Three summers have passed since Kashmir’s three summer agitations, and the fourth seems to be making rather heavy weather in approaching, but memories of the Valley’s torrid political seasons have been sharpened by a major government-run hospital in Srinagar with its report on casualties caused by the state’s ‘non-lethal’ crowd-control methods. True, figures put out by the SMHS Hospital pertain to 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, the last three having been periods of overall calm compared to the hat-trick of violent upheavals witnessed from 2008. But even the three-year duration the government puts on display as “return of peace” has left an alarmingly high number of victims with partial or total damage to vision due to injuries inflicted by what have come to be known as pellet guns.
The hospital’s catalogue of casualties for the past three years, some would say, is a vast improvement since the times it would issue a daily roll-call of the dead – those cut down by bullets fired by the police and the paramilitary forces – but this cheering interpretation would bring little comfort to those battling blindness or facing the prospect of losing eyesight because of avoidable injuries above the neck.
According to the report, 36 cases of eye injuries due to pellet guns were brought to the hospital since 2010: eighteen in 2010, and five, six and seven in the three subsequent years of “peace” respectively. The Department of Ophthalmology’s reply to an RTI inquiry holds a chilling sentence: fourteen of the patients had no chances of regaining eyesight…
Out of 27 cases of what the hospital has termed as “open globe” injuries in the eye, 17 had “very poor” prognosis, and out of the eight “closed globe” cases, three faced the same ordeal.
The report also has a verdict on the “non-lethal” nature of the government’s methods: most injuries are in the upper abdominal region, ranging from chest to face. It (the pellet gun) can also cause penetrating injuries of the brain, neck, chest and abdomen, leading to damage to vital organs and viscera, in which case the patient may need emergency surgery for life-threatening wounds.
Granted that a new worldwide entrepreneurial field, tentatively known as the internal security sector, has to be given state patronage to flourish, and not without the usual third-world practice of cuts and kickbacks and for awarding contracts, but still the price gullible people pay for such economic activity is too steep. In reference to the other side of the divide, an analogy with the big-power military-industrial complex profiting by fuelling an arms race between antagonistic nations should suffice. Kashmiris now seem to be victims of its scaled down version.