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Monday
Apr232018

cane riot shields, India

CRPF hold shields as Kashmiri protestors throw stones during protest in old city Srinagar. 'Top LeT militant Abu Dujana killed in Pulwana encounter', The Hindu , August 1, 2017

A clear example of a weak system used in the hardest of tasks, riot response by police. India has access to polycarbonate shields, but its police forces are often cash-strapped, thus this more historic and local version — not bullet-proof, but effective against rocks, sticks, bottles, the weapons of equally cash-strapped rioters and protesters. 

The incident above was reported as an encounter in Pulwama district of Kashmir where security forces were engaged in a counter-militancy operation during which a Pakistani LeT commander was killed.  The report in The Hindu includes this paragraph:  'The official said that over 100 “miscreants” started pelting stones at security forces involved in the anti-militancy operation in Hakripora area of Pulwama. He said the security forces used tear smoke shells, pellets and fired few live rounds to disperse the stone-pelting protestors.'

The escalation of the technology of combat: how much of disorder in the streets is actually about harm, and how much is about the theatre of protest?  When it becomes asymmetrical, where either bullets are fired at bamboo screens, or bullets are fired from behind polycarbonate and kevlar shields at unshielded fighters throwing stones, power resides with the effectiveness of weaponry against protection from such weapons.

If the bamboo screens are effective in Srinagar, clearly the police have judged quite finely the kinds of missiles coming towards them.  They'd probably like more impermeable shields, but in the case of police, rather than armies engaged in wars of invasion, they also probably do not want a bloodbath in their community.  Kevlar shields would encourage kevlar-piercing bullets, not just stones.

This is all quite far from the asymmetry of suicide bombers, cell phone triggers and chemical weapons — the combination of technology and purpose.  We are told such methods are spread by social media: instructions,  ideology and justification, thus if and where bamboo shields are still in use, the conflict is not modern, is not technological, but is as old as Kashmir itself.

There is a difference between policing and war: the police maintain order with something like the preventative strategies of an arms race, each side held in detente by their co-refusal to escalate to outright war and consequent annihilation.  The bamboo woven shield is carried with the trust that the opposition, whatever it might be, will use ammunition proportionate to the strength of the shield.  And vice versa, that the protesters expect the conflict to be at the level of stones, not guns.  When either side breaks that trust, the social contract is broken, and as we have seen with the recent escalations of civil warfare whether in the US or Syria, it is no longer about keeping order but about killing.

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