Epidemic of blindness ails Kashmir, with pellet gun alternative nowhere in sight

In the 123 days of ongoing uprising, pellet shot-guns had perforated 1,178 eyes, as per records at Srinagar hospitals

As many as 1,178 persons in Kashmir Valley have been partially or totally blinded over the past four months due to pellet firing by the security forces to quell protests.

Although Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in early September had cleared the file for use of Pelargonic Acid Vanillyl Amide (PAVA), also called Nonivamide and common as chilli-filled grenades, as an alternative to the pellet guns, a report in Greater Kashmir states that alternative is nowhere in sight.

In the 123 days of ongoing uprising, pellet shot-guns had perforated 1,178 eyes, as per records at Srinagar hospitals. Data accessed by Greater Kashmir revealed that 991 people with pellet injuries in eyes were admitted to SMHS Hospital Srinagar during this period.

In addition, 135 people with pellets in eyes were provided treatment at SKIMS Medical College Hospital, Bemina. While the total number of pellet-hit people being admitted at Srinagar hospitals in the past four months was 1,126, of them 52 had both their eyes injured by pellets.

Doctors have called the huge eye casualties due to pellets an ‘epidemic of blindness’.

“In just four months, we have seen security forces using a weapon that has caused injuries in 1178 eyes. This, by any means is an epidemic of blindness,” a senior ophthalmologist at SMHS Hospital told Greater Kashmir.

Doctors claimed that ‘Kashmir Blindness Epidemic’ was the largest one caused by ‘man-made causes’.

“This epidemic of dead or dying eyes is the largest in the world caused by un-natural causes. Nowhere in history will one find anything comparable to this,” a professor at Government Medical College Srinagar said.

The professor further said that naturally occurring ‘mysterious’ blindness have afflicted countries like Cuba and age related vision loss was also reaching epidemic proportions in many countries but thousands of people losing vision due to injuries in such a short span of time was ‘sadly unique to Kashmir.’

He added that vision loss was almost certain in pellet injury to eye, although degree might vary. “At least 300 people will never be able to see with the injured eyes. All those having pellet induced trauma in eyes will have some degree of vision loss,” many doctors at SMHS Hospital said.

Since the Home Minister’s announcement, 658 people have been hit by pellets in eyes. Pellets have also caused damage to vital organs in scores of youth, some ending with lifelong disabilities.

The teenage group, people below the age of 20 has been the most affected with eye injuries. Doctors said over 50 per cent of the injured are people who are yet to reach 20 years of age. Most of the injured in this age group are students.

Pellets have also caused vision impairment in over 150 minors, those who are below 15 years of age. Even children as young as four and nine years have been hit by pellets in eyes destroying their vision.