Blinded by pellets, Kashmiri children images stun world

Updated October 30, 2019

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Children are a common sight at hospitals. — Ahmer Khan/File
Children are a common sight at hospitals. — Ahmer Khan/File

WASHINGTON: “Watching cartoons on TV, playing with my friends on the street, reading books for hours — this is what I dream of now,” says nine-year-old Asif Ahmad Sheikh, a Class 5 student from Anantnag.

“I used to teach sewing and tailoring to girls in my village, but not anymore. Because of the injuries, I could not write my class 10 board exam,” says 17-year-old Ulfat Hameed, a Class 10 student from Baramulla.

“When I went to a hospital in Srinagar, there were so many people that the doctors sent me back home as they did not have beds available,” says Bilal Ahmad Bhat, 17, another student from Baramulla.

Read: Will the pellet gun victims in Kashmir ever regain their eyesight?

These three children are among the hundreds of Kashmiri people blinded by pellets in India-held Kashmir. Dozens have lost lives. Their pictures are included in a 109-page book put together by Amnesty International to draw the attention of the international community to the cruel practice.

The book was among the several exhibits displayed at the Pakistan embassy in Washington on Monday evening in connection with the Black Day, which is observed annually to show solidarity with the Kashmiris who are struggling for their rights under Indian occupation.

How many people have been detained since Aug 5, US lawmakers ask Indian ambassador

The pictures of the pellet-gun victims stunned the world and the universal condemnation that followed forced India to claim that it had ordered its troops not to use those guns anymore. But the Kashmiris say Indian security forces are still using the pellet-guns particularly after Aug 5 when India illegally annexed the disputed territory.

American citizens of Kashmiri origin claim that dozens of Kashmiris in India-held Valley have been injured by pellet-guns in recent months.

Several teenagers and children have been shot with pellet guns, which can rob them of their eyesight forever. — Ahmer Khan/File
Several teenagers and children have been shot with pellet guns, which can rob them of their eyesight forever. — Ahmer Khan/File

This week six members of US Congress — David N. Cicilline, Dina Titus, Chrissy Houlahan, Andy Levin, James P. McGovern and Susan Wild — also raised the issue in a letter to Indian ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla.

Rejecting the Indian claim that there was calm in the held Kashmir, the lawmakers argued that the picture portrayed by India in the Valley was different from the one being told to them by their constituents.

Read: US congresswoman condemns India's 'unacceptable actions' in occupied Kashmir

“We have heard reports that rubber bullets are being used for crowd control by authorities inside Jammu and Kashmir and that there have been instances where protesters are blinded by the use of rubber bullets,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Can you confirm whether there are any known cases of protesters being blinded by rubber bullets, including the number of children? Are rubber bullets still being used for crowd control? What is the Indian government doing to ensure the rights of peaceful protesters?” they asked.

The lawmakers reminded the Indian ambassador that he had told the House Foreign Affairs Committee members on Oct 16 that Jammu and Kashmir was normal. Seeking specific information about the situation in the valley, the lawmakers told the ambassador: “Many of our constituents have painted a much different picture of the situation than what you shared with us.”

This picture taken on November 28 shows 20-month-old Hiba Jan with her mother Marsala on a hospital bed in Srinagar after a metal pellet fired by government forces was lodged in the toddler's eye. ─ AFP/File
This picture taken on November 28 shows 20-month-old Hiba Jan with her mother Marsala on a hospital bed in Srinagar after a metal pellet fired by government forces was lodged in the toddler's eye. ─ AFP/File

They wrote that their constituents had raised concerns about the repeal of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, as well as suspended internet and telecommunications access, arrests of local politicians and activists, and the imposition of a curfew.

“We, therefore, ask for your response to the following questions: Has 100 per cent of landline service been restored inside Jammu and Kashmir, or are there any remaining outages? When will all mobile phone service be restored, including for those who use prepaid mobile phones? When will full internet access be restored (not just access at kiosks)?

“How many people have been detained under the Public Safety Act or other legal provisions since Aug 5? Please be as specific as possible. Of those, how many are minors? What is the standard judicial procedure for someone detained under the Public Safety Act?

“What is the status of the curfews that have been imposed in Jammu and Kashmir? What are the government’s plans to allow residents to return to uninhibited movement? When can we expect that?”

The lawmakers also asked the Indian ambassador to lay out reasons for not allowing foreign journalists inside Jammu and Kashmir and asked: “When will they be allowed to enter the region?”

They further asked the ambassador if his government would welcome members of Congress or other foreign officials who wish to visit India-held Jammu and Kashmir.

“We believe true transparency can only be achieved when journalists and members of Congress are allowed free access to the region. We encourage India to open Jammu and Kashmir to both domestic and foreign journalists, and other international visitors, in the interest of open media and increased communication,” they wrote.

Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2019