Blinded By the State, Ignored By Society

  • MAJID MAQBOOL
  • Publish Date: Feb 23 2016 11:18AM
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  • Updated Date: Feb 23 2016 11:18AM
Blinded By the State, Ignored By Society

On May 21, 16-year-old Hamid Nazir Bhat from Palhalan, Baramulla lost vision in one eye when J&K police fired a pellet gun on teenage protesters in this north Kashmir town.  Hamid was on his way to the tuition class when he was caught in the demonstration. The teenager received multiple injuries in his head, face, and eyes.

Hamid was inflicted with more than 100 pellet injuries in his skull. He was later shifted to Amritsar for further treatment where he underwent two surgeries.  “He is recovering now but he can’t still recognize the faces in front of him,” says his father, Nazir Ahmad. Few days back, Hamid, who is accompanied to Amritsar by his uncle, told his father on phone: “I hope I will see the world again and see you all at home.”

Nazir Ahmad, who works as a carpet weaver, says they are bearing all the costs required for the treatment of Hamid on their own. “Although some Hurriyat representatives visited us in SMHS hospital,” he adds, “but we don’t need any help from anyone as Allah has provided us enough to make our ends meet.”

Taking note of the grievous injuries inflicted on the Palhalan boy, human rights watchdog Amnesty International asked the J&K Government to end the use of pellet guns on civilian protesters. “Jammu and Kashmir authorities must prohibit the use of pellet-firing shotguns in policing demonstrations, as they are inherently inaccurate and indiscriminate,” Amnesty International India said in a statement issued after the incident.

Pellet guns began to be increasing used in Kashmir to quell protests after the 2010 summer uprising in which over 120 civilians were killed by the government forces. The highest number of pellet injuries were recorded in SMHS alone in 2010. As per the official data available with the records section of SMHS, the number of pellet injured people admitted to SMHS hospital that year was close to 40.

 

In 2013, an RTI filed by advocate Abdul Manan Bukhari revealed that 100 people with pellet injuries were admitted in SKIMS alone from 2010-2011, and in 2013, 18 people were admitted in this tertiary care hospital for the treatment of their pellet injuries.

The RTI reveals that the total number of patients admitted in SMHS hospital with pellet gun injuries from March 2010 to October 2013 was 91. The total number of patients with pellet injuries admitted in the Department of Ophthalmology, SMHS, from march 2010 to Oct 2013 was 36 (18 in 2010, 5 in 2011, 6 in 2012, and 7 in 2014).  The RTI further reveals that 14 pellet injured people had no chance of regaining their eyesight.

However, Bukhari says the data issued by the SMHS is not up to the mark as most of the pellet victims prefer to stay away from the hospital.  “Many pellet bullet victims don’t turn up to SMHS ward because there is an apprehension that they might be arrested and booked by the police who are always on the prowl for such victims,” says Bukhari, adding that many such victims were arrested straight from the hospital by the police. “So now most of these victims prefer being treated outside the state, in Delhi or elsewhere.”

Earlier, a medical study brought out in 2010 by SKIMS, which was based on 198 patients who suffered from pellet gun injuries, concluded: “whilst the pellet wound itself may seem trivial, if not appreciated for the potential for tissue disruption and injuries to the head, chest and abdomen, there can be catastrophic results.” The study also observed that “patients should be evaluated and managed in the same way as those sustaining bullet injuries.”

Bukhari informs that as per Section 129 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) of the Indian constitution, you have to disperse the mob with maximum restraint. “So it’s a clear violation of the CrPC,” he says. “And the pattern of firing by the forces does not meet the United Nations standards on the use of fire-arms.”

Bukhari says India is signatory to Basic Principles on the use of force and firearms, which clearly disallow the use of force in dispersing non-violent, unlawful assemblies, adding that there is a well defined procedure for crowd control. “Firearms must be used as a last resort when tear smoke and lathi charge fail to disperse the crowd,” he says. “But it’s used arbitrarily by the trigger happy forces here.”

