88 Portraits

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By Masood Hussain

Amnesty International (India) reiterated its demand for banning the use of pellets, and immediate initiation of civilian criminal investigation of personnel involved in the “disproportionate use” of “deadly ammunition”. Releasing its report Losing sight in Kashmir: The impact of pellet-firing shotguns in Srinagar, Aakar Patel, AIIs Executive Director said the bird hunting gun is being used against humans in Kashmir, perhaps the only place in the world where it happens. The civil liberty watchdog sought compensation and rehabilitation of the victims including medical and psychological care.

The report is a picture book in which 88 black and white photographs of the victims, partially or fully blinded by the pellets, have been published with a single quote from one each. Though 31 have damage in both eyes, two have been completely blinded. Patel said this particular ammunition lacks any control of the firer as its trajectory and dispersal is random. In certain cases even those firing the pellets get injured. He said 16 cops and 14 housewives were injured by the pellets, the women while they were sitting in their homes.

AII executives revealed that in one incident, a case was registered against the cops for firing pellets and in rest of the incidents, FIRs stand registered against the victims.

“I want to read and write, but the pellets have made it difficult,” Irfa Shakoor, 16, a ninth standard student from Pulwama is quoted saying to AII. “I used to teach sewing and tailoring to girls in my village, but not any more. Because of the injuries, I could not write in class 9th board exams,” Ulfat Hameed, 17, a tenth standard student from Baramulla has said.

Some of the injured were part of the report release function and a few spoke to the gathering. “I can not even cry as it pains my eyes,” Shabroza, a tenth standard student from Pulwama said. “I wanted to pursue my studies, but I am unable. I am facing memory loss. I even forget to take my medicines.” She added: “Whenever I try to focus on a book, my head aches. People come, take photos and leave.”

AII executives insisted that the watchdog would continue fighting for the human rights of the people in Kashmir and criticize the government’s “heavy handed actions”. The report was appreciated by the separatist camp. “The report should be an eye opener for India which claims to be a largest democracy of the globe,” Syed Ali Geelani said in a statement. “The strong censuring of the government by the Amnesty International should serve as an eye opener to all champions of human rights in India and world over and should also shake the conscience of nations across the globe,” Mirwaiz Umer Farooq added.

Interestingly, a day after the report was released; the government spokesman said 17 visually-impaired people, amongst the pellet victims, were provided financial assistance. “This follows a slew of measures initiated by the chief minister for the rehabilitation of the victims of violence in the state,” the spokesman said. It, however, offered not many details.

Almost all the civil liberty groups functioning across India are facing a lot of pressure in NDA-II. There were cases registered against some of them and there were serious attempts to prevent access of funds to them.

“Some of the conditions in which we work have become difficult but that does not make us to back off. Instead, the work has become challenging,” Patel admitted to Kashmir Life. “It is already very difficult as the government is using issue of funding and trying to squeeze by denying these groups funds. Though we do not have any FCRA issue, we are campaigning against this as well.”

In such a situation bringing out a report on the most crucial case of pellets in Kashmir is something daring. On Kashmir, Patel said, the successive governments have exhibited almost the same attitude. Patel said that the injustices to Kashmir are not relatively new and violence being perpetrated on people unpunished, even in cases where police cases are registered.

But what was interestingly different in this report was the AII choose to use simple pictures and skipped the entire narrative associated with the use of hunting guns as a crowd control management. Individuals aware of the human rights work understand the importance of photograph but insist the detail and the story is equally important.

Asked to explain the change, Patel said AII work on Kashmir needs to be appreciated in its continuity. “We believe this was essentially a visual story where the damage caused was physical unlike the AFSPA and the incarcerations. So we decided to use this format thinking it would be useful to show the damage,” Patel said. “We will campaign against the pellet use in the follow up.”

PS: Barring one, no newspaper in Jammu picked up the news story about the release of the AII report.

 

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