Archive for the ‘healthcare’ Category

Image result for Munaza Gulzar kashmir activist Sarposh Management Service


 SRINAGAR: Activism in Kashmir has usually seen men at the forefront. Women — who are perhaps the biggest victims of the protracted conflict in the valley — have remained on the sidelines, treated as passive victims and confined to the four walls of their home.

In recent years, however, there has been a slow and gradual yet noticeable change, as brave young female voices have emerged from the patriarchal and conservative mindsets and raised their voice against the challenges and difficulties that make up the lives of people in the valley.

Munaza Gulzar: A post graduate gold medalist in social work from the University of Kashmir, Gulzar is a United Kingdom registered social worker. She deals with mental health & child issues with more than 15 years of experience in Kashmir and abroad. Gulzar has exclusively worked on mental health for 4 years. She has also worked for differently-abled people, and vulnerable women groups and their needs.

Munazah has worked in almost every district of the Kashmir region. Currently she runs her own mental health clinic in Srinagar under Sarposh Management Service.

“Activism to me is putting into action a fight against injustice and recognition of rights”, says Gulzar.

Gulzar shifted her career from journalism to social activism the moment she visited Kunan Poshpora rape victims. To her, listening to their narrative was a decisive factor in the shift in profession.

Asked how difficult it is to work in Kashmir, she said, “Conflict affects every aspect of our life. Be it the mental state or a choice of your profession, the regular sense of insecurity prevailing in the state is a very disturbing element”. “Conflict is a major insecurity tracking you all the time. It curbs your freedom making you unable to do justice to your work”, she added.

Kashmir lacks a joint forum for social and political activists. There is no proper process of registration by the system. Activists lack a common platform to speak out as everyone does it at an individual level.

Natasha Rather is a young human rights defender, who currently works as a researcher for the Jammu & Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS). She started her activism in 2014 and her work is centred on human rights abuses perpetrated by the Indian state in Kashmir.

Rather is one of the five authors of the book “Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora?” which was published as a part of Zubaan Series on ‘Sexual Violence and Impunity in South Asia’.

She has been a part of the campaign seeking justice for the survivors of Kunan Poshpora Mass Rape and Torture case. She is seeking justice for the Handwara girl who was allegedly molested by army personnel in Handwara in April 2016.

She has also helped pellet victims. In 2016, she along with her association ran a campaign against the use of pellet guns which led to blinding of 100s of young people in Kashmir.

She said, “Indian state’s displeasure and dislike for human rights issues to be discussed, curfews, restrictions, Gag on social media and communication, pose obstacles in my work”.

Ather Zia: The Citizen spoke to Ather Zia, a Kashmiri journalist who was formerly with the BBC and is currently an Assistant Professor in Anthropology and Gender Studies Department at University of Northern Colorado, Greeley. She works on militarization, gender, and enforced disappearances in Kashmir.

Asked how conflict poses challenge to the activists here, she said, “The obstacles one faces in a situation like Kashmir is the state surveillance, which impedes mobility, and gathering data”.

She defines an activist to be the one who raises a voice against injustice, and makes sure it is heard and is constantly engaged with the ground, pursuing the cause one has taken up.

A number of people came forward post 2010 and 2016 raising their voice not only on the ground but on social media platforms as well. Some people effortlessly create awareness in the form of poetry, prose and art.

Sabiya Dar joined the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) in 2008 when she was in her 12th standard. Dar says she finds a sense of purpose in helping half widows.

She said, “We face too many challenges from the state whenever we try to help them financially, legally, psychologically, medically or even educationally. Now we are used to it and have stopped reacting because we know we have been doing a great work. We feel the pain of the victims and hope for justice. At the end truth prevails”.

There are some individuals and organisations who have helped pellet victims but they want to remain anonymous. Several people told The Citizen that they face constant repercussions from the state and the army. They also said that they do not want these victims to face the wrath of the state, and hence, rather remain under the radar.

Zia, reacting to this reality, said, “Issues such as Human Rights violations are not palatable issue for the government. Many HR defenders prefer being unnamed since it helps them work in anonymity and without being unduly penalized by the state agencies, which can include routine harassment or even incarceration”.

