Marked Permanently

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6250 pellet victims reached hospitals in last four months, however there were innumerable youth who avoided hospitals and tried to manage the injuries locally. Shams Irfan met some of them only to find that they developed health problems within days

A pellet victim fro Islamabad district. (KL file Image)

A pellet victim fro Islamabad district. (KL file Image)

Amir still recalls the chaotic scenes he witnessed the day he was hit by pellets in Pulwama’s Kakpora. He remembers how he managed to gather himself, and run two kms before he found a safe place to examine his wounds.

“It was second Friday (after Burhan’s killing),” said Aamir, 17, a college student. “After prayers people started marching towards the main chowk. They were protesting against the civilian killings and I too walked along.”

Almost at the centre of the procession, Amir could sense commotion at the front as they neared towards the chowk. “It was followed by two loud bangs and smoke,” said Aamir.

Before Aamir could have made sense out of the situation around him, everybody began running towards safer places. “The government forces fired tear-smoke shells at us and then they started firing pellets without warning.”

It was a new experience for Aamir, who had never been part of any protest or procession before. He lost track of himself in the melee. “I almost froze out of fear,” said Aamir.

After a teargas shell exploded near his feet that Aamir began to run for his life. “I didn’t know where I was going,” recalls Aamir. “But I clearly remember that burning sensation.”

Later, it dawned to him that there were more than thirty pellets in his body. He was hit while running for cover.

“I remember a few friends taking me to a local medic’s house,” said Aamir. The local medic, who usually keeps his “practice” confined to the first aid, almost fainted in fear when a friend took off Aamir’s shirt to expose his perforated back. “Remove them,” they told him. “You know we cannot take him to hospital.”

Kashmir's ace artist Masood Hussain's new pellet portrayal.

Kashmir’s ace artist Masood Hussain’s new pellet portrayal.

Aamir’s fear to visit a hospital were rooted in newspaper reports that police has asked hospital authorities to handover list of patients, especially pellet and bullet victims, for “official purpose”. Hospitals were the major tension for every injured, this season.

Police in routine has its sleuths deployed in the hospitals and when there is crisis they collect details of the injured and dead. Sometimes, this list actually becomes basic information for registration of cases against the injured. This was the main reason why the doctors in the ophthalmology department of SMHS were requested to mention number on patient records and not their names and addresses.

As the crisis became a major scare among people, state’s finance minister visited District Hospital Pulwama and directed police to keep hospital functioning uninterrupted. This was done on the request of hospital staff who insisted that injured are skipping the local medical facilities and choking the tertiary care in Srinagar.

With his eyes swollen by tear-smoke, the medic’s shaking hands took his forceps and began plucking out the small iron pellets from Aamir’s back.

“I felt like somebody is piercing my back with needles,” Aamir remembers. After an hour’s painstaking work, he was able to take out around 15 pellets. “There were over 20 still inside.”

Then the local medic took a handful of cotton and dipped it into an oversized iodine bottle, and plastered it over Aamir’s wounds. “It hurt like hell. Like somebody had put chillies on my wounds,” recalls Aamir.

For next four hours Aamir rested at the medic’s house while situation outside turned from bad to worse.

Fearing that he might be arrested and branded a stone pelter, Aamir decided against visiting a hospital. Instead, he continued visiting the medic on and off. “Whenever I felt itching in my back I would visit him. But all he had was iodine or some other ointment,” said Aamir.

After a month, Aamir realised that the small dots on his back, mostly around the pellets that the medic failed to remove, had turned black. “I couldn’t sleep at night,” said Amir.

On his uncle’s insistence Aamir finally went to see a formal doctor at a hospital in Srinagar. “I was told that the wounds have developed infection,” said Aamir. “He said it could have been worse if I had delayed my visit further.”

Pellet hit young boy.

Pellet hit young boy. (Photo: Baba Tamim/KL)

Zubair, 18, is a village student down. He considers himself lucky to survive the mayhem that left his village “completely traumatized” in protests following Burhan’s killing. “There was a rally scheduled at our village one day,” said Zubair, who refused to reveal his identity or location fearing he might be arrested. “Everyone from the village headed towards the venue.”

