Protesters blinded by forces struggle in darkness

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On Sunday, April 1, at least twenty young men and boys were rushed to the hospital in Srinagar, with blood and fluids oozing out of their eyes.
Siren after siren, more boys were brought in. “We can’t see. We can’t see” they said in a panic to those carrying them in.
Later the wounded, lying on the beds with bandaged eyes and pockmarked faces, asked only one question. “Will we ever be able to see again?” 
The same question echoes from the beds of the ophthalmology ward in SMHS hospital as each week more and more people are blinded by forces using pellet guns on protesters. In the first nine days of May, according to ophthalmologists, 51 people were taken to the hospital with pellet gun injuries to their eyes.
The forces have been using 12-bore shotguns to quell protests in Kashmir. The weapon which they classify as “non-lethal” can, with one shot, unload over 400 lead pellets – much like ball bearings – into crowds.
This state-sanctioned use has resulted in the deaths of at least 17 people in 2016 and 2017, and, according to conservative estimates by local doctors, in the partial or complete blinding of more than 2,000 young Kashmiris over the last eight years.
Ifra, 17, and Shabrooza, 16, were partially blinded by forces who were clashing with stone-wielding youth near the girls’ houses on October 30, 2016. Both girls underwent several expensive surgeries, only to be left with diminished vision and unresolved anger.
Shabrooza’s father spent eight years of savings to save her from complete blindness. He had set aside the money for the weddings of his two daughters.
Ifra’s family says she struggles with “anger issues” ever since she was shot.
 “I keep asking myself why did it happen to me. I look at my other friends and I see their lives go on unhindered,” Ifra says. “I don’t want to do anything anymore, I just want to be sad – to think and be sad.” She was in grade nine before the incident but isn’t sure if she wants to go back to school.
 “It has been a very difficult time,” Ashraf says. “We meet dozens of types of people who give us dozens of kinds of suggestions. And given our current state, we can’t tell the good suggestion from the bad – we hang on to everything.”
Ashraf was working in a telecom company and was in the second year of a three-year college degree when he was injured. Now he stays home all day long or meets others who are in the same predicament.
According to records from SMHS, the hospital to which most pellets victims are referred, 1,253 people have been blinded in Kashmir since the summer of 2016. At least 61 of those were injured in both eyes.
“We have an endemic of enforced blindness here like we have one of enforced disappearances. It is the state’s new responses to stifle the lives and voices of the Kashmiri people,” he says.
The government says that they are working to provide some form of rehabilitation to those wounded and blinded in the protests. 
 
(Full version of this story was first published in trtworld.com)
 

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