102 youths hit in the eye by pellets, counts one hospital; Doctors at SMHS say needle-shaped, triangular pellet ammunition used for first time
SRINAGAR: Doctors say it has not happened anywhere in the world, not even in war zones, that 102 people, most of them young, have been hit in the eye by pellet ammunition used by police and paramilitary forces, as has happened in the past three days in Kashmir.
“Two of the 102 patients brought to the SMHS hospital were blinded on the roadside (on the spot) as a result of the impact and possible delay in bringing them to hospital,” said the doctor at the ophthalmology department, stressing that it is imperative that a patient be brought as early as possible to hospital.
In the past 48 hours, an un¬precedented 87 eye surgeries were performed at SMHS hospital on as many persons injured from pel¬lets that had struck their eyes.
“Of the 87 patients, 40 may need three or four surgeries to fully re¬store their vision,” a senior doctor in the ophthalmology department told Kashmir Reader.
The ophthalmology ward of the hospital has 72 beds which were all occupied, some by two patients, until 47 patients were discharged on Tuesday.
“20 among the patients were discharged with ‘good amount of vision’ and 27 others with ‘fair amount of vision,” said the doctor who insisted not to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
He said that all of the patients who were brought to the hospital were hit from close range, leading to severe injuries.
The velocity of the pellets, he said, could be so high that it can pierce an iron shield. “Cases have been seen where pellets have pierced through bones,” he said.
“Preventing infection is para¬mount as any foreign body can prove lethal to the vision. The pellets revolve inside the eye and spread infection to all parts,” the doctor said.
“This time we have seen a dif¬ferent variety of pellets altogether. In the past, they used to be round, but now we have needle-type or even rectangular pellets besides the round ones,” he said.
Another doctor who was part of the medicos’ team that operated on patients 48 hours at a stretch, said that the number of patients with pellet injuries in eyes was “unprecedented”.
“I am here (in SMHS hospital) since a long time but I have never seen so many patients lining up outside the operation theatre. We carried out surgeries one after the other,” he said. Another doctor seconded him.
Even though pellet guns have been regularly used against un¬armed protesters in the Valley since 2010, their use has increased over the years. In the clashes that have broken out since Burhan Wani’s killing, the use of pellet fir¬ing has known no restraint.
“I, along with a group of people, was returning home after offering funeral prayers for Burhan when the police suddenly fired pellets near Achbal (in Anantnag). At first, I saw blood oozing out from my left eye and then, all of a sudden, there was pain in my neck and in my chest,” said a youth who was recuperating in the SMHS ward.
A teenage boy from Rajbagh said that he along with his friends had gone to Mehjoor Nagar when the police fired pellets at a group of youth protesting there against the killing of Burhan.
“I was not part of the protest but these pellets flew in my direction also. Soon, the upper half of my body was gripped with pain, and I felt an unbearable pain in my right eye,” he said, recalling that the pellets were fired from some ten meters. Of only 14 years of age, the boy was taken to hospital by locals and friends.
Principal of the Government Medical College in Srinagar, Dr Kaiser said that there had never been such magnitude of patients with eye-wounds in the hospital. “It has to be the largest number in such a span of time in the entire globe,” he said.
Dr Kaiser was all praise for the doctors who worked round the clock to save the precious vision of patients.
“We have a robust ophthalmology department. Those advised surgery must come to the hospital rather than go outside, as it would be unfruitful, especially in terms of cost,” he said.
Notwithstanding its official definition as a “non-lethal weapon”, and despite calls for its ban by the Amnesty International, the use of pellet guns has only increased in Kashmir.
In the relatively “peaceful” last year, 64 persons suffered pellets wounds, 41 persons suffered eye injuries, two persons lost vision in both eyes, and three persons lost vision in one eye.
Amnesty International last year asked the Jammu and Kashmir government to prohibit the use of pellet-firing shotguns, saying they were inherently inaccurate and indiscriminate.
“Several cases have been reported of people suffering serious injuries, particularly eye injuries, from pellets,” the AI said after Hamid Nazir Bhat, a teenager, lost vision in one eye because of being hit by pellets in Palhalan on May 21, 2015.
(Those pictured above include class 12 student from Achabal Anantnag; a student from Janglat Mandi Anantnag; a 22-year-old businessman from Trehgam Kupwara; a class 10 student of Pulwama Rajpora; a class 12 student of Achabal Anantnag; an undergraduate student from Baramulla; a class 12 student from Anantnag; a class 10 student from Bellaw Pulwama; a class 9 student of Kellar Pulwama)