A Blind Spot

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In what is a first such admission in the Assembly, the State Government has said two youth have lost eye sight due to pellet injuries this year. The admission was made in reply to a question by National Conference legislator from Habbakadal Constituency Shamima Firdous who sought details about the number of persons injured due to the pellet gun firing in various clashes in Valley during 2015. What Minister of Home did not reveal and what Firdous did not seek was the number of youth who have been blinded by the indiscriminate use of pellet guns in recent years. Minister of Home would not disclose it because the number is fairly high and the Firdous would not ask it because almost all these youth lost their eyesight during the term of NC-led coalition government. 

In a reflection of the grim toll taken by the widespread use of pellet guns to quell protests in Valley, a 2013 study by the Sri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital revealed that 45 youth have permanently lost their eye sight in one or both eyes in the 2010 unrest.  The figure didn’t include the injured admitted at other hospitals in the Valley.

In 2013, however, an RTI filed by advocate Abdul Manan Bukhari revealed that 100 people with pellet injuries were admitted to SKIMS alone from 2010-2011, and in 2013, 18 people were admitted in this tertiary care hospital for the treatment of their pellet injuries. Many people with fatal injuries, on the other hand, do not go to the hospitals in Valley fearing arrest by the police.

Ironically deployed as non – lethal weapons for riot control, pellet guns have caused injuries to hundreds of youth since 2010. Another riot-control agent that has wrought havoc is pepper gas. Elderly people with chest problems and children have been the worst victims. This state of affairs has generated a huge outcry from human rights and civil society outfits who want the authorities to explore alternative means of riot control like water cannons and teargas. In past, the State Human Rights Commission has also cautioned the government against excessive use of the spray. But nothing has so far persuaded the government to change its approach to tackling protests.  

Incidentally, in 2013, People’s Democratic Party, then in opposition, had staged a walkout in the Assembly over the issue. The party had demanded a ban on the of the use of pellet guns and pepper gas, saying the practice was blinding youth and exacerbating severe ailments like asthma due to its large-scale use.

But this is a tragedy that remains largely hidden. There has been little public awareness and least reportage by the media of the issue. The official response as usual has been indifferent. State Government has neither taken any measures to curb the use of pellets, nor has it helped rehabilitate the youth so far blinded and injured by the pellets. These youth – most of them adolescents and teenagers – now live a life in the shadows. And their families have been left alone to shoulder their burden.

The loss of eyesight by two more youth is a reminder that the government can’t be permanently blind to the situation. It is time that the government reacts and responds to the injustice.  The solution is the ban on the use of pellet guns. As the loss of eyesight by many youth proves, they are anything but non-lethal weapons. But the big question is whether PDP which has been against their use when in opposition will act?

 

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