PERMANENT DAMAGE

“It’s a painful, horrific injury,” says Dr. Bashir Ahmad, former head Department of Ophthalmology, GMC, Srinagar, and Director of Eye Care and Research Centre in Karan Nagar. Dr. Bashir has treated many pellet injured people in the past few years. In 2013 alone, he operated on at least 10 to 15 such pellet injured patients. The ophthalmologist says since eye is a small, critical organ, anything that harms eyes affects other parts of body. “If it is embedded directly in the eye then there are more than 99 percent chances of losing the eyesight,” he explains the bleak chances of eyesight recovery from pellet injuries, adding that the person “can also suffer a brain hemorrhage due to pellet injuries.”

Dr. Sajad Khanday, consultant ophthalmologist SMHS, says majority of these victims have bilateral eye injuries. “Pellets can cause corneal abrasion, lens dislocation, retinal tear and cataract,” he says, adding that such victims cannot be corrected. “Their eyesight is badly affected or even permanently gone. It invariably damages all the components of the eyes.”

He says once a patient loses his eyesight, the blind eye ultimately shrinks. “The eye doesn’t retain its normal size and its shape gets distorted inside out,” says Dr. Khanday.

Dr. Bashir says that eye being a sensitive organ – with all its structures closely bound – is more prone to permanent damage leading to blindness in one or both eyes. “Despite highly improvised techniques for dealing with these injuries, invariably there is permanent damage to the eye function and this is worst especially if both eyes are involved,” he says.

“During the 1990s when the conflict raged a number of patients lost their eyesight in one or both eyes due to fire arm injuries, I.E.D explosions and teargas shells,” Dr. Bashir points out, “but now we are witnessing the same type of injuries due to pellets.”

In the past few years, Dr. Bashir has treated many such pellet injuries. He says many pellet injured people he has treated over the years eventually lost both their eyes.  “In my opinion it’s better to die than to suffer from pellet injuries.”
 ‘Where will I get money for two more surgeries?’

19-year-old Saahil Zahoor from Nowhatta, Old Srinagar

Photo By Faisal Khan

I’m in pain here in SMHS hospital’s ward number 8. On June 27, I was out on the streets in Nowhatta carrying my bag. Some protests were going on against the desecration of Jamia Masjid by government forces. The men in uniform directly fired pellets at the youth who had gathered there. I was hit directly in my face after the forces fired from their pellet guns. If I wouldn’t have quickly turned to my right, I would have lost both my eyes to pellets.

I had a late night surgery in my left eye but it’s not successful. I can’t see from my left eye anymore. My left eye is completely damaged. Despite the operation, the doctors are saying that I have to undergo a few more surgeries, but they are not sure if I will get my vision back.

I belong to a poor family. My family can’t bear all the expenses required for my treatment. My father is a poor man, a labourer. Where from will he get all the money required for my treatment?

When some youth accompanied me here in SMHS hospital, they were immediately whisked away by the police. That is how things work here. There was another guy who was also hit by pellets in old town, but when he heard that police is arresting injured youth who had participate in protests even from the hospitals, how could he or any other injured youth come here for treatment in such circumstances.

The Hurriyat people are not helping pellet injured youth like us. Unarmed youth are being targeted on the streets here. My poor family had to spend at least Rs 10,000 – 15,000 for my treatment, and that too only in one day after I was hit by the pellets. Now where from will I get the money needed for two more surgeries? I can’t hope to go out for treatment as my family can’t afford my expensive treatment outside Kashmir.

Pellet guns should be completely banned in Kashmir. Why is the government hesitant in banning it when international forums of Human rights have already imposed a ban on use of pellets?
‘Then there was darkness….’
29-year-old youth (name withheld) from Nowhatta, old city

Photo By Faisal Khan
 

When Wamiq Farooq, a class 7 student, was martyred near Ghani Memorial stadium in 2010, after he was hit by a teargas shell, many youth from downtown localities came out to protest against the killing of this innocent boy. I was one of them.

Protests broke out on February 2, 2010 and I was also part of one of the protest against this killing. During this protest, I was injured in my right eye in the stone pelting street battles. I was taken to the SMHS hospital, but as soon as I was brought to the hospital, the policemen arrived there to arrest me. They didn’t allow me to be treated there. I somehow ran away from the hospital, untreated. At home my family decided that I should leave Kashmir to evade arrest and harassment by the police. Next day, I left for Amritsar and then I moved to Delhi for treatment of my eye in a hospital there.

