Eye Injuries Flood Kashmir Hospitals After Police Fire Pellets at Protesters

Jul 14th, 2016 | Category: Articles

By Hari Kumar and Nida Najar

Patients, some with severe eye trauma, have overrun hospitals in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir, doctors said on Wednesday, after security forces used pellet guns to break up demonstrations that have shaken the region.

Widespread protests broke out on Saturday across the Kashmir Valley over the death of a young separatist militant, Burhan Muzaffar Wani, who was killed in a gun battle with the security forces the day before. Mr. Wani had gained a following over the years, in part through his prominence on social media.

Both India and Pakistan claim the Kashmir region.

More than 30 people have been killed during the demonstrations, including one police officer, and more than 2,000 injured, said Asgar Hassan Samoon, a senior administrative officer of Kashmir from Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir State.

The police also fired on demonstrators with bullets in addition to the less-lethal pellets.

As the protests faded, hospitals have been overwhelmed with people seeking treatment for eye injuries, and the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, has asked the health minister in New Delhi to send a team of specialists to Kashmir.

Omar Abdullah, the former chief minister, also sent a message to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter, asking Mr. Modi to send a team of eye surgeons and eye trauma experts to Kashmir. Eye surgeons in a Kashmir hospital complained of a shortage of surgical equpipment in the main government hospital.

The injuries raise questions about the tactics of security forces, who have struggled to maintain order in Kashmir, where an insurgency has roiled the region for decades. In recent years, the insurgency has waned but not disappeared, and protests against the security forces have continued, though the rallies over the weekend were unusually widespread.

One shell from a pellet gun the police have been using has hundreds of small metallic pieces that fan out in a six-foot circle, said S.N. Shrivastava, the special director general of the Central Reserve Police Force in Srinagar.

“Our efforts are to minimize the fatal casualties,” he said, adding that more than 900 of his men had been injured in the last four days. “We maintain maximum restraint, and we fire only when lives are in danger.”

But relatives of some of the injured said the wounds from the pellets were grievous.

Umar Nazir, a 12-year-old boy, was recovering in the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Medical College Hospital in Srinagar, one of the few that have specialized staff to handle eye trauma. He was in the courtyard of his home, not protesting, when his eyes were hit by pellets, according to his father, Nazir Ahamed, 45.

“Both his eyes are injured with little vision left,” Mr. Ahamed said on the telephone from the hospital.

Doctors in the hospital said that major surgery was required in many cases involving injured retinas, and that the hospitals lacked the necessary equipment.

“We are in short supply of surgery accessories like laser probe, silicon oil and some other items,” said Dr. Parvaiz Ahmad Handoo, an assistant professor in the ophthalmology department at the hospital, where another doctor said the hospital had received 117 eye patients. The hospital had the resources to perform only one retina operation at a time, Dr. Handoo said.

Neyaz Ahamed, 35, a government employee, was looking after his brother in the same hospital on Wednesday. His brother, he said, was hit by a tear gas projectile in his home, losing an eye.

“This is routine for us in Kashmir, whether from tear gas shells or bullets or pellet guns,” he said of the injury.

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