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Blinded in ‘paradise’

Human Rights

Hamid lost the sight in his right eye after being hit by pellets from a gun shot by Indian police. © Shahid Tantray

It is summer in Indian-controlled Kashmir and stewards of ‘manufactured peace’ have swooped down here again with their glib ideas of ‘change’. Michael Steiner, the German ambassador to India, recently met Kashmir’s chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, offering his co-operation to change the ‘negative perception’ about this ‘paradise on Earth’. A week later, Hamid Nazir, a 16-year-old boy, lies unconscious in the hospital with a visually impaired right eye; his disfigured, swollen face – a present from the custodians of ‘paradise’ – a reminder of India’s brutal desires.

Hamid, a 10th-grade student, was, according to his family, on his way to a tutorial in Palhalan, northern Kashmir, when he was hit by scores of pellets in his skull and face. Indian troops were firing indiscriminately at protesters commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Hawal Massacre of 21 May 1990, when over 60 mourners in a funeral procession of a religious leader were killed by troops. One particularly haunting image from that massacre was the sight of hundreds of slippers on the bloodied street left behind by the dead mourners.

Hamid was rushed to a nearby hospital but troops had blocked the road. After an hour, the family managed to take him to another hospital, but his condition was continuing to worsen, and twice he had to be moved to other infirmaries in the city. More than 100 pellets were lodged in his skull, with at least two in his brain; doctors reported a ‘cornea-limbal’ tear in his right eye. Though they operated on him, they were unable to restore his vision.

A senior Kashmir resistance leader remarked that the use of pellet guns in Kashmir resembles Israel’s brutality in Gaza.  

Pellet guns, also used for hunting, were introduced in Kashmir in 2010 and were touted as ‘non-lethal weapons’ for crowd control. That year, Indian forces killed over 120 people. Doctors say that pellet guns are deadlier than bullets and lead to high morbidity. ‘Entry wounds, invisible or small, are not localized but diffused, making treatment difficult,’ explains surgeon Ajaz Baba.

Pellet or pump-action guns use a compressed air mechanism, pushing out scores of high-velocity metal pellets, like ball bearings, which can target lots of people, or lots of parts of someone’s body, at the same time.

According to a report, some 700 people have been disabled by pellet guns since 2010, with 70 per cent of them having lost their sight in one or both eyes. The report mentions that the police flout their own ‘written directives’ by using a grade of pellets not permitted ‘officially’.

Beyond the maze of statistics and jargon lies a grim reality. Local infirmaries aren’t equipped to treat such injuries. Some patients are referred to hospitals outside of Kashmir, which only a few can afford, but even that doesn’t guarantee complete recovery. Moreover, due to a considerable police presence in major hospitals, many injured boys avoid going there, fearing arrests and harassment.

The state systematically kills, maims and represses the people. It also desperately tries to create a façade of normality, by bringing in international diplomats who eye up potential investments as the Indian government pushes for rigorous corporatization. Bollywood’s portrayal has reinforced the stereotypical ‘exoticized’ iconography and images nourishing Indian hyper-nationalism. For India and its puppet regime, both tactics work together organically

The German envoy, who was here to ‘celebrate his wife’s birthday’, informed Kashmir chief Sayeed that ‘Germany officially recommends its citizens to travel to Kashmir’.

Discussing issues of ‘mutual interest’, Sayeed disclosed his plans of organizing a ‘tourist-mart’ and a ‘mini-Davos’ economic forum in Kashmir, similar to Switzerland’s WEF, inviting India’s prime minster Narendra Modi ‘to host the country’s top corporate heads’.

Such attempts have always drawn flak from people here, and triggered intense protests.

In 2013, Steiner and his wife hosted a controversial event in Kashmir sponsored by corporate czars, in which Zubin Mehta – a pro-Israel Music Director for Life of Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, who helped Israel improve its global image – played to an ‘invitee-only’ audience. While he was playing for ‘hope and peace’, four youth were killed by troops in the region.  The German envoy also ‘orchestrated the end of isolation among EU countries’ for Narendra Modi, before his coming to power. Modi is accused of complicity in the 2002 pogrom against Muslims in the Indian state of Gujarat.

While the chief minister, who is busy organizing ‘tourist marts’, is silent on the use of pellet guns, the education minister is concerned about the image – ‘It does not show us in a good light’. He said: ‘We cannot really force them to stop using the pellets. We hope it will be curbed soon.’

Away from this talk, Hamid’s father plans to shell out his savings and take a bank loan to afford his son’s treatment in New Delhi. Hamid still has pellets lodged in his eyes and needs to undergo further surgeries.

But everything is ‘normal’ in Kashmir and Hamid’s disfigured face is a portrait of that normality.

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