For many of us, the mere mention of chilli is enough to send us running to the hills. Though there are plenty of people who find the burning, sweating and all round unpleasantness of a particularly hostile pepper weirdly alluring, most normal people would sooner save themselves the inevitable next day toilet trouble. Perhaps that’s why some nasty scientists have decided to take that natural chilli heat and turn it into a weapon.
The bhut jolokia has a legendary reputation among chilli connoisseurs. Formerly the hottest pepper in the world, this chilli has formed the mainstay of many horrifically painful menu items across the world. Also known as the ghost chilli, this pepper pops up in cocktails, hot sauces and spicy eating challenges with alarming regularity. If you consider yourself a chillihead, the chances are you’ve encountered the face-melting potential of this evil looking little sucker.
As it turns out, catering isn’t the only sector to be interested in the bhut jolokia. In 2009, a team of scientists from the Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) announced that finished trials for a new breed of hand grenade that harnessed chilli extract to incapacitate targets. According to R.B Srivastava, chief of the Directorate of Life Sciences at DRDO, “it gives out such a pungent smoke that it makes one come out of one’s hiding place”.
Anyone who has taken a sniff of a particularly wicked hot sauce is all too aware of the caustic impact of seriously spicy chilli. Given that the bhut jolokia is about 200 times hotter than your average jalapeno, it’s easy to see how such a grenade could bring even the angriest of mobs to a standstill. With a scoville rating of over 1,000,000, the chilli is consistently ranked as one of the spiciest ever created, and is even used as a rudimentary anti-elephant device in its native North India.
In recent years, many military divisions have sought solutions to the problem of non-lethal pacification. Increasingly, governments who wish to avoid civilian casualties unless there is absolutely no alternative are turning towards an array of unorthodox solutions. Apart from the new chilli grenades, military personnel are today equipped with stink bombs, electromagnetic stun grenades and sonic weaponry - all designed to incapacitate without resorting to firearms.
Though they were first announced in 2009, the painful potential of the chilli grenades was recently demonstrated during a 2017 migrant dispute with Bangladesh. Rohingya Muslim asylum seekers, fleeing from violence in their native Myanmar, were forcefully turned away at the Indian border through a combination of traditional anti-civilian tactics and the bhut jolokia grenades. An unidentified official was quoted as saying that, "We don't want to cause any serious injury or arrest them, but we won't tolerate Rohingya on Indian soil."
Though the new weapon’s use against unarmed refugees is alarming to say the least, there is little doubting their effectiveness. The grenades are currently only supplied to Indian military personnel. If they turn out to be half as fearsome as they seem, we may soon all have to deal with a new terrifying type of chilli.