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“13 youth including two teenagers died of pellets since July 2016”

The use of pellet guns to quell protestors in Indian administered Kashmir by Indian Army over the years has killed 13 youth and left more than 1000 completely or partially sightless.

Ninth class student, Shahid, underwent six operations so far in his left eye in less than a year and will have to face another surgery soon.

“In the beginning after two surgeries I tried to use mobile phone and read books. I find it completely uneasy given the kind of heaviness I feel in my eyes and in the front part of head while I tilt down or fix my eyes on a book for few seconds of time.”18 year old Shahid said.

Shahid is suspicious his family can fulfill medical and school expenses if he tries to go back in to school given the fact that his family had to bare all expenses of the surgeries he underwent in different Indian Hospitals.

Carpenter by profession, his father, Abdul Rasheed said that he out of little family earnings cannot manage medical expenses for his son in private hospitals and at the same time pay his monthly school fee as well anymore.

“I swear on God, I had to sell some extra utensils of home and lone milk giving cow to bring together one lakh fifty thousand Rupees to bear operating expenses of a major Surgery of Shahid in a Hospital in Amritsar city last year.” Rasheed said

Several pellets, fired by Indian police Shahid said Doctors conveyed him are still stuck in his head though not poisonous anymore after treatment.

Shahid was through with preparation of final term-9th class examination when on an ill-fated day in August-2016, he was hit by pellets in his locality, during a stone pelting incident.

Data provided by one human rights defender group-Association of parents of disappeared persons-(APDP) reveal that more than1000 people mostly youth were hit by pellets since July-2016.

The deadly pellets that one eye-specialist calls ‘mini-bullets’ have resulted in visual impairment that may range between ‘total loss of vision to unusable vision’ in the eyes perforated.

Ophthalmologist-Dr Ismail, who conducted over 50 surgeries of youth hit by pellets calls pellets as small bullets which hits eyes with high velocity and damages Retina within seconds of time.

“It is a sticky material which once entering in retina area of an eye becomes difficult to remove us and damages an eye up to 95%, thus leaving behind minimal chances of regaining vision for the pellet victim.”Ismil added

In the fresh ongoing uprising triggered after the killing of one local rebel, Burhan Muzaffar wani, people across Kashmir often came out on roads to chant anti India slogans and hurl stones on Indian police.

Burhan by making use of social networking sites like Facebook is believed to have mobilized youth to pick up arms against Indian rule.He was killed by Indian forces in an encounter on July-8-2016 in southern Kashmir.

A close look at Uzair Maqbool’s right eye gives a sense of distorted pupil and some kind of black marks where the pellets had hit him on August-4-2016.

Uzair,19, was near his house where stone pelting between youth of his locality and Indian police had broke out after authorities that day had announced curfew in the area, a group of youth fell prey to the pellets and uzair was one of them.

Tears rolled down her face, when, Haseena Banu, mother of uzair asked this reporter “what are you looking in his eye, it is completely damaged, only God’s mercy can bring back vision in the eye of my son.”

After seven surgeries, uzair has been advised by Doctors to go for another operation. He is a tenth grade student who has to study many subjects and pass the examination with a satisfactory percentage to get admission in one of the reputed schools of his area for further studies.

Uzair was quick to add “I have not appeared for exams this time, I have to go through lot of portions of syllabi given by teachers, and my eyes hurt if I try to concentrate on books.”

While displaying roll number slip which he has received from school, uzair in a sad tone says that pellet injury rolled back his dream to study and earn fame in life.

On inquiring about family income, Haseena looked at Uzair and said that “his father is a driver and his earning is what we all have to claim as family income, adding that, ‘we are happy to live with whatever income we have and we only pray God to bring back eye sight of my son and fulfill his dream to receive education to earn fame in life.”

“Records reveal that at least 22 injured had lost the entire contents of eye (evisceration) at the site of the injury.These people are left with only one eye because pellets have hit the eye with such an intensity that it has come out of its socket.”APDP quoting a Doctors report said

The data further reveals that “as per the records, 250 eyes have been hit on their macula (area near the centre of the retina in eye, the region of keenest vision), an area where any injury could result in loss of a person’s ability to see what is in front of his eyes.”

Another, 21, year old Moin Fayaz blinded by left eye in 2010 has recently taken up a job of salesman in a local printing press.

From his small earning job, Moin believes he cannot plan anything big with this little amount in life, but it is something which Moin says keeps him busy throughout the day.

Moin after his second surgery in 2010 suffers from high blood pressure and headache like health issues on daily bases despite taking consultations of many well known Doctors.

“Pellet injury shattered my life. Returning to education is not only impossible but actually useless given the fact that with these kind of health issues you cannot give your 100% to schoolwork and just focus to pass on grades at a time when you see competition in every field of life.” Moin said

“I am not interested in anything in life,not even joining school mates again. It already took us more than four lakh rupees so far and it is my mother who wants to take me outside Kashmir once again to get the artificial lens installed in my eye removed.” says Moin who has to undergo another surgery

Recalling the day he was hit by pellets, Moin said that “I heard boys crying Indian police have ransacked Masjids and without giving it a second thought I came out on the road, a gang police chased youth who had assembled to pelt stones. I remember one policeman fired a volley of pellets towards me which hit my body parts, chest and my left eye.”

Although hospital was nearer to the spot where Moin was hit by pellets but Doctors seeing the nature of injury referred him to a government run premier hospital in Indian administered Kashmir.

Moin’s mother, Fareeda, recalling what she called a barbaric incident of that day said that “on way to Premier hospital, police would stop ambulances and beat attendants if they found an injured being ferried to any other Hospital from her location.”

Fareeda says her husband sells fruits on footpath in market but still she has raised her children like any other in neighborhood who possess lot of wealth.

Moin’s elder brother runs a shop, while another brother assist him and sister helps her mother in home.

“I cannot tell you how difficult it has become for me to see Moin in this condition. all these years without any monetary assistance from any non government organization, we toiled hard and did our best to treat my son wherever Doctors advised us to go.”Fareeda said

Fareeda continued that “Moin, was a kid in 2010 when he jumped out of home without telling anybody in home and joined stone pelters, now when he is a grown up, he regret for what he did then.”

“So far in these years all the money got exhausted in my treatment in Hospitals. I suffer from intense pain in head, almost daily now. I don’t think that even if I get the treatment right, I will be able to continue my studies after a gap of more than seven years as my interests for studying in life has now perished.” Moin said

APDP data reveals that use of pellets proved lethal in Kashmir as at least ‘13 youth including two teenagers died of pellets since July 2016.’

The forces, however, continued to use pellets to quell protestors despite an announcement by Union Home Minister of India, Rajnath Singh last year that “there would be no use of pellets.”

Pellets guns first introduced to Indian administered Kashmir by duck-hunting British expeditions according to experts send nearly 600 high velocity ball bearings made of lead in one shot.

Despite appeals by civil society and human rights organizations to stop the practice of pellet guns here, Indian forces have continued to use pellet guns to quell protesters, injuring youth more often in such protests.

Indian administered Kashmir is a conflict zone between India and Pakistan and both the countries have so for fought three wars over their claims on the territory.

Javaid Naikoo is a professionally qualified journalist with over six years of field experience in reporting from jammu and Kashmir.