World Bulletin / News Desk
A 12-year-old girl is the exception in the ophthalmology ward filled with young men and boys who all arrived over recent days, with pellets lodged in their eyes.
Among the more than 1,000 civilian protestors wounded, according to the Jammu & Kashmir state government, by Indian forces firing on protesters since Friday night, 104 have suffered eye injuries caused by the use of "non-lethal" pellet guns.
According to the ophthalmologists at the hospital, it has 94 patients in need of eye surgeries; some have been performed while others anxiously wait their turn.
On one bed, occupied by two because of space shortages, 16-year-old Yaseen has a pellet in his left eye.
He had left his home in the small south Kashmir village late Friday night to attend the funeral prayers of the Burhan Muzaffar Wani, the 22-year-old Kashmiri militant commander whose death in a gunbattle with Indian forces sparked the mass clashes with Indian forces that have rocked the disputed Himalayan valley.
“On Saturday morning after we offered the funeral prayers I was throwing stones at the police and paramilitary soldiers when something suddenly hit my eyes. It was like sand; very, very hot. Then I couldn’t see,” Yaseen tells Anadolu Agency.
He lifts the handkerchief over his eyes to reveal a burning red sore. He says his vision is blurred and the fear gnawing at him is that it will never return.
“Unfortunately, 90 percent of these patients will have impaired vision for life. It is devastating for us as doctors to see these young boys being blinded,” Dr. Sajad Khanday, a senior ophthalmologist, tells Anadolu Agency.
The use of pellet guns by police started as a "non-lethal" method of containing mass civilian protests that overtook Kashmir in 2010, when more than 100 were killed.
“But it is not non-lethal. It kills their every chance in the world, it incapacitates them,” Khanday says. “We have seen a lot of patients with pellet injuries before but the number at most were 10 a day, this time in two days, we saw 100 cases of pellet injuries in the eyes.”
Khanday says that even though his position as a government doctor prevented him from speaking to the media he felt a moral obligation to speak against the use of the pellet guns.
Police officers say one cartridge contains 400-500 pellets resembling ball bearings. When fired, the cartridge bursts and immediately scatters the hundreds of pellets from a single point, managing to hit several in the crowd simultaneously.
Khanday said all of the patients had upper body injuries with pellets in their chests, shoulders, eyes and heads.
Both patients and doctors at the hospital said there plainclothes policemen had been waiting in the hospital taking down details of the patients for police reports before many had even been able to see a doctor.
“That is why many people don’t come for treatment and many come when they can no longer bear the pain and their eyes are far more damaged,” Khanday said.
At least 31 civilian protestors have been killed and more than 1,000 civilians wounded in the mass protests in Kashmir that started after Wani's death on Friday night, while around 300 police officers have also been injured.
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full.
The two countries have fought three wars -- in 1948, 1965 and 1971 -- since they were partitioned in 1947, two of which were fought over Kashmir.
Since 1989, Kashmiri resistance groups in IHK have been fighting against Indian rule for independence or for unification with neighboring Pakistan.
More than 70,000 Kashmiris have been killed so far in the violence, most of them by Indian forces. India maintains over half a million soldiers in the IHK.
A part of Kashmir is also held by China.