Once again scores of youth with pellet injuries in their eyes have been admitted to various hospitals of Srinagar. And once again many of them stare at a partial or full blindness. According to reports, there are currently around 50 such people most of them youth in their teens or early twenties who are receiving treatment. The injuries have been sustained during the widespread clashes that followed the killing of thirteen militants and four civilians during the three separate encounters on Sunday in South Kashmir. So, in a way, nothing has changed in Kashmir since 2016 or for that matter since 2010 when the pellet guns started to be used for the first time in the Valley. Ever since doctors at the hospitals have put the cumulative number of eye injuries due to pellets close to 2000. Once again, the Ophthalmology wards at the SMHS hospital present an eerie spectacle: the swollen-faces and bloodshot stare of the victims horrifies visitors. Many victims laid on the beds with bandaged heads and eyes are in their teens and may not be able to see again. Or see only with half the vision. As it is, once hit with a pellet, eye is never the same again. And with that being the case, we may have once again blinded few scores of our youth, completely or partially.
In 2016, central government had formed an expert committee to review the use of the pellet guns in the state and look for an alternative to non-lethal weapon for the crowd control. But in its report, the committee recommended no ban on the pellet guns, calling instead for their use in the rarest of the rare cases. As it is, use of the pellet guns in crowd-control has been the norm than the exception. Every time there is a protest, pellet guns are used to control the situation. But this is not done when a similar situation arises in other parts of the country. For example, no pellet guns were used despite the protesters resorting to rioting and damaging public and government property. And the reality of this differential and discriminatory treatment is not lost on Kashmir. The feeling of being treated as the other has deepened alienation among the people.
Having said that, it is not fair to lay the entire blame for the atrocities in Kashmir at the door of New Delhi. The state government is no less culpable for it. As an opposition leader, Mehbooba Mufti had forcefully opposed the use of pellet guns and promised to check their use once in power. But as J&K Chief Minister, she has expediently forgotten her promise. And her government has presided over the blinding the people at a rate not seen before. But in two more years at the helm she still has an opportunity to make a redeeming change. And also redeem one of her widely remembered promises. It is time that her government steps up to the occasion and fulfils its responsibility towards the people.
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