Soon people from adjoining areas started to pour into Zubair’s village and the gathering became massive.

In anticipation of the beginning of proposed programme, government forces reached the spot. This resulted in intense clashes between the protestors and forces. “I was among the volunteers,” said Zubair. “When clashes started, everybody started running towards safer places.”

Zubair too ran through the narrow streets of his village, hoping to reach his home. “All of a sudden few forces vehicles alighted from opposite direction and cut us short,” recalls Zubair. “There was chaos. They straightaway fired teargas shells and pellets at us.”

Zubair, who managed to reach home taking shortcuts through open fields and plantations, felt burning sensation in his face and arms. “I knew I was hit by pellets,” said Zubair. “There were around 12 of them.”

Once home, Zubair didn’t tell anybody about his injuries, instead confined himself to his room for a while. After an hour, when situation outside improved slightly, Zubair went to a friend’s house, covering his face with a bandana. “He removed a few pellets from my arm using a plucker,” said Zubair. “We both knew visiting a hospital was too risky.”

Two days later, to remove rest of the pellets from his face Zubair visited a local chemist at his house. “Thank God there were only a few pellets, else I would have to visit a hospital,” said Zubair.

Celebrities with photoshopped pelleted faces.

Celebrities with photoshopped pelleted faces.

The days that followed Burhan’s killing saw entire south Kashmir turn into a virtual war-theatre.

Despite virtually all means of communications down, stories of injured boys being dragged out of ambulances and beaten ruthlessly managed to reach south. Instantly, it instilled fear among youngsters.

Javaid, a 16-year-old boy was hit by multiple pellets after a protest rally in Kulgam district, was intercepted by government forces. “I collapsed instantly after I was hit,” said Javaid. “When I gained senses I saw two boys busy removing pellets from my chest and arms. They were stone pelters, I guess.”

Javaid, who was struggling to stay conscious, hardly could resist or ask any question and collapsed again. “When I woke up again, I was at a stranger’s house,” said Javaid. “Those boys removed whatever they could, and then handed me over to the nearest house owner.”

Javaid, who lives in the adjoining village, spent the night at this stranger’s house. “It was war like situation. There was no time for questions and answers,” said Javaid.

Once home Javaid avoided visiting district hospital, and, instead relied on a local medic for treatment. “But once pain became unbearable I decided to visit a doctor,” said Javaid.

It was Javaid’s father who finally took him to a formal doctor’s house, some three villages apart, on a motorcycle. “We left home early morning. It was almost dark outside,” said Javaid.

On the doctor’s advice, Javaid was immediately rushed to Srinagar’s SMHS hospital for specialised treatment. “They (boys) had used some sharp object to remove my pellets. Maybe a nail-cutter!” said Javaid. “But I am thankful to them for saving me at least. They could have left me to die there, but they didn’t.”

Javaid now visits Srinagar every fortnight for treatment, but not many people in his village know about his injuries.

Mohammad Amir Mir was by pellets in Prichoo area of Pulwama on August 24, 2016. He died in SMHS Hospital Srinagar. (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)

Mohammad Amir Mir was by pellets in Prichoo area of Pulwama on August 24, 2016. He died in SMHS Hospital Srinagar. (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)

There are 6250 people who received pellets, some to the extent of becoming disabled and some surviving with disfigured faces. Given the numbers, Kashmir is now having a complete pellet generation. Some of them might hide the scars but pellets are something that will never remain hidden.

A senior surgeon in SMHS said that people who have pellets in their bodies will never be diagnosed for some of the diseases requiring major scans like MRIs. “This is something they will have to live with,” he said. “Removing every pellet is neither advisable nor possible. We remove them only when they become a potential crisis or are easily manageable.”

Interestingly, the pellet injured will face embarrassing situations at the airports and at the government offices. At both the places, they will have to pass through metal detectors. Pellets are lead and when detected, the machines beep. Once they beep, physical examination of the body is part of the routine protocol.

Perhaps that is why the police have already included pellet in the routine identity mark that they see during “crackdowns”. Pellet is a perpetual pain as the person is permanently marked.

The scars might have healed to an extent but the memory is still fresh.

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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