363 people suffered pellet injuries in eyes last year

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Use of pellet shotguns continues to take a heavy toll on the people of Kashmir, with 363 persons sustaining injuries in their eyes due to use of the deadly metallic ammunition in 2018.

According to the data compiled by the general specialty SMHS hospital in Srinagar, there hasn’t been a month last year when pellets were not used by forces on protesters.

The data reveals that the month of April has been ‘deadliest’ in terms of pellet injuries, with 70 people being hit in their eyes during the month.

In May, October and November, 54, 44 and 30 people, respectively, suffered loss of vision due to pellets, the data reveals.

The lowest number of injuries has been reported in the month of February when only two people were hit in their eyes.

In November, 19-month-old Hiba Jan from southern Shopian district lost an eye to the deadly pellets, thus becoming the youngest victim of the lethal ammunition being frequently used by forces to quell street protests since the 2016 public uprising in Kashmir.

An official at SMHS hospital said five people lost vision in both eyes in 2018 due to pellets. This, he said, included a 14-year-old boy.

On Eid-ul-Fitr, 11 people sustained pellet injuries in their eyes, while one youth was critically injured in head with the ammunition, suffering “extensive brain damage” on that day.

In 2019 too, pellets have resulted in injuries to seven youth in their eyes, a source at the hospital said.

On January 3 this year, when the government of India announced that plastic bullets would replace pellet shotguns, two people were injured in eyes with pellets fired by forces in Tral area of southern Pulwama district. Both the injured, according to a doctor, suffered “substantial loss of vision”.

While the government of India’s claim that pellet shotguns are not lethal has been disputed by many international human rights organisations in the past, their use continues unabated amidst uproar.

News reports recently quoted authorities at the Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) saying that the new ammunition (plastic bullet) is “500 times less lethal than pellets.”

The organisation’s director was quoted as saying that “a solution is needed for the notorious pellet guns”.

At SMHS hospital, the nodal point for treatment of people with eye injuries due to pellets, doctors express deep anguish at the disabilities caused by pellets and demanded that the controversial weapon be banned immediately.

“2019 should be a year when pellets should be banned so that we don’t have hundreds losing eyesight to the lethal weapon,” a senior doctor at the hospital said.

Explaining how pellets cause irreparable damage to eyes, he said: “Pellets often damage retina, which is a neural tissue, like brain”.

He said damage to any neural tissue is very difficult to be undone.

“Even if the retina is repaired, there is a residual scar that has a bearing on vision,” he said.

The doctor said that since 2016, over 1500 people have lost eyesight due to pellets.

“This (number) is outrageous, but nothing is being done about this mass blinding,” he said.

The official said the SMHS hospital figures on pellet injuries don’t include the injured who seek treatment in district and other hospitals.

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