By Daanish Bin Nabi for Youth Ki Awaaz:
TRIGGER WARNING: Graphic images
If the 1990’s generation of Kashmir’s youth was maimed by torture, rapes, and killings, today’s generation has the pellet guns to contend with.
The following is the story of how pellet guns have been used by powers that be since 2010, when local protests over grant of land to the Amarnath shrine took a massive form. The use of pellet guns by security forces have left hundreds of youth from Kashmir’s new generation visionless.
A pellet cartridge holds around 400-500 tiny iron balls. A single shot fired from the gun explodes into innumerable pellets that can penetrate one’s body at several places like abdomen, eyes, intestines, legs, back, or head, and cause severe damage. These pellets scatter in the air, hitting everyone and everything in range.
Dr. Javid Iqbal, principal of Tahira Khanam’s Paramedical Science Institute, Srinagar, who has treated such injuries, says, “Pellet guns are dangerous and can cause death if one is shot at from a close range. It depends upon the range from where it is fired. It also depends on which body part it has hit. If it hits any internal organ, there are chances that the victim would die suddenly. But so far in Kashmir, no one has died on the spot because of being hit by a pellet. Deaths have occurred but all of them were due to some infection or other complication in their (victims’) later part of the treatment.”
Surgeries of those wounded by pellets can be highly complicated. The surgery may not only take several hours as compared to bullet injuries, but also requires the presence of multiple super specialists.
Prof. Hameeda Nayeem, Chairperson of the Kashmir Centre for Social and Developmental Studies (KSCDS), says pellet guns are the “most deadly” among “non-lethal” weapons. “It is the most deadly weapon in Kashmir used today. Officially, they don’t call it lethal but it is more lethal than what they say,” adds Prof. Nayeem.
In 2008, protests started over the grant of land to the Amarnath shrine by the state government. After witnessing unrest for the third consecutive year in 2010, New Delhi introduced the “non-lethal” pellet guns against protesters. However, this “non-lethal” weapon soon turned out to be a nightmare for the youth.
Dr. Iqbal tells me, “Yasir Rafiq Sheikh, the cousin brother of Jammu Kashmir Liberation (JKLF) chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik was among the first few who died during those fateful days of 2010 due to injuries from pellet guns. He had multiple injuries and the doctors could not save him.”
A study conducted by the Shed-I-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), Soura, Srinagar, and published by the Turkish Journal of Trauma and Emergency Surgery revealed that pellet guns caused six deaths and injured 198 others during the four (June to October) months of 2010. Five persons lost their eyesight following pellet injuries, the report revealed.
According to the book, ‘Kashmir’s Scars Of Pellet Gun’ by Manan Bukhari, Kashmir has had more than 1,500 pellet victims since 2010. Around 70 percent victims have eye injuries. Only 30 percent victims received injuries in other parts of the body.
Bukhari, head of the Human Rights Division of All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) of the moderate Mirwaiz Umar Farooq faction says, “Using pellet guns is a crime against humanity…They are even using it against their own constitution which guarantees right to life. Police say that they use plastic pellets. In reality, that is not the case. Simply put, pellet gun injuries are a lifelong torture for the victim.”
To escape arrests and persecution at the hands of police and intelligence agencies, many youth choose to not visit Kashmir’s two main hospitals, SMHS and SKIMS. According to hospital sources, the incidence of injuries caused by pellet guns is very high. But the youth of affluent families mostly opt for treatment outside Kashmir.
Some victims, on the condition of anonymity, told me that they chose to vacate the hospital at night after initial treatment, fearing arrest.
According to Bukhari, “Police pay the victims Rs 20,000 to 30,000 so that these youth stay away from media glare and their cases do not get highlighted.” This could not be independently verified.
Many families admit their children in hospital claiming that the injury was not caused by a pellet gun, but by falling from an upper floor, or being injured during a sporting activity.
Cases show that while pellet gun injuries appear minor, they actually maim one’s internal organs. Even after long surgical procedures, the chances of a victim’s survival remain low. The main reason is the spread of infection after the surgical procedures.
Amir Kabir, a pellet victim from Baramulla, developed an infection in one of his eyes. He still has some pellets left lodged inside his head. “I have developed an infection in my left eye. I have mild headaches also almost on a daily basis as there are a number of pellets still in my head,” Amir tells me over the phone from Baramulla.
Victims have to take medicines on a regular basis. Most of the medicines are very costly, which many families are not able to afford. Some victims from affluent families undergo expensive cosmetic surgeries after the essential surgical procedures. Most get lenses fitted in their eyes.
The total cost of treatment varies because pellets leave lifelong injuries, which need regular check-ups within or outside Kashmir.
