widespread resort to the weapons caused multiple casualties and stirred public anger.
Interior Minister Rajnath Singh told lawmakers the government would set up a panel to look for an alternative to the pellet gun in response to questions about responses to a recent surge of violence in the Kashmir region.
Dr. Kaisar Ahmad, Principal at Government Medical College Srinagar, told Reuters that over 280 people had been treated for pellet injuries since July 9 when violence broke out in Kashmir during protests sparked by the death of a separatist militant.
In his talk with lawmakers, Singh said one person had been killed from pellet shots in the most recent violence in India's only Muslim-majority state, bringing the total number of deaths from the weapon in Kashmir to seven since 2010.
In addition, 53 had suffered eye injuries in the past six years, Singh said. "It is a fact that people were injured by the use of non-lethal weapons," Singh told lawmakers.
"We will form an expert committee on this that will give its report in two months so that such incidents are not repeated in future."
Amnesty International this week asked the Indian government to prohibit the use of pellet-firing shotguns during street demonstrations, saying that police should look for "less harmful" devices.
Though meant to be a non-lethal weapon, a senior police officer told Reuters that security forces are often forced to use pellet guns at close range to protect themselves against mob attacks.
Insha Malik, a 15-year-old student, was hit in her eyes by pellets when she was watching protests from the window of her house in the South Kashmiri town of Shopian. Her father, Mushtaq Ahmad, says she will never see again.
"She often asks me about her regaining her eyesight. I tell her a lie (to console her) that she will, but it will take time," he said.
(Additional reporting by Manoj Kumar; Editing by Rafael Nam/Mark Heinrich)