Dark world for Kashmir’s pellet victims

For many months, Insha Mushtaq listened to lectures and lessons read to her from textbooks by tutors at her home in the quite Sedow village of Shopian district. She heard the lectures, recorded them and later listened to them again to memorise.
It was the only way that the 16-year-old could prepare for her Class X exams.
Daughter of a cab driver, Insha was at home in July 2016 when she opened a window and a volley of iron pellets pierced through her face and wounded her eyes. The pellets had broken her nasal, frontal and maxillary bones, penetrated into her brain, ruptured her right eye and badly wounded the left.
The doctors who treated her described Insha as the “worst case ever seen”. The young girl was blinded permanently and her face was scarred.
During the lectures at her home, Insha’s mood would swing rapidly, her tutor Naveed Ahmad said. “She would be listening patiently and then suddenly she would become irritated and impatient,” the teacher, who taught Insha at her home, said.
Living the life of a blind had forced miserable changes in Insha’s life. She stopped going to school, stopped talking and spent long hours in isolation inside her room. She had regular nightmares. “Sometimes I see police coming and shooting my father,” she said.
In November last year, Insha, like hundreds of students, finished her class X exams with the assistance of a helper. When she was being treated in July 2016, Arshid Dar had stepped out of a mosque at Keegam in south Kashmir’s Shopian district and had joined a demonstration when an armoured vehicle rushed towards him and fired a volley of iron pellets. He was smeared with blood as pellets pierced through his face and wounded his eyes.
In the following weeks, Dar and Insha were admitted to hospital wards and in operation theatres where doctors tried to save and repair their eyes. Nearly 150 pellets had torn into Dar’s body, five were lodged in his right eye and three in the right. It damaged 90 per cent of his eyesight.
He is now scheduled to undergo ninth surgery this month at a hospital in Hyderabad and the cost of treatment has become a new torment for Dar, who worked at a baker’s shop before the injury in July last year.
“The treatment, surgeries and medicines have cost me Rs 7 to 8 lakh so far and I have not earned anything for this entire period,” Dar, 23, said. “It has been a difficult life since then. I have either been at hospitals or at home. I have not been able to earn anything,” said Dar.
Just like Insha and Dar, there are several hundred civilians whose eyes have been damaged since July 2016, when security forces made a widespread use of pellet guns to quell large-scale protests sparked by the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani.
More than 1,200 civilians whose eyes were hurt by pellets, causing partial or full blindness, were admitted to SMHS Hospital last year and the number grew throughout the year, a senior doctor said.
“On an average, we received around 20 to 22 patients every month. They came in clusters; sometimes four in a day and sometimes five,” the doctor in the ophthalmology department said.
The use of pellets against demonstrators has come under criticism from human rights organisations, which have urged the government to “immediately stop the use of pellet-firing shotguns”.
Amnesty International India, in September last year, released a report titled ‘Losing sight in Kashmir: The impact of pellet-firing shotguns’, in which it said that people injured by pellet-firing shotguns had faced “serious physical and mental health issues, including symptoms of psychological trauma”.
“School and university students who were hit in the eyes said they continue to have learning difficulties. Several victims who were the primary breadwinners for their families fear they will not be able to work any longer. Many have not regained their eyesight despite repeated surgeries,” it said.
The human rights group also urged the Centre and the state government to ensure that the use of all other weapons was “in line with international human rights standards on the use of force”.
“The authorities should also provide full reparation in line with international standards to those injured by pellet-firing shotguns and to the families of those killed,” it said.
The police, however, defended the use of pellet guns and said it would continue its use. “Pellets are non-lethal and we will keep using them,” said Munir Khan, ADGP, Kashmir.
He said he had issued an advisory to the police to “use deflectors wherever possible”.

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