Dr. Iqbal adds, “Some of the medicines are very costly. See, firstly a proper ophthalmic treatment is not available in Kashmir and people have to take their wards to New Delhi to get them treated. So, it gets even costlier for a victim. It is not only about the capital that is involved, but pellet injuries also cause traumatic injury to a person.”
Suhail Farooq, 17, who I met, is one of the latest in the increasing list of pellet victims. He was hit from a close distance at Qamarwari chowk in Srinagar on December 16, 2015.
Suhail, a Class X student, says he had gone to Qamarwari area to talk to his father’s clients. “Stone pelting was going on in the main chowk. As I passed a narrow lane, I saw a Rakshak vehicle of Police. I only heard a sound as darkness engulfed me. That’s the last thing I remember,” he says.
Suhail was hit by pellets at about 4.15 pm. Some local youths rushed him to JVC (Jhelum Valley Medical College) SKIMS, Bemina, Srinagar. His family came to know about the mishap at 5.30 pm. For the next one week, Suhail’s family had to run between SKIMS Bemina and SKIMS Soura, Srinagar. Finally, he was taken for treatment to Amritsar, and then to Chandigarh.
On January 10, 2016, matriculation results were declared in the Kashmir division. Suhail could not see his exam result but it was conveyed to him by his younger brother Danish. A smiling Suhail tells me, “All my school friends came to see me when the results were declared. It was a really happy moment for me after a long time.”
Parimpora police station gave Suhail’s family Rs 20,000 as compensation, but the officials have not yet filed a First Information Report (FIR). “They only gave us the money because at that time the police thought he had died,” says Suhail’s father, Farooq Ahmed.
“We are still unable to lodge an FIR because the police is not accepting it. Had I been an influential or rich person, they would have definitely lodged an FIR but as you can see my condition, they do not pay any heed to my repeated requests,” says Ahmed. However, his uncle views it differently. “Police gave us money out of insaniyat (humanity),” he adds.
The defiant Suhail immediately rebuts his uncle. “Had they provided us money out of ‘insaniyat’, they would not have blinded me in the first place.”
Like almost every other case, Suhail still has pellets in his neck and head. He occasionally suffers from headaches. “He has not gone to school since that fateful afternoon in December. Although he is still enrolled, he has no light in his eyes and I am not in a position to send him to school,” says Ahmed.
More than a lakh has been spent on Suhail’s treatment, but to no avail. He is not able to see, and always keeps his eyes closed.
Several obstacles have been faced by the organisations which have tried to document the victims. Even for getting information through RTI applications, one has to go through a hectic process.
Manan Bukhari tells me, “I had to spend about six to seven months to get the response to one RTI application. I have to contest them in first appeal, then second appeal and then there is a hearing, which makes it a troublesome job.”
The responses to RTI applications which the authorities provide are not satisfactory either, he says. “I contested every figure which I was provided in the court.”
Among various other organizations, it is the Baitul-ul-Maals (community funds) that have played a vital role in providing money for the victims, especially in disturbed areas like Baramulla and Pattan.
Naseer Ahmed (name changed) of Pattan is a social worker and associated with providing of Baitul-ul-Maals to the affected people. He says, “We have helped at least four pellet victims out of our Baitul-ul-Maals. Out of these four, two had eye injuries; one was hit in the hand while the fourth one was hit in the abdomen.”
According to the published report, ‘Annual Human Rights Report of 2015‘ by the Human Rights Division of APHC, in the year 2015, Kashmir saw 42 persons sustain pellet injuries. This happened under the watch of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government – the party that likes to be known for its “healing touch” policy. The coalition government headed by PDP was no different than the other government, as far as usage of pellet guns on protesters is concerned. Despite repeated attempts, Chief Spokesperson of the PDP did not respond to phone calls.
The above-stated report has detailed every pellet case for the year 2015.
Imminent Kashmir-based human rights activists Khurram Parvaiz says unabated usage of pellet guns is a grave issue, and needs greater emphasis. “The main issue is that there is no right to life in Kashmir. Youth are getting murdered, and torture is rampant. But only softer issues are getting highlighted, not grave and serious issues like torture, arrests and harassment. Pellet guns are being used since 2010 in Kashmir, but have youth stopped pelting stones? The answer is no. Arresting youth is more problematic than pellets. When armed forces arrest any youth, they are made to go through inhuman torture and intimidation. For years, the police keep the arrested youth implicated in cases. Their career gets affected, their social life gets disturbed, and they are rendered jobless. The sense of security, pride and honour is totally wiped off.”
For anyone arguing that pellet guns are not really lethal, there is enough evidence to make them reconsider their opinion. There is a thin line between deterrence and aggression and the state would do well to adhere to it strictly.