Mehreen Zafar is advocate who works at the lower court in Srinagar and is associated with J&K Right to Information Act Movement. Zafar said that, “Kashmir is a conflict zone and work atmosphere is very difficult. Due to the presence of draconian Laws in the name of AFSPA & PSA, activism becomes more terrible. There is always a fear of getting arrested arbitrarily”.

Farrukh Faheem from the Institute of Kashmir Studies at Kashmir University said that the moment there is a human rights violation, people pour out on the streets to register their protest. They express themselves through graffiti and other means and those who narrate their stories at the cost of their lives and security are activists too.

To Faheem, categorizing an activist becomes difficult in a place like Kashmir which has a history of unrest and uncertainty. He says these new women emerging in Kashmir are indirectly testing the patriarchal norms as well.

Nadiya Shafi, 28, is a community correspondent for ‘Video Volunteers’ which is a media and human rights organization based in Goa. She also runs a few gender discussion clubs in Kashmir under the Dismantle Patriarchy campaign. She started her work in 2010 and has documented more than 200 cases of half-widows and has made more than 100 videos on different social issues.

Shafi has also given financial assistance to several pellet victims, along with her colleagues.

“Conflict has made us and our family vulnerable. It hinders our work. I am not only concerned about myself but also about the people whom I get to meet”, says Shafi.

She says that while documenting the cases of half-widows, she was being closely monitored by the state police and the forces for which her family had to send her to Delhi for a year.

“I was stopped several times in downtown Srinagar during the 2016 unrest. My equipment was confiscated and the footage was deleted,” she said.

She added,” You never know when you are called up by the armed forces. Working in conflict is overall a big challenge. We work under the shadow of guns”.

Facing all the challenges in an uncertain atmosphere, some new faces prefer to work silently while serving people irrespective of faith and belief. These activists have become the voice of the people, trying their best to bring about socio-political changes in the valley. After generations, women are no longer passive victims, but agents of change.

Advertisements

Electroshock weapons have potential to kill: DAK
electroshock-495x309

Srinagar, Nov 9, CNS:  With electroshock weapons approved for crowd control in Kashmir, Doctors Association Kashmir (DAK) today said that these weapons have the potential to kill.

Terming these weapons lethal, President DAK Dr Nisar-ul-Hassan in a statement said that these devices pose a significant and fatal risk to human life.

Electroshock weapons are incapacitant devices that discharge high voltage electrical current.

Hundreds of deaths have been reported in reliable studies due to the use of these weapons.

A study published in “American Heart Association Journal” has linked these devices to cardiac arrests and deaths.

Amnesty international has documented over 500 deaths that occurred after the use of these weapons.

Another Canadian study revealed that these devices trigger ventricular fibrillations and the threshold for these deadly arrhythmias decrease with repeated shocks.

They are particularly dangerous to those with underlying heart condition and implanted pacemakers.

Studies have shown that these devices can cause eye injuries, seizures, collapsed lungs and head injuries when the victims hit the ground.

These weapons have been banned in many countries.

United Nations has also raised extensive concerns about the use of electro-shock devices.

Even the manufacturing companies of these devices no longer claim them non-lethal.

Long Range Acoustic Device (LARD) has also been approved for use against protestors in Kashmir that can cause permanent hearing loss.

Originally developed as military weapons, these sonic devices can produce an intensely loud sound of greater than 140-decibels.

Sounds greater than 85 decibels can leave a person permanently deaf. (CNS)

In this picturea taken on 22 March, 2013 eighteen year old Tariq Gojri (L) who lost his right eye to a  pellet gun allegedly fired by Indian police officials poses with family members during an interview with  AFP at his home in Khanpora.

AFP Photo/Tauseef Mustafa

The season of apples had arrived. Gulzar Ahmad’s garden in Jammu and Kashmir’s hilly district of Shopian had the air of another fruitful season. On the 16th of last month, he visited his garden to trim the grass. He has not been able to see it since.

On 9 July, the Indian security forces killed the 22-year old Hizbul militant Burhan Wani in Tral. The encounter was followed by a series of protests erupting across the Valley over the next couple of months.

One such protest broke out near 40-year old Gulzar’s apple garden when he cutting the grass, says his brother, Shabbir, 26.

Forces used pellet guns, which they call a “non lethal” weapons, to quell the hostile protestors. One of the pellets went right through one of Gulzar’s eyes while another slit the side of the other eye.

