Police forces from several states, including J&K, are evaluating the non-lethal Taser to help quell civil unrest.
It may prove a major step towards ending the use of lethal force against protestors by the police. Or it could be, in the worlds of Amnesty International, "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment which is absolutely prohibited under international law".
The Taser, marketed by US-based Taser International, uses compressed gas to shoot a tiny copper barb to a distance of 30 feet. After penetrating a couple of millimetres into the targeted individual, a high-voltage electric shock is administered through a trailing wire.
Indian interest in the Taser has been kindled by the deaths of more than a hundred protestors in police firing in Kashmir over the summer, and in the agitation against land acquisition in UP. The trials at the NSG this month were witnessed by several state police forces and by Indian Army officers.
Taser International, which has a 20-year patent from the Indian government, points out that the Kashmir situation might never have arisen had the police been armed with Tasers.
Paramjit Singh also highlights the “Kasab advantage” that the Taser facilitates. He refers to the capture of Pakistani terrorist, Ajmal Kasab, whose interrogation provided crucial details of the Mumbai terror attack of 26th Nov 2008.
The police seem to agree. State police forces from J&K, Punjab, Sikkim, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, and also the Indo Tibetan Border Police, have shown interest or placed orders for the Taser. The UP Police have also conducted an NSG-style trial, where constables were shot to evaluate the Taser.
But Tasers are also controversial, with critics claiming that the device has already caused 245 deaths worldwide. The United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) concluded in 2007, that the use of the Taser gun constitutes a "form of torture" and "can even provoke death." Last year, after persistent allegations that Taser shocks interfere with heartbeat rhythms, particularly in people with pacemakers, Taser International advised law enforcement agencies to aim below the centre of the chest.
There has been no word yet on the NSG commandos or UP policemen who were shot during Taser trials. The BBC, however, broadcast a video, on 17th May 2007, of Michael Todd, the head of Greater Manchester Police, England, demonstrating his confidence in the Taser by allowing himself to be shot in the back. The police chief, who fell forward onto his chest, admitted after recovering: “I couldn't move, it hurt like hell… I wouldn't want to do that again.”
Nevertheless, the NSG is impressed with the Taser, which is also used by several police forces around the world, such as the UK police, which have bought at least 10,000 Tasers. Experienced NSG commandos point out that a terrorist, even fatally wounded with a gunshot, can continue fighting, sometimes for hours. With the Taser, however, suppression is instant. The weapon is especially attractive for NSG sky marshals, since firing a bullet in an airliner risks perforating the fuselage and depressurising the cabin.
The Taser system, which was on display at the INDESEC exhibition in the capital earlier this month, comes in various models. The recently launched multi-shot Taser X3 can fire 3 probes in succession, a crucial facility when presented with more than one threat simultaneously.