Avoiding Deaths in Kashmir
"That 8-year-old boy, he will live for 70 or 80 years. The history remains there, even if it is not in the books."
Dr. Afroz Khan, ophthalmologist, Srinagar, Kashmir
"It is unfortunate that there have been eye injuries but the pellets are less lethal than getting hit by bullets."
"Such a situation [reverting to the use of bullets instead of shotguns loaded with pellets] will increase the chances of fatalities [The use of pellet guns] saves lives."
Inspector general CRPF (J&K) Atul Karwal
"We have already operated upon 102 patients with pellet injuries in one or both eyes. [42 of the patients would regain] good vision [in their injured eye(s) while the others would require multiple surgical interventions before] anything can be said about them."
Dr S. Tariq Qureshi, head. ophthalmology department. Sri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital, Srinagar, Kashmir
"I haven’t seen such a number of eye injuries in recent years. In a war-like situation, you will get a lot of such injuries [examining 50 patients with retina injuries.""[Eye injury patients would regain] 20% or 40% of vision.""At least 70-80% of these patients will regain ‘some vision’ but they won’t have a normal vision… The pellets have done damage to their eyes,"AIIMS team leader Sudarshan K. Kumar
|Illustration by Sunandita Mehrotra|
But Pakistan's lethal hatred for the India it considers its rival, has led to the Pakistani military and its intelligence agency inciting Islamist terrorist groups to inflict terrorist atrocities in India, as was done in Mumbai in 2008 (and in later years) when ten members of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba stormed buildings in India's economic capital, killing 164 people until they were all but one shot dead by Indian police and commandos after a lengthy siege from Wednesday to Saturday 28 November.
Terrorist groups have been infiltrating Indian Kashmir from Pakistan for years with the intention of causing unrest and stirring up the Muslim population to agitate for India to surrender its portion of Kashmir to Pakistan. In the latest such 'protests' to have taken place, 38 civilians including a teenager, were killed, with 1600 injured in a six-day period. Mob violence succeeded in killing one policeman and injuring a few security forces personnel with shrapnel from grenades thrown by assailants sheltering behind young Kashmiri stone-throwers.
Mid-July began the latest wave of protests by Kashmiri Muslims citing the Indian military presence as provocation. Since then, 570 people have descended on the main government hospital in Srinagar with injuries from lead pellets, or birdshot as it is more popularly referred to. Security force armed with pump-action shotguns to disperse the crowds without resorting to more lethal weaponry have been firing the shotguns with pellets indiscriminately at the stone-throwing protesters.
The birdshot cannot be accurately directed; it just blasts out of the shotgun barrel and disperses in a wide spray of pellets, hundreds of which can hit the individual against whom the shotgun has been aimed, with fairly predictable consequences. They may not be deadly, nor their intent lethal, but those projectiles are fired with great velocity the outcome and when they're numerous they inflict sufficient damage to make their nasty mark, leaving a good many people with severe eye injuries.
It represents a dilemma for both sides. Kashmiri Muslims who feel entitled to protest a situation that directly impinges on their lives anticipate the response of security forces, while security forces know the kind of damage that other kinds of projectiles, like rocks, like the grenades that they claim were also fired at them, can take on their own bodies and lives. The protesters express their frustration and their political/social/religious unwillingness to live under Indian rule, and the Indian military express their frustration at having to deal with unreasonable people who bring harm to themselves.
The intransigence of the protesters and their willingness to place themselves in danger reflecting their unwillingness to live under continued Indian rule fairly well reflects a quality of violent unruliness that characterizes mob situations when episodes occur that infuriate the religious sensibilities of the faithful in Islam. That they have been manipulated by Pakistan to enable it to gain its long-held ambition to secure all of Kashmir is of little concern to them. Once infected with the nationalist, religious, political, social imperative of 'freedom' from 'oppression' setting in, nothing but total capitulation on India's part will satisfy them.
What is certain to emerge from the situation is a stale-mate. No one will come away satisfied that anything of value has been accomplished, even while great harm is done to one another, with thousands on both sides of the equation suffering the consequences. In a sense, reflecting the usual human dimensions of suspicion, blame, rage, and hatred followed by violence. Six years ago, following a brutal seasonal protest, pellet guns were introduced to Kashmir in the hands of Indian military.
Used to put down protests in Egypt, Bahrain and Tunisia they have been viewed as an effective, more humane response in meting out discipline to violent protests. Tellingly, in the crowded recovery ward at Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital those admitted with 'dead eye' syndrome as a result of pellet gun shots, all profess to having no regrets at the wounds they have sustained in the interests of defending their human right to 'freedom' from oppression.
|Parents comfort their son who was blinded by pellet gun -- Reuters|
One woman, asked if she felt grateful to the government of India for ensuring her 8-year-old son, Asif Sheikh was receiving peerless medical care in an Indian hospital responded: "Not a single person from the government has come to help. If any one of them come to me, I will tell them, 'You give me your eyes. I will put them in my child". She herself, she said, often took part in anti-Indian protests but had discouraged her son from doing so.
He just happened, she said, to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, standing in the market when security forces arrived and fired pellet guns: "This time he is very young. But he will grow. He will understand what happened to him. And he will go out to the street and throw stones", she promised.