Later, I came to know that they had arrested my father on the same day when I was hit in my eye. I didn’t know that he was released after spending 10 days in police custody. My family didn’t tell me then. My father had asked the police personnel when they came to my home to arrest me that why they are asking for me as I was injured in my eye. But the SHO of the police station told my father: ‘he is only hit in his one eye, we will take out his another eye as well, you will see…’

For most part of 2010 I remained away from home and stayed outside the state for more than two months. When I came back home, the police was still looking for me. I had to again run away from home, but this time I stayed around in Srinagar only. At the end of 2010, I came back home to see my family after nine months.

In 2011, it was Muharam and I again came out on the street along with other boys to protest against a civilian killing. When we reached Islamia College, the police and CRPF fired in our direction. They fired at us from their pellet guns. Since they aimed directly at my face, my right eye was hit by the pellets. Blood gushed out of my eye. I knew then that my right eye was gone.

The pellets had hit my whole body but it hurt the most in my eyes. I was again rushed to the SMHS hospital, where I had an eye surgery. The doctor said that I need to again move outside the state for specialized treatment as this time two pellets had hit my right eye, completely damaging it. Meanwhile the police had raided my home again, and this time they arrested my brother.

Till now I have had five surgeries in my right eye, but I can see nothing from this eye. My family had to spend around 10 Lakh rupees on my treatment till now. I could somehow afford it, but how can those poor people who were blinded by the pellets afford this costly treatment?

If you look at my right eye, you will find an eye like thing there; it’s a lens there, not my eye. I can see only from my left eye. My left eye is my life now.

I have many FIRs against me in many police stations. They have many times broken the windows of my home. In 2011, I had to again go outside the state for one and a half month. I felt pressure in my eyes, and another operated was needed. I have to go outside the state for treatment of my eyes after every three months.

When the pellet hits you in the eyes, it simply deprives you of your eyesight. And then there’s darkness.  The forces deliberately target the face and eyes when they fire from their pellet guns, knowing it will cause maximum damage. Otherwise they could have fired these pellets at the legs. In other parts of the world, I don’t think they fire pellets even at animals. Only here we are treated worse than animals.

Still, I thank Allah that I can at least see from my left eye. There are many youth here who have been crippled forever, having lost both their eyes to pellets.
 “They fired directly in my face”
Muhammad Siddiq, 50, a roadside fruit vendor from Nawhatta. Old city

Photo by Faisal Khan
 

That day the policemen came to look for my brother at my home in Nawhatta. I told them he was not at home. I went out to buy cigarettes and some bread on a street corner close to my home. When I couldn’t get cigarettes there, I walked down to the Khoje Muhalla, hoping to buy my stuff.

When I was coming back, I saw the military personnel walking up the street towards me. They were furious and they were all angry. There were no protests there at that time. Once they saw me, they pulled the trigger and fired directly at my face. They fired so close to my body; they were standing next to me. I couldn’t believe it. I fell down, unconscious. There was darkness all around.  Since then I can’t see anything, nothing at all.

The military personnel were smashing the doors and windows of houses on the other side of the street. As soon as they appeared in front of me, they fired directly in my face. Otherwise they are not supposed to fire so close to your body.

Earlier, these military people had broken the windows of houses in our neighborhood. They did it all, those tall military people.  “Bae chus yeteath baysahare, anegatis manz.” I can’t see who comes in and out of my house. I am helpless here. I can’t sell melons and other fruits anymore on my roadside cart.

Now when I go to hospitals for treatment, they don’t care that much there. And I have to spend my own money for getting individual attention and proper treatment.

I didn’t receive any help from any side. Even if Hurriyat people help, it is only till I reach the gate of the hospital. Once inside the hospital, I’m on my own.  There I also have to spend money for treatment. I went to this doctor who told me that I lost my eyesight because they fired twice in front of my eyes. Had I been hit once, maybe I could see again? Why did they do this to me? Why me? What had I done to them? I was just a roadside fruit vendor.

