Age, Gender, Culpability No Bar: Pellets Are Cruel And Unusual Punishment For Kashmiris

A man who received pellet gun injuries all over his face during a clash with security forces sits inside a hospital in Srinagar/REUTERS.

The story was first published on The Huffington Post India.

Ieshan Wani

There are many of them. Their backgrounds are different, their places of origin are different, their ages are different… but one thing is uniting them — the pain. Where there was light there is now dark, sometimes partial and sometimes complete, like death. Cheap plastic sunglasses shield some of them from the piercing light, while others wear bandages, fearful they may never see again. Some were injured in the “battleground” where they used stones for ammo, while others were collateral damage — some felled even as they went about daily life on the streets, in their homes.

A man in his 20s has been allotted a corner bed in ward number eight of the hospital, which is bright with sunlight. His android phone is playing a video anthem,”Oh brother, we won’t die of hunger; we will feed ourselves with leaves, we just want Kalashnikovs from you.” He can only hear and not see, for how long, nobody knows. “We faked his name, when he was rushed to hospital, fearing police action,” says his attendant.

Zuhra Majeed, 4, was hit on the chest, forehead and both legs. She was standing at the gate with her cousin and uncle when police fired at them.

Many of the names listed here are probably hurriedly manufactured aliases: Rashid, Gulzar, Sajad, Riyaz. What is not in doubt, however, is their common affliction, written in pink record files: “Pellet injury, face B/L eyes.”

Yaseen Mir (name changed) was hit by pellets at the Habba Kadal area of Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir. “It’s difficult to explain how being hit by pellets feels; it all stops for some time. I know now that I have lost something precious,” he says from his bed. “I had mixed feelings while being treated. I thought that I can’t see now, what will happen now? But I wasn’t afraid.” His right eye is out of commission, though his left is undamaged. Several others like him are in the room, some vocal about their ordeal, others tight-lipped.

Room number 16 presents a similar scene. Here, a 12-year-old boy, Umar Nazir, from Rajpora area of south Kashmir catches my eye immediately. Both of his eyes, ribcage area and legs have been injured by pellets. One of four attendants is continuously fanning him with hand-held cloth fan. He is unable to open either of his eyes. The doctors have told his parents that he stands a chance of regaining some of his vision but a full recovery is unlikely. A large portion of his little chest is covered with medical tape, but his pain is unmasked.

Umar Nazir, from Rajpora area of south Kashmir. Picture: Ieshan Wani.
A team of doctors from AIIMS described the damage caused by “non-lethal” weapons in Kashmir as “war-like”.

Women and girls have not been spared either, and many have been hit in their eyes by pellets deployed by government forces. Fourteen-year-old Insha Malik from Shopian was hit on her face by several pellets. She has lost her left eye completely and the other stands a minimal chance of regaining vision. She was in her own home when security personnel fired pellets towards it. Doctors say her being alive is a miracle. A newspaper report quotes a doctor as saying that hers has been one of the most severe cases they have treated thus far. “The pellets have completely disfigured her face and resulted in multiple fractures and injuries in her face and skull,” her doctor says.

Also heartbreaking is the case of four-year-old Zuhra Majeed from Qamarwari in Srinagar. She has been hit on the chest, forehead and both legs. Her parents say that she was standing at the gate with her cousin and uncle when police fired at them.

Four-year-old Zuhra Majeed at Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital. (Waseem Andrabi/HT Photo)

Outside the ward, a young man is shaking. His legs give way and he collapses to the ground. He bursts into tears as he hears the tragic news that his brother has lost one eye completely. At a remote village of north Kashmir, his brother was hit by pellets, a “non-lethal” mechanism used by government forces in the Valley after they failed to quell the street protests of 2008 and 2010, killing more than hundred in each.

Yet, this “non-lethal” mechanism is deadly, also resulting in the loss of vision — partial or complete — for many Kashmiris across the Valley. Srinagar’s premier emergency care hospital is inundated by people who have been hit by marbles and pellets, most in the eyes and upper body. As the sun sets, more injured are rushed in as clashes break out after the curfew is lifted.

A team of doctors from the All India Institute Of Medical Science (AIIMS) described the damage caused by “non-lethal” weapons in Kashmir as “war-like”.

Cartoon courtesy: Mir Suhail.

Outside ward eight, a group of people have set up a makeshift dispensary. They are distributing medicines for free, as shops and other businesses have been closed after the encounter death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani and subsequent agitations that led to the deaths more than 38 protestors. The exact numbers aren’t clear as the government has shut down mobile services in the valley. In addition, more than 1500 people have been injured, with about 100 hit in their eyes by pellets. There’s little relief in sight for them.