BLINDED

More than 800 such patients have been admitted to Srinagar’s government hospital with ruptured eyes since 9 July.

The pellets made of iron, covered with a millimetre of rubber coating, have cost hundreds their entire or partial eyesight. And the inflow of patients does not seem to be in the mood to shrink.

It has been more than two months since Wani’s killing but the Valley is still on fire. The number of casualties has crossed 70 and the curfew is still intact.

Normalcy has consistently eluded the Valley with Kashmiris demanding freedom from the Indian state and withdrawal of AFSPA, which gives unbridled powers to the armed forces to operate in the valley.

More than 5 lakh security personnel are reportedly deployed in Kashmir. With armed forces misusing their powers quite frequently, along with the feeling of being an occupied territory, the sentiment against India is constantly simmering in the Valley.

Observers say the assassination of Wani proved to be a mere trigger to fire the sentiment once again.

Thousands and lakhs have thronged the streets in protests in spite of being aware of the possible repercussions.

THE SHOOTING DOESN’T STOP

As a result, the government hospital in Srinagar is deluged with patients. Many of them have been operated upon several times but to no avail.

Gulzar has already had two surgeries. He is still completely blind in one eye, while the other works only to an extent. The gravity of eye injuries at the hospital have been too much to handle for the doctors here. “They are clueless,” says Shabbir.

It has compelled Borderless World Foundation, an NGO working in Kashmir for around two decades, to facilitate the visits of some of the most renowned eye surgeons in the country.

CALL IN THE EXPERTS

Dr Sundaram Natarajan, CMD of Aditya Jyoti Eye Hospital in Mumbai, is one of them. He has visited Srinagar twice already and performed 80 surgeries while his team has performed close to 300 of them.

Dr Natarajan has dealt eye injuries due to fireworks, has treated industrial labourers working without protective gear, and also operated punctured eyes of boxers in his illustrious career spanning 30 years.

He has treated injuries during Operation Blue Star in 1984. He has treated injured army men in 1986-87. But this has been the biggest challenge of his life.

The sheer number of patients, he says, is unprecedented. “The youngest was 5. The oldest 22. The age of the victims, along with the sheer quantum is something I have never seen before. They may call it non-lethal but the damage pellets are causing is terrible.”

WHAT LAST RESORT IS THIS?

The pellet guns are supposed to be used for crowd control. Even though the protestors often outnumber the security forces, pellet guns are always used sparingly, as a last resort of sorts.

PDP spokesperson Waheed-Ur-Parra said there are clear orders to the security forces to show maximum restraint while doing so. “A lot of the violence has taken place outside security camps,” he said. “It means the mob mobilised in front of the camp.”

Hostile protests, however, have broken out across the country over the years, but pellet guns are being used only in Kashmir.

Across the globe, they have been used to defuse protests in Egypt, Bahrain and Tunisia. But countries avoid using them on unarmed civilians because they cannot be aimed and are sprayed around to placate the hysterical crowd.

The perceivably excessive use of pellet guns causing ghastly eye injuries have caught the public eye so much that Rajnath Singh had to assure the authorities would think of another non-lethal weapon to deal with agitating civilians.

PAIN AND ANGER

Founder of Borderless World Foundation, Adhik Kadam, says the manner in which the security forces have dealt with the protestors only accentuates their anger against the Indian state. “A teenager loses eyesight,” he says. “He would live with anger and bitterness for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, there are enough people out there to exploit that anger. Those blinded during stone-pelting today could well cause bigger destruction tomorrow.”

Ground reports suggest the protests have grown in direct proportion with the pellets. Slogans in solidarity with Wani and against the Indian state have become louder.

Kadam says that once mob vandalised a government ambulance but let the Borderless World Foundation ambulance go untouched.

Kadam, who has been dubbed pro-terrorist by a section of the society for working towards the revival of protestors’ eyesight, says we need to find out honest answers as to why young Kashmiri boys are readily picking up stones.

“A normal boy going to school sees an AK 47 at least 50 times in a day,” he says. “All those young protestors have grown up in this atmosphere. Is it normal to grow up like that?”

Shabbir, who has participated in anti-India protests before, says life in Kashmir has become hell. “The security forces barge into our houses at odd hours,” he says. “They do what they want to and leave. How do we not protest that?”

