Horror wreaked by pellet ammunition in 2016 has revisited the SMHS Hospital, where at least 41 youths who suffered pellet injuries in anti-government protests in Shopian on Sunday face imminent partial or complete blindness.
In Ward No. 8, 14-year-old Murtaza Hussain writhes in pain. Both his eyes are bandaged shut. An unspecified number of metal pellets have penetrated his face and eyes. He couldn’t get a wink of sleep last night, his uncle Ghulam Ahmad said. But more than the pain, Hussain’s family is worried about the ultimate nightmare the mere mention of pellets invoke: vision loss.
An early morning check by the doctor has only added to the worries.
“Doctors said nothing can be said as of now and things will become clear only after a few days or may be a week,” said Ahmad.
On the bed next to Hussain’s is 17-year-old Abbas from the same district. Both his eyes have been damaged by pellets.
Until bleeding in both eyes of Hussain and Abbas stops, a doctor in the Ophthalmology ward said, the extent of the damage and resulting vision loss can’t be predicted at this stage.
More or less, the 41 youth admitted to the hospital on Sunday are destined for the same fate as that of hundreds of persons who ultimately lost sight in one or both eyes during the 2016 protests spanning several months.
Despite repeated assurance from both the Government of India and state government in the past about replacing pellet guns with “less lethal weapons”, their use continues.
The Government of India had constituted a seven-member expert team headed by a joint secretary in the home ministry TVSN Prasad to look for an alternative to pellets.
The panel recommended introduction of PAVA (Pelargonic Acid Vanillyl Amide) shells, which were later withdrawn, leaving pellet shot guns as the main weapon for crowd control in Kashmir again.
Later, the forces said aluminum deflectors were being fitted to pellet guns to minimise injuries to eyes but that did not work. More thana 1100 people were hit by pellet in face and eyes during the five-month-long unrest in 2016 triggered by the killing of militant commander BurhanWani.
“Our young sons are being blinded and their future ruined and nobody is moved, neither the government nor the people. What has happened of our society?” screamed a woman whose son is also admitted in the ward with pellet injury in one eye.
Ten other youths have suffered serious pellet injuries in other body parts during the mayhem in Shopian. They are being treated at the department of neurosurgery.
Among them is Zakir Ahmed, a 20-year-old science undergraduate from Shopian.
Zakir’s neck, doctors said, has taken the brunt of an entire pellet cartridge (which has up to 600 metal pellets).
“He is lucky. His spinal cord has been spared by a few millimeters, otherwise the injury could have been fatal,” said a doctor treating him.
However, these words of assurance bring no comfort to Zakir’s family. “Why is he not able to speak well? Why can’t he lift his neck?” a family member asks the doctors. Zakir has suffered fractures in his cervical vertebrae.
He was brought to hospital in a very serious condition and had to be resuscitated.