Dead Eyes epidemic in Kashmir as India uses pellet guns on protesters: NYT

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NEW YORK, Aug 29 (APP): As many as 570 patients have reported to Srinagars main government hospital with eyes ruptured by deadly lead pellets fired by Indian security forces armed with pump-action shotguns to disperse crowds struggling to win freedom from India, according to a dispatch published in The New York Times Monday.

“The patients have mutilated retinas, severed optic nerves, irises seeping out like puddles of ink,” Times’ correspondent Ellen Barry wrote from the summer capital of the occupied state.

Dead eyes, the chief of Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital’s ophthalmology department calls them. “Every season of popular revolt in Kashmir has its marker,” correspondent Barry noted.

The dispatch described the latest protests in Indian-held Kashmir, “the most sustained and violent since 2010”, saying it caught the authorities in New Delhi unaware.
“The stone-throwing crowds have no political leaders, put forward no specific demands and metastasized with alarming speed,” it said.

Over 70 Kashmiri civilians have been killed and thousands more injured after JUly 8 when widespread protests erupted across the valley against the killing of the popular youth leader, Burhan Wani, by Indian troops.

“But 2016 will almost certainly be remembered as the year of dead eyes,” the Times said, noting that eye injuries have become such a focus of public anger.
Last week Indias home minister, Rajnath Singh, promised

that the pellet guns would be replaced by another type of nonlethal weapon in the coming days.

On the hospital’s ophthalmology ward, however, new patients arrive every day, correspondent Barry said.

“Walking the hospital hallway, you first notice a handful of young men in blackout goggles. Then you see them everywhere.

A weary ophthalmologist looks on from the break room as Dr. S. Natarajans young patient, waking from anesthesia, stirs and begins to moan.

That 8-year-old boy, he will live for 70 or 80 years,” the doctor was quoted as saying. The history remains there, even if it is not in the books.

Tariq Qureshi, the head of the ophthalmology department, was quoted as saying, Once it (the pellet) goes in the eye, it rotates like this, and destroys everything there inside.

Dr. Qureshi said Its physics. This is a high-velocity body. It releases a high amount of energy inside. The lens, the iris, the retina get matted up.

The doctors were told to take all possible measures to save their patients vision, including complex surgery, at a cost to the government of 70,000 rupees, or around $1,040, per operation, Dr. Qureshi said.

The worst cases go to Dr. Natarajan, the director of Aditya Jyot Eye Hospital in Mumbai, whose visits are facilitated by the Borderless World Foundation, a nonprofit group. Dr.

Natarajan specializes in patients whose eyes have been punctured by projectiles — typically, children standing too near fireworks, or industrial workers who did not wear protective goggles, or boxers whose eyes have been punctured by thumbs.

This year, the use of pellets on Kashmiri protesters increased sharply, with the police firing more than 3,000 canisters, or upward of 1.2 million pellets, in the first 32 days of the protests, the Central Reserve Police Force was cited as saying by the Times. If pellet guns are withdrawn from the arsenal, Commander Rajev Yadav said matter-of-factly, troops will have to use their firearms.

As for the government hospital, now jammed with injured protesters and sympathetic volunteers, Commander Yadav said it was no longer a safe place for his officers to go. Not long ago, one of his men sought medical help for chest pain but fled in fear of being lynched.

In a hospital’s recovery ward, correspondent Barry said a nurse pushes a trolley down a row of beds, distributing cups of tea and slices of white bread to a row of young men in sunglasses.

“To converse with them is to see new energy coursing into Kashmirs old cycle of violence,” he wrote. “It is difficult to find a patient here who admits to mourning the loss of his eye. They say it is an acceptable price to pay for azadi, or freedom from Indian rule. Quite a few offer to sacrifice their second eye for the cause.”

The dispatch added, “Wazira Banwo, 40, is watching her 8-year-old son, Asif Sheikh, recover from surgery. The boy is curled on his side under a blanket, his head swathed in surgical gauze, woozy and sick. It was his third operation; now, with his retina reattached, he may be able to see for a distance of three to five feet, according to Dr. Natarajan.

“Asked whether she was grateful to the government for providing the child medical care, Ms. Banwo grimaces. Not a single person from the government has come to help, she says.If any one of them come to me, I will tell them, You give me your eyes, I will put them in my child.

“On the day he was injured, she says, he just happened to be standing in the market when security forces arrived in a van and fired pellet guns.

‘This time he is very young,’ she says. But he will grow. He will understand what happened to him. And he will go out to the street and throw stones.