INDIFFERENCE

While the Indian government evidently reacted late to the horror in Kashmir, the separatist leaders did not show much of a promise either by turning away the all-party delegation.

Experts complain about the inconsistent engagement between Srinagar and Delhi, and say the talks are attempted only when Kashmir burns.

Amidst the political deadlock, the disaffected youth in the Valley are ignored, says Kadam, and humanity suffers the most. “We say Kashmir is ours,” he says. “But we are fighting for the land. We need to fight for the people.”

Meanwhile, Dr Natarajan is preparing for his third visit to Srinagar as patients and their families wait with baited breath. Hardly anyone has returned to their respective districts, for it would be complicated to come back to Srinagar amidst the curfew.

Natarajan is scheduled to operate 100 victims in the four days starting 20 September. Gulzar would be one of them.

By the time Natarajan arrives in Srinagar, Gulzar would have spent more than a month struggling to do the things he took for granted all his life. He was hit on 16 August. Just a day before, he had witnessed India celebrate its 69th independence day.

 

http://www.catchnews.com/india-news/blinded-by-pellets-kashmiris-wait-for-eye-doctors-from-mumbai-for-help-1473603037.html/fullview

Malala (File Photo)

“I call on the United Nations, the international community and India and Pakistan to work together with utmost urgency to right these wrongs’ – Malala.

Pakistan’s teenage Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai on Tuesday called on the UN, Pakistan and India to come together and halt the ‘inhumanity and heartbreak’ in Kashmir. Malala was quoted as saying by Dawn: “The Kashmiri people, like people everywhere, deserve their fundamental human rights… They should live free of fear and repression.”

“I call on the United Nations, the international community and India and Pakistan to work together with utmost urgency to right these wrongs, providing the people of Kashmir with the dignity, respect and freedom they deserve.”

She added: “Dozens of unarmed protesters have been killed and thousands wounded, including hundreds of people blinded by pellet guns used to put down demonstrations, many schools have been closed… keeping children away from their classrooms.”

“I stand with the people of Kashmir,” she said. “My 14 million Kashmiri sisters and brothers have always been close to my heart.”

Pakistani army chief says Islamabad will continue to support the sacrifices of Kashmiri people

Pakistan army chief General Raheel Sharif on Tuesday described Kashmir as Pakistan’s “jugular vein” and said Islamabad will continue to support the people of the Valley on the “diplomatic and ethical” fronts.

“We salute the great sacrifices of the people of Kashmir for their right of self-determination. The solution of the problem lies in the implementation of the resolutions of United Nations in this regard. Pakistan will continue to support Kashmir on the diplomatic and ethical fronts,” said the chief of army staff, addressing a ceremony held at General Headquarters in Rawalpindi to mark the country’s Defence Day.

General Raheel praised people of the Valley for rendering “innumerable sacrifices”.

The army chief asserted that “the defence of Pakistan is invincible”. “I want to make it clear to all the enemies that the defence of Pakistan already strong but now it has become invincible,” he was quoted as saying by theExpress Tribune.

On the challenges the country is facing, he said: “I want to make it clear that we are fully aware of all covert and overt intrigues and intentions of our enemies. Be the challenge military or diplomatic; on the borders or within the cities, we know our friends and foes all too well.” On Pakistan’s ties with China, the army chief said the greatest example of a relationship based on mutual respect and principle of equality in the region is the Pak-China friendship.

“China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the paramount evidence of this relationship. I would like to assure that we shall not allow any external force to obstruct it and any such attempt will be dealt with iron hands,” he said.

General Raheel said the Operation Zarb-e-Azb against terrorists had achieved its objectives to confront terror, saying the armed forced will go to any limit to ensure Pakistan’s security.

He praised the military, police and other law enforcement agencies for their “utmost efforts” to establish law and order in the country.

“There is a need to implement the National Action Plan and break the nexus between corruption and terrorism to fully consolidate the successes of Operation Zarb-e-Azb in the entire country,”

With PTI inputs.

According to a recent report, 1.8 million Kashmiri adults suffer from some form of mental distress.

