Indian troops unleash pellet guns on Kashmir protesters; hundreds blinded

A man with an eye injury caused by a non-lethal pellet gun. (Photo credit: Shahnawaz Khan)

At least 45 people have died in police firing on protesters in Indian administered Kashmir. The unrest began July 9, after Indian troops killed a popular militant commander Burhan Wani. Government estimates say at least 3,500 people have been injured – about 2,000 of them civilians.

Running street battles continue. The rampant use of pellet guns by Indian police and security forces has also left more than 100 people with major eye injuries, and most of them risk losing their vision in either one, or both, eyes. FSRN’s Shahnawaz Khan files this report.

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More than a week into the unrest in Indian administered Kashmir, ambulances are ferrying people injured in fresh incidents to the hospital.

In a ward packed with the injured at SMHS Hospital in Srinagar, Nazir Ahmad is attending to his 12-year-old son Umar Nazir. Umar was struck by pellets across his upper body, including in both of his eyes.

“He cannot see from his right eye, but can see a little from the other one,” Ahmad said. “He has pellets all over his body.”

Umar has already undergone surgery for injuries to his right eye and spleen.

Like Umar, most of the 2000 civilians injured in the unrest have been shot with pellet guns which release a stream of hundreds of small metal pellets in a single shot. When fired into a crowd, they inflict multiple wounds on multiple people in one go, and when shot at close range can injure vital organs, and even cause death.

For the doctors at this hospital it has been a chaotic week.

“We have at least operated 100 plus cases by now, since Saturday. I am speaking only of eye injuries due to disturbance,” Dr. Raashid Maqbool, an ophthalmologist at the SMHS hospital, told FSRN. “More than 90 percent of them are completely grievous. Despite all the procedures we will do on them whether vitrectomy or other things, but ultimately they are never going to get their vision 100 percent back. That is out of the question.”

Dr. Raashid says at least four of his patients suffered serious injuries to both eyes.

Pellet guns were introduced as a form of non-lethal weapon in Indian-administered Kashmir in 2010, after more than 100 youth were killed by police firing live ammunition in street protests. But now, many find the classification of the weapon as non-lethal ironic.

“For me it is lethal,” Dr. Raashid said. “For how more lethal can it be than patients, young kids, [who] are losing eyes?”

While much attention has focused on eye injuries, in many cases hundreds of metal pellets have literally pierced the victims, leading to numerous wounds in what doctors say will result in lifelong health problems.

Meanwhile, a curfew across most of the Kashmir Valley remains in place and has created a shortage of supplies and medicines, both in hospitals and in local shops. Mobile and internet services – except the state-operated network – remain shut down and newspapers failed to hit the stands for the fourth day.

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