Caught between fear of arrest and need for compensation, Kashmir’s pellet victims face identity crisis
Bilal*, a youth from strife-torn south Kashmir, was hit by pellets during the summer unrest in the Valley last year. A bleeding Bilal was rushed to the nearest government hospital from where he was referred to Srinagar. With pro-azadi sentiments running high among the youth at that time, Bilal got himself registered as “Burhan” in the hospital.
But today, a partially-blind Bilal is at his wit’s end to prove his real identity in order to avail the compensation announced by the state government. He has to convince officials that it was indeed he (Bilal) who was hit by pellets that day, and not some fictitious Burhan.
The large-scale protests that broke out last summer following the gunning down of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani, saw scores of stone-pelting youth receiving pellet injuries in retaliatory action by security forces. Most of these victims or their attendants did not enter their real identities in the hospital records to avoid “harassment” by police.
Now as the government attempts to compile a list of victims eligible for compensation, the wrong names and addresses are proving a hurdle for beneficiaries.
A senior official on condition of anonymity said since the government was keen on compensating the victims, thorough verification of their identities and hospital records would be done before a name is listed.
The committee that is looking into the issue has had several meetings and they have noticed “a few cases” of mistaken identity, a source said. However, a report in a local English daily put the number of such cases received till now at 27.
Hospital authorities said there were two reasons for some victims faking their identities — one, the fear of possible arrest, and two, often bleeding and unconscious pellet victims were brought to hospitals by members of the public who did not know them and may have entered dummy names to speed up the process.
“Most of us feared arrest because according to the state all such victims are protesters and stone-pelters,” said a 17-year-old pellet victim from Pulwama district who was blinded in one eye.
In January this year, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti had said “job opportunities would be made available to persons who lost their eyesight during the crisis” and “arrangements for education at Delhi and other places would be made for students whose eyesight got affected during the turmoil”.
As of now, it is not clear what kind of jobs the government is planning to offer the pellet victims.
Data from Kashmir’s hospitals show that in the 2016 unrest, over 6,000 people had suffered pellet injuries, with over 1,100 specifically hit in the eyes.
Hospitals across the Valley are receiving requests from pellet victims to set right their injury records.
“Yes, many of them are coming to us with affidavits to get their names corrected and we are doing that after proper verification,” said Dr Nazir Chowdary, medical superintendent of Srinagar’s SMHS hospital that treated the largest number pellet victims during the unrest.
Dr Majeed Mehrab, medical superintendent, district hospital Anantnag, said at least eight such cases have come to light in their hospital. The south Kashmir district was one of the worst hit during the unrest.
Some doctors also point out that given the tedious process to establish true identities of such victims, many are opting to forego the compensation offer.
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