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Kashmiri teen loses vision as police pellets pierce his face

Srinagar: Hamid Nazir Bhat, 16, has lost vision in his right eye pierced by pellets, and nearly a hundred of these tiny iron balls have pierced his skull, jaws, lips, nose and brain. The police fired them during a protest in his village, Palhalan, in north Kashmir on Thursday.

As he lies unconscious on a hospital bed in Srinagar with swollen, purple eyelids and a bloodied face, his family has just one question: will he ever be able to see again?

The high-velocity pellets caused a vitreous haemorrhage in the right eye, and now his left eye holds out the only hope, Waseem Rashid, an ophthalmologist at Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, Bemina, told The Hindu. “He had a corneal-limbal tear in the right eye, and we operated on it on Saturday. But he has no vision in it, and it seems he will not able to see with that eye again,” the doctor said.

The State police have been firing the “non-lethal” pellets at protesters across the Kashmir Valley. While the police allege that Hamid was taking part in a protest on the 25th death anniversary of Mirwaiz Molvi Farooq, his family said he was only going for tuitions.

The doctors say several patients have over a hundred pellets lodged in their skulls because they were hit from a distance of less than two feet with guns aimed at their faces.

Dr. Rashid said that over the five years since the mass protests in 2010, he had seen scores of such cases. But no definite record is available on the number of people disabled by pellet guns; doctors at the Bemina hospital and Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital put the figure at more than 700.

“And unfortunately, around 70 per cent of them lose their sight in one eye, and at times in both,” Sheikh Sajad, a senior ophthalmologist in Srinagar, told The Hindu. “While they haven’t been killed, their lives are ruined forever.”

Sources said that despite a government order that pellet guns be used sparingly in Srinagar, they are used regularly in the downtown areas of the city and across villages in the Valley. Police officers say one cartridge contains 400-500 pellets, resembling ball bearings. They come in grades of five to 12, five being the largest, fastest and with the widest range. “Though written instructions have been given to use the number 9 pellet for crowd control, as it does not cause lasting damage, the directive isn’t followed. In villages, we see number 6 and 7 pellets being used regularly,” a senior police officer said. Most sensitive police stations in Kashmir receive regular supplies of number 5, 6, and 7 pellets, sources said.

“Many of our patients run away from the hospital with pellets and pus in their eyes because police spies note down their details, arrest them and often extort money,” an administrator said.

Minister says police told to curb use of pellet guns

Most cases of injuries caused by the indiscriminate firing of pellet guns by the Kashmir Police are reported from Palhalan, Pattan, Old Town Baramulla and Sopore in north Kashmir. In south Kashmir, Tral, Pulwama, Qoimooh and several other places have been affected.

In Srinagar, hospitals regularly have patients from the Old City, especially Nowhatta and Hawal.

Cause of concern

While the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed government has remained silent on the use of pellet guns, Education Minister Naeem Akhtar told The Hindu that the use of pellet guns was a cause for concern for the government.

“It does not show us in a good light. We have told the police again that they should curb the use of pellet guns,” Mr. Akhtar said. “But they have their own concerns, and we cannot really force them to stop using the pellets. We hope it will be curbed soon.”

“A large number of patients go to Delhi and Chandigarh for treatment. Many of these families are poor and often have to sell something for treating their children.” The family of Hamid Nazir Bhat, 16, who lost his vision in the right eye, says he was caught in the middle of a protest at Palhalan, in north Kashmir on Thursday.

“He was in school all day and then in the evening, he left for tuitions. At 6.30 p.m., we heard that he had been injured by pellets,” Hamid’s elder brother, Junaid Nazir, said. “When we saw his face, we couldn’t recognise him at all. It was a mass of flesh and blood.”

“When you fire a pellet gun, the cartridge bursts and immediately hundreds of pellets fly from a single point (in a funnel-like shape) hitting several people in the crowd simultaneously,” a police officer said.

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