While the Jammu and Kashmir government contemplates giving jobs, training and compensation to civilians injured by pellet guns, the weapons have claimed new victims. In Srinagar on November 24, 17-year-old Zahid Ahmad was shot at close quarters by security forces with shot guns. On Sunday, his parents and relatives gathered outside the Press Enclave in Srinagar to register their protest against the incident.
Manzoor Ahmad, Zahid’s father, held a sign depicting his son’s examination hall slip and pictures of his injuries. According to the family, he had left home on Friday to write his Class 11 examinations. An upset Manzoor Ahmad said that Zahid “was an innocent child. Anyone can make mistakes but he is a minor. He was hit at close range with such cruelty.”
Zahid Ahmad’s mother was in tears. “He was not an unemployed boy,” she said. “He was also working with his uncle as a carpenter. He was studying but also working to help make ends meet. He left home to give his exam, we don’t know how this happened”.
A ‘shattered kidney and gall bladder’
Zahid Ahmad was lying still on a bed in a dimly lit ward of the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital in Srinagar. Barely able to speak, he struggled to say that he had left after an examination at the MP School in the Babdem area on Friday and was making his way towards his home in the Zinmar locality, both in Srinagar’s old town. “There were boys and the police were passing by. I was hit by pellets and I fell there,” Zahid said, adding that he was hit at very close range.
After spraying pellets at him, Zahid alleged, the policemen had also beaten him. Shortly after that, two passers-by took Zahid to the hospital on a scooter. “Then some boys came and the police told them to pick me up,” he said. “Two boys picked me and took me to hospital. I don’t know what happened after that.”
Zahid said that the stone pelters who were the alleged target of the police were on the other side of the road from him. The police could not be reached for their version of their events but have reportedly order an inquiry into the matter. Meanwhile, the State Human Rights Commssion has taken suo motu cognisance of the case.
The pellet gunshot wound in his lower right abdomen region has severely damaged his vital organs. According to Saleem Tak, the medical superintendent of the hospital, the impact has “shattered his kidney and gall bladder”. On Monday, Tak said that Zahid’s gall bladder and right kidney had been removed. So far, the family has not told Zahid of the extent of his injuries.
That Friday, Manzoor Ahmad said he had gone for prayers at the Dargah shrine in Hazratbal when he received a call from his brother around 4 pm. “But I did not answer,” he said. “Later I called him and he told me that Zahid has been hit with pellets, reach SMHS.”
Manzoor Ahmad got to the hospital an hour later. “By the time I reached he was in the operation theatre,” he said. “The operation ended by 11 pm and doctors said that his kidneys were damaged. He had bled so much that he only had three pints of blood left in his body.”
Manzoor Ahmad is a labourer. Both his sons, he said, were studying and working part-time to help support the family. “We had no idea he was so badly injured,” his wife said. “What did they leave him with? What will he do now, how will he work or study? We are labourers, how will we bear his expenses?”
The use of pellet guns have been cause for popular anger against the state in the Valley. According to data available with the State Human Rights Commission, 2,524 people were injured by pellets in eight of the Valley’s 10 districts in the unrest that followed the killing of militant Burhan Wani last July. A number of them had eye and “full body” injuries.
In March this year the Central Reserve Police Force had announced that it would attach deflectors to its shotguns to minimise injuries. These devices, it claimed, would allow the pellets they fire to be aimed lower and would minimise upper body injuries. In October, the Central Reserve Police Force reportedly sent 21,000 plastic bullets, apparently “less lethal” than metal bullets, for use in Kashmir.
Despite the use of deflectors and assurances of restraint by the security forces, pellet guns continue to cause grievous injuries. In August, 16-year-old Faizan Sheikh, a resident of Nawab Bazar in downtown Srinagar, was hit by pellets a second time. Four months ago, he had suffered injuries and visual impairment in his right eye. This time, they hit his left eye.
In March, the Supreme Court asked the government to consider alternative means of crowd control. It had also expressed concern over the number of minors injured in the protests in Kashmir. Human rights organisations have repeatedly called for a ban on the use of pellets but they persist in the arsenal of security forces.
Corrections and clarifications: This piece was updated to reflect developments after it was published.