Hafiza looks through a window covered with a polythene sheet. The family doesn’t have glass for their windows [Baba Tamim/Al Jazeera]

By Baba Tamim

FAST FACTS: MENTAL HEALTH IN KASHMIR

  • An average adult in Kashmir witnesses 7.7 traumatic events during their lifetime
  • Of the adult population, 45 percent suffer from mental distress
  • Fifty percent of women and 37 percent of men have probable depression
  • Thirty-six percent of women and 21 percent of men have a probable anxiety disorder

Source: Doctors Without Borders

Indian-administered Kashmir – Sometimes 52-year-old Hafiza Bano can be seen counting the wooden planks in the ceiling, or the lines on the doors, or the flowers imprinted on the rug.

Her house has three small rooms and a kitchen. In one of the mud-plastered rooms, a disabled relative lives; in another room, guests are greeted. The third is also occupied – by the memories of her dead daughter and “disappeared” son.

This is where Hafiza sleeps – a picture of her son, a jar full of the different medicines she must take and a broken radio tied with a piece of cloth beside her bed.

Almost every night, she dreams of buying her son clothes for Eid. Almost every morning, she wakes up crying.


READ MORE: What mental illness means to me 


Her family gave her the radio in the hope that listening to music might distract her from her thoughts. But it proved to be as delicate as Hafiza’s mental health, and there is no piece of cloth that can hold her together.

Hafiza is mentally ill. And she isn’t alone.

When Doctors Without Borders (MSF) recently released a comprehensive report [PDF]on mental health in Kashmir, it concluded that half of all residents of the valley have “mental health problems”.

The report found that nearly 1.8 million adults – 45 percent of Kashmir’s adult population – suffer from some form of mental distress. A majority – 93 percent – have experienced conflict-related trauma. An average adult was found to have witnessed around eight traumatic events during his or her lifetime. More than 70 percent of adults have experienced or witnessed the sudden or violent death of someone they knew.

According to the report, 50 percent of women and 37 percent of men are likely to suffer from depression; 36 percent of women and 21 percent of men have a probable anxiety disorder; and 22 percent of women and 18 percent of men suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The report was the third of its kind on mental health carried out by MSF. Its first two were in Iraq and Syria.

Hafiza cries as she stands at the spot where she says her son was taken [Baba Tamim/Al Jazeera]

Transmitting trauma

Indian-administered Kashmir consists of three regions: Jammu, the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh. The nearly 27-year-old armed rebellion against New Delhi’s rule has been centred in the valley, where the highest rates of mental illness are now reported.

Armed groups have been fighting against the hundreds of thousands of Indian troops stationed there – some seeking independence and some accession to Pakistan.


READ MORE: Disease, discrimination and dignity 


In 1989, the year the conflict started, around 1,700 people visited Kashmir’s only psychiatric hospital [PDF]. Last year, that number topped 100,000.

“It’s a crisis,” says Kashmiri psychiatrist Mushtaq Margoob.

“Before 1989, there were no PTSD cases, but now we have an epidemic of disorders in Kashmir. Generation after generation has been at the receiving end; anybody could get killed or humiliated – [it’s] a condition of helplessness. So, it is a transgenerational transmission of trauma.”

The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) agrees. “Because of both [the] military and [the] militancy, people and their mental health becomes [a] casualty. We have been trying to explore options to try to address the issue,” says Waheed-ur-Rehman Para, a PDP spokesperson.

“When you live in a violent place, it affects your psychology and mental setup. All the violence, restrictions, strikes and curfews do have an impact on destabilising mental health … [The] government needs to have a comprehensive policy to deal with this grave issue.”

Hafiza’s ordeal began in the winter of 1993, when she says soldiers from the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) took her 13-year-old son Javed Ahmed as he was eating lunch with his family at their home in the southern district of Pulwama.


READ MORE: ‘Welcome to Kashmir’ 


Kashmir was under curfew as armed fighters were engaged in a standoff with Indian troops at a shrine in the Hazratbal neighbourhood of the summer capital, Srinagar.

Hafiza recalls that time.

“[The shrine] was under siege, so Javed had no school because the whole valley had [been] engulfed in tension. He had gone out to play with the children in the neighbourhood. And when he got back for food, in no time a group of troops barged into our house. In front of every one of us, they took my son. We pleaded before them, but they wouldn’t listen.”

He was never returned, she says, crying.

It was November 3, 1993. The family say they reported the case to the police and, a week later, received a copy of the First Information Report, a police report registered once a complaint is received.

