Despite appeals by rights groups to stop the practice, Indian armed forces have continued to use pellet guns to quell protesters, injuring at least 100 people in the recent violence that broke out in Indiand-administered Kashmir. Inside the capital Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital, doctors told Al Jazeera that they had performed 100 eye surgeries in the past four days. “All of them could lose their eyesight,” one senior doctor told Al Jazeera on the condition of anonymity. First introduced to Kashmir by duck-hunting British expeditions, pellet guns send in one shot nearly 600 high velocity ball bearings made of lead.
In Kashmir, pellet guns have been used to quell protests for a long time. Police say it is a non-lethal weapon that helps breaking protests without casualty, but rights groups reject the assertion, saying it blinds people and must be banned. In the latest tensions, the youngest victim was a four-year-old girl.
Fearing profiling and reprisals of injured youths by police, hospital officials have assigned serial numbers to pellet gun victims to hide their identity. This development came after it emerged that undercover police officers have been roaming in hospitals hunting for injured protesters. “I was out to get medicine for my mother when a group of soldiers appeared suddenly and fired on me. There were no protests at that time,” an 18-year-old student of Budgam district told Al Jazeera.
Nine-year-old Tamana Ashraf of Ganderbal district is another victim being treated at the Srinagar hospital. She was sitting at the window in her house when pellets whizzed by, hitting her left eye, her mother Shamima told Al Jazeera. “I saw a small iron ball in her eye. When we tried to hospitalise her, police stopped us and beat us up. I was crying to see what they had done to my daughter. Luckily we managed to reach here,” she said.