The doctors in the government hospital told me that it will cost me Rs 60,000 to get some eyesight back. But another doctor told me it will cost less but he said there will be some risk. I told him if I spend my hard earned money, I should get good treatment, I should get my eyes back and be able to see. Over the years I have saved some of my earning I made out of selling fruits and doing some labor work. I’m willing to give away all my savings but I want to see things again. Can I see again? I want my eyesight back. I don’t know if I will ever be able to see again.

Why did they fire these pellets in my face? “Temav lageo mae amanay samanay… Yemav phatroe mae butheas showe…” They have done it deliberately. I used to make my living by selling fruits on a roadside cart. Was that my fault? Why did they do this to me?

Sometimes I regret coming out on the street that day. Earlier, the CRPF men had broken windows of homes here. They would angrily shout at us, saying that ‘you are with the resistance movement.’ My sisters and cousins wept at home when CRPF would go around smashing windows and kicking doors during protests on the street near our home. They would also shout abuses at us from outside our homes.

I got to know from doctors later that this thing that snatched my eyesight forever is called a ‘pellet’.

Recently, I went to a fruit Mandi with someone and brought dates from there. I have now started selling dates on my cart here in Nowhatta outside Jamia Masjid. It is better to sell dates than sit at home and think about my condition. If I stay back home for long, I might go into depression.

‘Be gase pagal…’
‘Now I’m getting used to darkness’
Farooq Ahmad Malla, 22, from Hajin, Bandipora


On March 14, 2014, a youth was shot dead by government forces in our neighboring village, Naidkhai. There were protests all around here. On March 17, protests and stone pelting broke out in Saderkote which is not far from where I live. On that day, hundreds of youth marched down our house and headed to Hajin where teargas shells were fired at them.

As the evening came near, the clashes were almost over. I and my cousin decided to take a walk outside. We were confined to our home for the whole day and wanted to take a stroll. When we stood right at the edge of Hajin Bridge, peering down the Jhelum, we heard something coming from the opposite side. It sounded like loud chirps of birds. These little things, which we couldn’t see, hit my eyes. My cousin, Latief Ahmad, was also hit.

There was no provocation from our side. We had just come out on the street for a brief walk after being confined to our homes. I still wonder why they shot pellets at us.

I used to work in a bandsaw earlier, helping my elderly father and brother. Now, I can’t move a glass of water. My eyesight is gone. When the pellet hit me, I felt unconscious. Later, when they operated on me in the hospital, I opened my eyes but I couldn’t see anything. I thought as if I don’t have my eyes. It is very difficult to come to terms with all this darkness around you. And it doesn’t go away.

Now I can’t see a thing and I’m slowly getting used to darkness. But I always long to see something, anything that can appear in front of my eyes. I can’t see my family members, I can’t see my friends. I can’t see my room and I can’t see how I look. Sometimes I have this intense longing to see something, to see my family members again. But I don’t know if I can see again. I get angry at times, for not being able to see anything. I feel sad too, for what has become of me.

What can I tell the government now? Why would they listen to me? Till now I have gone outside the state thrice for my eye operations, but despite all the treatment, I cannot see anything. When will this darkness go away?

It shatters me and eats me from inside, not that I can’t see, but that my mother has to help me even to the bathroom.

I think I am in a dark tunnel where there’s no light at the end of it. Only darkness…anegot. No matter how much I try, I can’t get out of this dark tunnel. It has become my world now… a lightless life, my dark life.

“Had I lost both my eyes, still I’d have no regrets”
21-year-old Aabid (name changed) from old city, Srinagar

Photo By Faisal Khan

I was hit directly in my eyes by the government forces on January 31, 2014, when there were protests against the closure of Patribal fake encounter case. After I was hit by the pellets, I was rushed to SMHS hospital. I had to flee from there in order to evade arrest by the police. Then I was rushed to SKIMS by friends in a load carrier vehicle, but doctors advised me to get admitted in JVC as there is no eye specialty unit in SKIMS. I was operated upon in JVC and since then I have completely lost sight in my left eye.

After spending three days in hospital, I was planning to go into hiding as I knew police had started a manhunt to arrest me. I was wanted by the police in many stone throwing cases. They also slapped the draconian PSA against me in February, 2012. I spent six months in Kotbalwal jail in Jammu before I was released. Then circumstances forced me to go into hiding for more than a year.