The report alleged that the 13-year-old was a member of an armed group and that while he was being transported, fighters ambushed the troops in whose custody he was, triggering a gunfight on the evening of November 4.

The report claimed that Javed was able to escape under the cover of darkness during the gunfight.

But the family rejects this version of events, insisting that their son was just a normal schoolboy and that if he had escaped, he would have contacted them.

The family say they sold everything they had to hire lawyers and visit jails and military camps, searching for Javed.

“I have no idea how much money we have spent in the courts to seek justice. I sold every valuable in the house, even the carpet material,” says Hafiza’s husband, carpet-weaver turned auto-rickshaw driver Ghulam Nabi Mattu, 55. That is why, he says, their was not in a suitable living condition.

Hafiza prepares food for the family [Baba Tamim/Al Jazeera]

‘Getting mentally weaker every day’

Located in the village of Mongehoum in Pulwama province, their home is made of mud and wood. Until recently, it didn’t have any windows. But then the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, an NGO, installed new wooden ones.

Three years after his disappearance, Javed’s sister, Ruksana, died of a heart attack. She was 14.

“My daughter died of a heart attack during Ramadan [in 1996] while searching for her brother,” Hafiza says. “She would accompany us everywhere [to look for him].”

Now, Hafiza and Ghulam are left with one child – their 30-year-old daughter Shafiqa.

“We are facing tough times. I am getting mentally weaker every day. I sought to look for a man for my daughter to marry, but they didn’t find our household to be up to their reputation and denied to marry her,” Hafiza says.

Ghulam’s disabled brother, Wali Mohammad Mattu, also lives with them.

“My disabled brother-in-law has been bedridden for the last six years. I take him out to go to the toilet and bathe [the bathroom and toilet are outside of the house] with the help of a boy from the neighbourhood every day since my husband drives an auto-rickshaw in the city [Srinagar]. If we don’t take care of him, what will people say?”

Hafiza rarely sleeps. According to her medical reports, she is suffering from a “severe reactive depression” with somatisation and migraines.

Hafiza, left, with her daughter, Shafiqa, and her husband, Ghulam [Baba Tamim/Al Jazeera]

She stopped taking her anti-depressants a week ago because the family cannot afford to pay for them.

Ghulam has his own health problems. He suffers from severe back pain, but says that if he pays for hospital tests and pain medication, his family will have to go without food.

“His old auto-rickshaw will be banned in a few months as the model is old,” Hafiza explains, worried about what the government regulation intended to control pollution levels will mean for her family.

“Why did this happen to my family?” she asks as her tears begin to fall again.

Ghulam chips in to say that he sometimes feels as though his wife has gone mad. Had Javed been here, he says, things would have been much better for their family.

“We would have definitely had a better life. He would go to school and also work part-time in the apple orchards,” Ghulam reflects.

His son used to sell ice-cream after school and had always been responsible, he explains.

“If Javed were alive, he would have been a great son and a support to the family.”

Follow Baba Tamim on Twitter: @babatamim

Hafiza must take six types of tablets a day for her medical problems, but the family says they can no longer afford the medication she needs to treat her depression [Baba Tamim/Al Jazeera]

Source: Al Jazeera

SRINAGAR, Kashmir — The street outside is patrolled by riot police officers in camouflage, bracing for the nightly spasm of violence, but it is quiet here inside the operating room. The surgeon’s knife slides into an eyeball as if it were a soft fruit.

The patient’s eyelids have been stretched back with a metal clamp, so his eyeball bulges out of glistening pink tissue. The surgeon sits with his back very straight, cutting with tiny movements of his fingers. Every now and then, a thread of blood appears in the patient’s eye socket. The patient is 8 years old.

“Very bad,” murmurs the surgeon, Dr. S. Natarajan. But then, all 13 cases he will see today will be very bad.

Since mid-July, when the current wave of protests against the Indian military presence started, more than 570 patients have reported to Srinagar’s main government hospital with eyes ruptured by lead pellets, sometimes known as birdshot, fired by security forces armed with pump-action shotguns to disperse crowds.

The patients have mutilated retinas, severed optic nerves, irises seeping out like puddles of ink. “Dead eyes,” the ophthalmology department’s chief calls them.

Every season of popular revolt in Kashmir has its marker.

This summer’s protests in the part of Kashmir controlled by India, the most sustained and violent since 2010, 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. Around 60 civilians and two members of the security forces have been killed; on each side, thousands have been wounded.

