14 Die, 1100 Lose Vision, Hundreds Suffer Organ Damage

  • Zehru Nissa
  • Publish Date: Dec 19 2016 9:12PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Dec 24 2016 7:34PM
14 Die, 1100 Lose Vision, Hundreds Suffer Organ DamagePhoto: Habib Naqash/GK

On July 9 around afternoon, five teenagers waited outside the Trauma Theater of SMHS Hospital, nursing their pellet hit eyes with handkerchiefs, making frantic movements. No one took their injuries seriously, for far many and far more critical bullet hit youth were carried one after another into the theatre in a bid to save their lives.

 A couple of days later, the picture of the pellet-riddled face of Insha Mushtaq, the 14 year old school girl from Sedow Shopian shook Kashmir and revealed to rest of India and parts of the world the scale of atrocity in Kashmir. Everyday, for three months, eyes of at least 30 people on an average were hit by pellets. People with eyes waddled in bandages occupied ward after ward.. Most days, each hospital bed housed two injured at a time.

In just three months, pellet guns have killed 14 people, caused vision impairment in 1000 eyes and injured a massive 7136 people in various parts of body.

It’s a man-made epidemic of blindness, largest in the world

As per records available with SMHS Hospital and SKIMS Medical College Hospital, where those injured by pellets in eyes seek treatment, 1130 victims have been registered. The eye specialists say pellets have caused more blindness than any disease in such a short span of time anywhere in the world.

Of the injured, 52 have bilateral eye injuries. These include the 14 year old Insha whose eyes were targeted by forces while she looked out the window of her house on July 12. While government attempted a face saving by shifting Insha and four more pellet victims to AIIMS, New Delhi, the exercise proved futile.

Insha, Firdous Ahmed, Danish Rajab, Mudasir Ali, Adil Ahmed and Abdul Ahad injured by pellets in both their eyes have ended up with the kind of vision impairment that does not let them even see the bright light shined at their eyes. 

“They have been blinded by pellets,” doctors said. Although a number of surgeries have been performed on their eyes, at SMHS and in premier eye institutes like LV Prasad Eye Institute Hyderabad and Rajendra Prasad Eye Institute AIIMS New Delhi, these hapless victims have not regained their sight.

As per the hospital records, 33 pellet hit have no perception of light in the eyes injured by pellets. These include Shakeela and Insha.

Hundreds others have no vision that could be of any use. They can just see forms, outlines or just blobs of colors. Or else, good peripheral vision that lets them see what is on their sides but not in front of them. “They will have a big black spot in the middle of their visual field,” a doctor explaining the condition said, adding that their macula, the part of the eye that lets a person see and focus what is front of the visual field, has been permanently damaged by pellets.

As per doctors, over 300 people have been hit by pellets in parts of eyes that are vital for vision such as retina, macula or optic nerve and doctors are finding these injuries difficult to treat.

Over the past four months, doctors have been struggling to repair these vital areas. “Medical science is not a predictive science, neither a calculated science,” Dr S Natarajan, the world renowned retina surgeon and President of the Ocular Trauma Society of India told Greater Kashmir while speaking about the prognosis of eye injuries due to pellets. “I have the maximum experience in the world in managing trauma. The pellet victims are in safe hands but there is no guarantee,” he said.

Although, this retina surgeon of international repute has devoted hundreds of hours of his time to operate upon the pellet victims in Srinagar’s SMHS Hospital, he too is perplexed by the extent of damage that pellets cause. “I have never seen such kind of injuries anywhere in the world,” he once exclaimed on one of his visits to SMHS Hospital.

With many victims having undergone as many as four surgeries, hundreds of pellet-hit have ‘a field of vision less than 20 degrees and a visual acuity of less than 6/60’, as per the doctors treating them. “They are legally blind,” doctors said.


Lethally ‘Non-Lethal’

In 2010, after 50 people had been killed by bullets, Omar Abdullah led government started the use of pellet guns in Kashmir as a ‘non-lethal’ weapon of crowd control. Five years later, 14 out of the 95 killed in the past four months have died of wounds caused by pellet guns.

 On October 09, the death of 12 year old Junaid Ahmed from Eidgah area of Srinagar was hit by pellets in his head and chest; injuries that caused severe brain trauma and subsequently his death at ICU of SK Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS). His was the 14th death due to the ammunition fired by the 12 Bore Pump Action Gun that fired metallic pellets.

A fortnight prior to Junaid’s death, Nasir Shafi an 11 year old school boy from New Theed Harwan in Srinagar, was found dead with his body riddled by pellets. Earlier still, 12 more had lost life to ‘non-lethal’ pellets.

While those who died due to pellets had been shot at from a very close range at their head, abdomen and chest, causing damage to organs like brain, heart, lungs and liver; a lot many did not die but suffered maiming injuries due to these ‘mini-bullets’.

Abdul Ahad, a 60 year old farmer from Goripora Achabal was admitted to SMHS Hospital on September 03 in a critical condition. His family said he had been fired at by forces when he was feeding the cattle just outside his home. His right eye had bulged out. He had suffered brain damage. He had pellets in the orbit and frontal lobe of his skull. He had pellets in pericardium (heart sac). He had pellets in lungs.

The old man, doctors said, had been crippled for life by the injuries.

Mohsin, an 18 year old young man from Pulwama was brought to SMHS Hospital in July with an ‘entire pellet cartridge in his spine’. The man, doctors said, had suffered spinal cord injuries, that could lead to lifelong confinement to bed.

Shani, a 22 year old woman from Arwani Bijbehara suffered intestinal damage that necessitated partial colectomy (removal of parts of colon and intestines) to pellet injuries. Till doctors operated upon her intestines, her family believed she had been hit by a bullet.

“It is because Shani had been fired from a close range and pellets, instead of hitting her body at different places had converged at one place, making one large hole in her abdomen,” a surgeon who operated upon her said.

 Like Mohsin, Shani and Abdul Ahad, hundreds of pellet injured have been left with lifelong scars in the form of a disability or damaged organs.

 Pellets, surgeons at SMHS Hospital said, are more devastating weapons than bullets at times. “In some cases, we have to remove hundreds of pellets abutting or perforating vital organs of people. It is a dangerous, lethal weapon,” they said.


Stalemate Continues

In spite of a public outcry, international media coverage, pressure from international bodies, their use continued on protestors and even on non-protesting people at times.

Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh on his August 25, 2016 visit to Srinagar promised an ‘alternative’ to pellet guns in "3-4" days.

Earlier, on July 26, 2016 Ministry of Home Affairs had constituted a seven member committee for exploring alternatives to pellet guns. Pertinently, a few days after the announcement, Joint Secretary in Home Ministry TVSN Prasad, who headed a seven-member expert committee, had clarified that pellet guns would not be discontinued but used in ‘rarest of the rare cases’.

The Committee recommended use of PAVA shells, a 1000 canister consignment of which was flown to Kashmir on September 04, the day All-Party Delegation visited Kashmir. However, the shells were not put to use due to ‘certain issues’ including ‘poor emission’ and ‘efficacy of shells’ reported by forces that ‘test fired’ these in Kashmir.

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti expressed her ‘personal wish’ to end the use of pellet guns at a police function recently. Interestingly, when she was part of opposition, she had opposed the use of pellet guns vehemently. 

Omar Abdullah, although having introduced the pellet guns, washed his hands off the responsibility for the ‘non-lethal weapon’ that had killed, maimed and caused widespread terror and injuries. In August 2010, Irshad Ahmed Parray, an 11 year old from Anantnag reportedly had lost his life due to injuries to vital organs caused by pellets. This, plus over a dozen people losing eye sight to pellets in 2010 did not move the then CM to reconsider the use of pellet guns. Instead, this time around, he led a delegation to Prime Minister’s office to seek a ban on pellet guns.

The season of pellets has been almost annual affair since 2010 but this year, it robbed Kashmir of more lives and eyes than ever before.