On April 2, a bearded young man lay wearily on a bed in the ophthalmology ward at the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital in Srinagar. The previous day he had woken up to a gunfight raging in his village, Kachidoora, in South Kashmir’s Shopian district. He joined other young men in his village to pelt stones at security forces and disrupt the gunfight. That was when he was hit by pellets fired from shotguns by security forces near the site of the gunfight.
Around 10 pellets hit him in his left eye and arm. A student at an Islamic seminary in neighbouring Kulgam district, the youth said he was 17, though he appeared older. “I was at the front, at around 8 am,” he said. “There were about 10 CRPF [Central Reserve Police Force] men in front of me. I alone was injured at that time.”
Thirteen militants and three soldiers were killed in three gunfights that broke out in South Kashmir’s Shopian and Anantnag districts on Sunday. But they were not the only casualties. Four civilians were also killed and many young Kashmiris injured as civilians took to the streets in protest.
District healthcare officials in Shopian and Kulgam said that accurate figures of Sunday’s injuries were still not available because of the chaos. According to tentative estimates, however, more than 100 people were injured, many of them by pellets.
Hospitals in Kulgam received 30 injured persons. According to the district’s chief medical officer, 10 were referred to hospitals in Srinagar. According to a doctor on duty at the Shopian district hospital, about 80 injured persons were brought in on Sunday. Six had firearm injuries.
Srinagar’s two major hospitals received at least 50 injured persons. According to Farooq Jan, medical superintendent of the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences in Srinagar, 10 patients were referred to the hospital. One was brought dead, one had been hit by pellets, while eight had bullet injuries. According to doctors at the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, they received 39 persons injured by shotguns; six were discharged the same day.
‘Far from the violence’
With Sunday’s violence, familiar scenes returned to ward number 8 at Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, where ophthalmological cases are treated. During the mass protests of 2016, when hundreds were injured by shotguns, this ward overflowed with young patients with bleeding eyes.
Once again, the ward’s 32 beds are occupied by 33 patients with bruised, bloodshot eyes, with nervous attendants testing their vision by a show of fingers. Journalists have returned to the ward too, while the medical staff do their rounds, distributing ointments to patients.
On a bed next to the Kachidoora resident was an 18-year-old labourer. Blood dripped from his swollen left eye, hit by pellets. “I was doing shuttering work at a shop, some 6 km away from the site of gunfight,” he said. “There was a big gathering there. I didn’t realise when the pellets hit me.”
A few beds away is a 17-year-old Class 8 student from Sedow village, about 15 km from Kachidoora. He is unable to open his blackened left eye. He was hit by pellets around 2.30 pm on Sunday, he said. “I was alone and going to Kachidoora to buy pesticides for our orchard,” the student said. “But there were boys [pelting stones] gathered there [Kachidoora].” That is where he was injured.
His uncle and brother, who stood by his bed, also said he had not been pelting stones. “He was visiting his relatives in Kachidoora,” the uncle said. “This is brute force. They target the youth on purpose and slap false charges on them to weaken them.”
All the patients that Scroll.in spoke to said that doctors had told them little about the extent of the injuries or further course of treatment. “Minor surgery was done yesterday and now we have been told to wait,” said the uncle of the Class 8 student. “Doctors said it may take weeks or months.”
The patient’s brother said: “It’s difficult to tolerate all this.”
‘Won’t shy away from strict action’
At a joint press conference held by the Central Reserve Police Force, the Jammu and Kashmir Police and the Indian Army on Sunday, top security officials appealed to members of the public not to rush towards gunfights.
“I will like to make it clear that our operations against militants will not stop,” said Zulfiqar Hassan, inspector general, operations, of the Central Reserve Police Force, at the press conference. “We will tackle the crowd with restraint but won’t shy away from taking very strict action.”
In recent years in Kashmir, large stone-pelting crowds, mostly made up of the youth, have thronged sites of gunfights between militants and security forces. In February, Army chief Bipin Rawat had warned that local youth helping militants during gunfights would be treated as “anti-nationals” and face harsh action. Last May, when three civilians were killed near a gunfight, Shesh Paul Vaid, director general of police, Jammu and Kashir, had said that youth rushing to these sites were “committing suicide”.
Police advisories asking civilians to stay away from gunfights, however, have not been heeded. In the hospital ward, the mother of a 21-year-old from Nagbal village in Shopian was worried of police reprisals against her son.
Her son seemed less concerned. “If they take my one eye, they can then take the other,” he said. “When they have taken that one, they can take my head. The day my soul leaves my body is the day I will stop pelting stones.”
He added: “This will continue till the day we are able to show India its worth and stop its excesses here.”