Photo

Kashmiri doctors and paramedics, their eyes covered by patches, protested at a hospital in Srinagar on Aug. 10. They sought to evoke the plight of victims of pellet guns fired by Indian security forces to disperse crowds. Credit Tauseef Mustafa/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

But 2016 will almost certainly be remembered as the year of dead eyes. The eye injuries have become such a focus of public anger that last week, in a conciliatory gesture, India’s home minister, Rajnath Singh, promised that the pellet guns, as they are known here, would be replaced by another type of nonlethal weapon in the coming days.

On the ophthalmology ward at the main Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, however, new patients arrive every day. 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. Natarajan’s young patient, waking from anesthesia, stirs and begins to moan.

“That 8-year-old boy, he will live for 70 or 80 years,” says the doctor, Afroz Khan. “The history remains there, even if it is not in the books.”

Retinal Repair

On July 9, Tariq Qureshi, the head of the ophthalmology department, was at a seminar on pediatric retinal repair.

The previous day, Indian security forces raided a village and killed Burhan Muzzafar Wani, a 22-year-old militant leader whose videos posted on WhatsApp and Facebook attracted a vast following. But major violence was not expected. Dr. Qureshi was in the seminar when his phone rang.

It was the hospital emergency room, calling to let him know that two patients had come in with pellets in their eyes. Dr. Qureshi sent a doctor over, and the seminar resumed. Ten minutes later, the phone rang again. It was the same doctor in the emergency room, telling Dr. Qureshi to come immediately, that the number of patients had risen to 15.

Photo

An Indian paramilitary trooper held a pellet gun as he stood guard on a road during a curfew. Credit Sajjad Hussain/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The four ophthalmologists, who were across the hospital campus from the emergency room, ran.

For the next 72 hours, they operated in shifts around the clock, suturing the eyes to keep the matter inside from leaking out. In most cases, it became clear, the pellets had burst into through the cornea and out through the retina, leaving little hope of fully restoring vision. Twenty-seven patients were hit in both eyes. The pellets, when they could be removed, were preserved on the heads of cotton swabs.

“Once it goes in the eye, it rotates like this, and destroys everything there inside,” Dr. Qureshi said. “It’s 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.

He works in a bubble of calm, eyes pressed to a microscope, using his hands to work a cutter and a light, and using his bare feet to control the machines that surround him. On a screen opposite him is an image captured by a microscopic camera inside the boy’s eye. At times the image is cloudy, a flashlight searching in the fog; at one point there are swimming glints of colored light, like those cast by a chandelier in the sun.

In cases of catastrophic injuries, Dr. Natarajan’s goal is to save a small portion of the eye’s function, enough to sense light, or movement of a hand.

Photo

A father, who said his son had been injured by pellets shot by security forces, comforted his son earlier this month. Credit Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

“Even that minor change from zero matters a lot, for a man with no light,” Dr. Natarajan said. “It is like, if you have no money in your pocket, 10 rupees seems like big money.”

Slowly, as residents stood around him in hushed silence, the surgeon flattened out the boy’s retina, as thin and delicate as a lace doily, and used a laser to reattach it to the back of his eye.

Boys Hurling Stones

For an Indian security official, to be engulfed by a hostile crowd in Kashmir is, without a doubt, a life-threatening situation.

At sunset on Friday, Bhavesh Chaudhary, the second-in-command of the 161st Battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force, was drinking tea in the camp garden when an officer called with the news that 20 or 30 young men had begun to gather, chanting slogans. He continued drinking tea. The crowd outside kept growing.

Then, all of a sudden, Commandant Chaudhary and his troops strapped on helmets and leapt into a column of armored vehicles. As they raced through the neighborhood, masked boys appeared from the left and the right, darting out of alleyways, hurling stones. The troops sent stones rocketing back with small slingshots. The convoy halted at an intersection. Chanting could be heard, coming closer: “What do we want? Freedom!”

Commandant Chaudhary would spend the next hour and a half trying to push the crowd back. His troops may be heavily armed, but especially at sunset, when they withdraw to their encampments for the night, it is clear to everyone that they are outnumbered.

