As if I was hit by electricity: Many may lose eyesight in Kashmir pellet firing
Four-year-old Zuhra Majeed lies in ward 16 of Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital with pellet wounds in her legs and abdomen.
A few metres away is 10-year-old Tamana from Tulmulla, Ganderbal. She was hit by pellets in her left eye when she was sitting near the window of her house.
“Mujhe jaise current laga (As if I got struck by electricity),” Zuhra said.
Her mother Naseema Jan says their whole family was targeted by police outside their home in the outskirts of Qamarwari on Sunday. Besides the toddler, her father and 24-year-old sister were injured.
They are among the hundreds of people suspected to have injured in pellet firing by police in the last four days after violent protests erupted across south Kashmir over the killing of top insurgent Burhan Wani.
More than 30 people have been killed and 1,300 injured as tens of thousands of Kashmiris clashed with security forces with anger mounting in the Valley over the scores of children hurt in the violence, allegedly by state personnel.
SMHS is one of the two prominent hospitals in Srinagar where injured people are being treated. A senior doctor says at least 105 pellet injuries are being treated and 95 already operated in the hospital.
“And all those operated have the threat of losing their eyesight immediately or in near future owing to the seriousness of their injuries,” he said.
Zuhra’s mother Naseema Jan is the only member of the family who escaped the pellet burst. She says they were on their way to take a family member to the hospital when the pellets hit them.
“My elder daughter was suffering from extreme pain and we decided to take her to the hospital in our car. When my husband opened the gates of the house, police personnel outside instantly fired pellets at us,” Jan said.
The family’s anguished cries attracted the attention of neighbours, who stopped an ambulance passing through.
“My husband has pellets near his heart and doctors are saying he may have to be operated upon,” she said.
A 12-year-old boy Mohammad Umar from Rajpora in Pulwama was hit by pellets in his stomach and right eye. His father Nazir Ahmad has no idea what will happen to his eye sight.
“Allah knows whether his eye sight has been affected or not,” he said. “But doctors have to do something to bring back his eye sight,” he said.
Pellet guns, a supposedly ‘non-lethal’ weapon, were first used in the Valley in 2010 to contain the civil unrest that killed more than 100 people that summer.
Since then, hundreds have been blinded and maimed by it.
HT wrote on Kashmir’s pellet victims in a report published in December and data available with activists show more than 300 pellet-hit patients were treated in Srinagar’s government hospitals from 2010 to 2014 and at least 16 lost their sight completely.
Kashmir’s security establishment says pellets are fired only when the situation becomes “serious” and that such use is “a tried and tested ‘non-lethal’ method”.
Last month, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said that only six persons suffered eye injuries, with two of them losing sight in one eye each, due to the use of pellet guns during law and order problems since 2008.
But activists say this is a “blatant lie”.
Mannan Bukhari, head of Kashmir Rights Monitoring Center and author of the book “Kashmir: Scars Of Pellet Gun”, said RTI replies showed that at SKIMS Bemina two patients lost eyesight in both eyes and three lost sight in one eye during 2015 and at SMHS Hospital 32 patients with serious pellet gun injuries in their eyes were operated upon in the same period.