Since I belong to a middle class family, my family had little income to afford all the treatment required for my eyes. The pellet is still inside my eyes and the doctors have advised me to move outside Kashmir for specialized treatment. I’m not disappointed though. Had I lost both my eyes, still I would have no regrets. I received a bullet injury in my abdomen during the 2010 protests but thanks to Allah I survived the bullet injuries.

I’m pursuing a diploma in mechanics. Let’s hope for the best and let’s continue fighting the forces that suppress us.

 
“My future looks dark now”
Moin Fayaz Naikoo, 21, from Shopian, South Kashmir

Photo by Mir Wasim

During the 2010 uprising, just before Ramazan, I was coming back home after my tuitions in Bonbazar, Shopian. That day a strike was being observed in the town. There was some stone pelting as well. The forces suddenly opened fire. I was walking on the street and when I saw some disturbance, I looked back and by that time something had hit my face.

I fell down and was unconscious. I was in hospital for a longtime, and later I got to know that pellets were fired in my eyes. The police and CRPF were together firing on the street that day. When my family members went to the police station to register an FIR, the police denied it as they did not want to take the case on themselves.

My eyes have been damaged. I can’t recognize myself in the mirror. I can’t see anything from my left eye. The doctors say I can’t ever see from my left eye.

No one came to my home to at least ask for my welfare after I was injured. No one from Hurriyat, no MLA, or any other government representative came forward to extend their help. I did not receive any relief or financial help from any side. Till now I had four surgeries in Srinagar, Amritsar and Delhi, and the treatment has cost my family more than four Lakh rupees. My father sells fruits on a roadside cart. How could he afford my treatment?

After my eye injury, my father went to the offices of all the top Hurriyat leaders in Srinagar but they refused to offer any help for my treatment. He came back disappointed and stopped asking for their assistance. Over the years my mother sold all her gold to get the money required for my treatment. I have to again go to Delhi for another round of treatment.

Before my eye injury, I was studying in 9th standard, but now I can’t study like I did before. I had to drop out of school due of my eye injuries. I can’t concentrate on my studies because of what they did to my eyes. I find it hard to read from my books. My future looks dark now.

“I could see blood on my hands”
Mudasir Ahmad, 26, from Shirpora Bala, Anantnag

Photo by Mir Wasim

I was hit in my face at 7:15pm in June, 2010. On that evening I was on my way to Sherbagh as one of my relatives was admitted in a hospital there.

When I reached the main street, walking out from one of the alleys, the situation looked peaceful. I couldn’t understand how the forces suddenly opened fire as there was no provocation or any apparent threat to their lives. Before I could run, I felt a burning sensation in my face. I felt a strong jolt of current in my face. Then I fainted. I fell down. When I touched my face on the way to the hospital, I could see blood on my hands. People accompanying me later told me that my eyes were leaking blood.

Despite many operations, I can’t see anything from my right eye anymore. Earlier people would be afraid of looking at my face as there was a hole where my right eye used to be. Then I went to Chandigarh where doctors placed an artificial eye in place of my right eye. My parents couldn’t recognize me when I came back.  Now people and my friends can at least look at me without feeling sorry about me.

I was studying in 12th standard and had to sit for my exams that year, but I couldn’t study after my eye injury. Later, I somehow passed in 12th standard. Then I couldn’t study further as I was unable to read. I had around 55 stitches in my face.

Every year I have to go to Chandigarh for specialized treatment of my eyes as puss accumulates in my artificial right eye.  My family had to spend over three Lakh rupees for all my costly treatment over the years. My father is a laborer and he struggled to gather all this money needed for my treatment. No political leader or any government authority came forward to help us.

PDP leader and the current chief minister Mufti Syeed once came to see me when I had an eye operation in SKIMS, Soura. I don’t know who else came to see me from these political parties as I lay unconscious in the hospital. Had I been in my senses, I would have asked them to leave me alone. We don’t need their sympathy. But Geelani sahab came to see me just after he himself had a surgery those days. He placed his hand on my forehead and that meant a lot to me.

(As told to Majid Maqbool)