On the streets of Srinagar, which have a ghostly emptiness after 50 days of curfew, people have scrawled, “Indian dogs,” “Go India, go back,” “We love Pakistan” and “Burhan is alive in our hearts.”

Commandant Chaudhary has dedicated much of his career to battling stone-throwing crowds. He knows the current of excitement that will surge through them if they see his forces retreat even a few feet — or, more powerfully, if they see an officer fall. If the stone-throwers managed to reach the camp, he said, they would set it on fire.

“They are not afraid, that is the thing,” he said of the protesters. “Once somebody has put on a uniform and picked up a weapon, the law should be maintained, just because the person is there. That is not happening these days. We lost that in 2010.”

Indian troops use pellet guns for crowd control only in Kashmir. They were introduced in 2010, halfway through a particularly bloody season of protest. Pellet guns have been used to break up protests in Egypt, Bahrain and Tunisia, but most countries do not use them on unarmed civilians, as the pellets spray widely and cannot be aimed. For Commandant Chaudhary, who sometimes faces crowds of more than 1,000 hostile young men with a contingent of 20 or 30, it is by far the most effective weapon at his disposal.

“It causes bodily injury, so you will be feared,” he said.

His battalion commander, Rajesh Yadav, nodded at this assessment. “If you pinch them,” he said, “only then people will understand.”

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 has said.

Though troops are instructed to aim them below the waist, “sometimes it is difficult to go in for precise aimed fire at a moving, bending and running target,” the police explained in response to a lawsuit seeking to ban their use. If they are withdrawn from the arsenal, Commander 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.

8-Year-Old’s Prognosis

In a recovery ward at Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, 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 Kashmir’s old cycle of violence. 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.

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.’”

Ms. Banwo says she often participated in anti-Indian protests herself but discouraged Asif from taking part this summer because of his youth.

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.”

His left lung ruptured and bleeding, chest consumed by pneumothorax-accumulation of gas-eight-year-old Junaid Mehraj from Nawab Bazar, Srinagar, who some say was a protester and others a bystander, has been hit by pellets.Across the aisle at SMHS hospital here, Adil, a 22-year-old from Anantnag, is blinded.

If there’s growing debate around use of pellets by the CRPF in containing the unrest in Kashmir, there’s no trace of it here. In the last 24 hours, more than 30 people with pellets wounds have been brought to Srinagar’s primary hospital. The SMHS hospital, which now looks like a clinic in a war zone, has by some accounts a massive 1,200 patients being treated for pellet injuries to the eyes.

Resident medical officer, Dr Shafkat Rasool, told TOI that 800 others have bullet wounds. “There are over 2,000 patients brought here after violence broke out on July 9. Doctors have pooled in resources and all are working 14 to 15 hours daily to han dle the rush. There’s chaos all around. It’s pathetic,“ he said. The CRPF told the J&K HC recently that it had fired 1.3 million pellets in 32 days of protest -the numbers have gone up since–but that if these are banned, its men will be forced to fire bullets to push back stone-pelting mobs which charge at them in hundreds, often thousands.

The forces said pellet guns were introduced in 2010, by the NC government led by Omar Abdullah, who is now asking for an end to it.

After images of 14-year-old Insha Malik appeared in the media, her eyes bandaged and blinded by pellets, she became the personification of damage caused by these deadly weapons. Amnesty International, which has been saying pellet guns are “inherently inaccurate and indiscriminate“, and that their utilisation is “not in line with international standards on use of force“, has reiterated its opposition to it. Referring to an RTI reply , the Wire in a recent report said pellet guns are not on the list of 10 non-lethal weapons suggested by the Bureau of Police Research and Development in its standard operating procedure for tackling violence.

With violence spiralling out of control and curfew for 45 days -the death toll was 67 on Monday-all eyes are on the panel constituted on July 26 to submit its report on pellet guns.

After 12 years, BSF deployed in Srinagar

The Border Security Force, which was taken off counterinsurgency operations in J&K in 2004, was on Monday deployed in Srinagar after 12 years. BSF personnel were deployed in the commercial hub of Lal Chowk in the city and adjoining areas for law and order duties, a police official said. Civil administration officials, BSF and police brass refused to comment on the deployment.

 http://epaperbeta.timesofindia.com/Article.aspx?eid=31804&articlexml=8-yr-olds-torn-lung-testifies-to-pellet-23082016011026

%d bloggers like this: