Eleven-year-old Umar Ahmad Shah of Pulwama in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir will probably not be able to see again out of one of his eyes. The sixth-standard boy was hit in one eye and the body by pellets in the latest round of clashes between Indian security forces and protesters in the troubled state.
He lies in the emergency ward of a hospital here, his body bearing numerous entry marks where the pellets have pierced through his skin.
Doctors say, given the nature of his injury, it is unlikely he will see out of his injured eye again.
Umar’s is not a stray case. About a 125 people across the state have received pellet injuries to the eyes. Doctors say a majority of them will suffer from some sort of vision impairment despite the best efforts of medical professionals.
Thirty five people have died and some 1,300 have been injured since the unrest began last Friday when Hizbul Mujhadeen (branded a terrorist organisation by India, EU, and the US) commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani was killed in a gun battle in Kokarnag.
“We have conducted 90 initial eye surgeries on these patients. They need to be reoperated upon for restoration of their vision. There are 25 to 30 other patients who have suffered pellet wounds but are responding to conservative management. Majority will have some sort of vision impairment,” Dr Sajad Khanday, senior assistant professor with the Department of Ophthalmology, Government Medical College, and an associate at Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital, told WION.
(Photo: CT scan of a shawl weaver hit by pellet gunfire. Courtesy: Immad Manzoor Shah)
Pellet guns were first used in Kashmir by Britishers hunting ducks. The gun was introduced into the armoury of the security forces as a 'non-lethal weapon' after 2010 when 120 people were killed in firing on protesters and stone pelters.
The guns shoot a cartridge which disgorges tiny lead projectiles on the way to its target. The guns have not caused very many fatalities, but they have blinded a number of people ever since the security forces took it up in the Valley.
The Hurriyat Conference leader Abdul Manan Bukhari -- who has authored 'Scars of Pellet Guns'; the Hurriyat is a body of Kashmiri leaders working towards independence for Kashmir -- had earlier discovered that two major hospitals in the state have treated about 63 civilians for pellet gun injuries in the past two years.
The Public Information Officer (PIO) of SKIMS Medical College has revealed that 16 patients with pellet gun injuries were brought to the hospital last year. Nine of them had eye injuries. The records show that two of the patients were blinded, three of them lost sight in one eye, while one patient had partial eyesight restored.
Forty seven people with pellet gun injuries were brought to SMHS Hospital, said its PIO.
The Department of Ophthalmology, Government Medical College, Srinagar, said that 38 people with pellet gun injuries were admitted to the hospital between October 2014 and November 2015.
An official communique from the Department of Ophthalmology, Government Medical College, Srinagar further states that 32 patients underwent surgery the same day they were brought in and were discharged a few days later. But the patients did not turn up for further check-ups. “So the exact number of patients who lost their eyesight or whose eyesight was impaired is not known."
Bukhari told WION that some 1,600 people had been injured by pellet gunfire up to last month.