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Pellet guns have pushed hundreds of Kashmiris into darkness forever: Testimonies in "Time" report

Danish Rajab Jhat
By Rajiv Shah
The well-known American journal "Time", in a report exclusively focussed on the controversial use of the pallet guns to quell disturbances in the Kashmir Valley in 2016, taking the testimony of nine victims, has said that all of their scars, caused by what are called "non-lethal" weapons, have pushed them, as also hundreds others, fully or partially into "darkness."
"At first glance, their scars look like pockmarks. Some have their eyes closed; others have a far-away look, eyes glazed over. They could be gazing out at a distant view", the report by "Time" journalist Billy Perrigo, quoting testimonies collected by a freelance photographer from Italy, Camillo Pasquarelli, says, adding, "These Kashmiri men, women and children aren’t looking at anything. The darkness that surrounds them in Camillo Pasquarelli’s photographs surrounds them in life, too."
Recalling that in the seven months following militant leader Burhan Wani’s killing in July 2016, over 6,000 people were injured by pellet guns, including 782 who suffered eye injuries, the report says, "Most of the victims photographed by Pasquarelli ... were injured during that period in 2016. All said they were not involved in protests when they were shot."
Shakeela Begum
"Each of Pasquarelli’s subjects are still coming to terms with their blindness, including the loss of not just their sight but also their ability to go to school or to work", the report says, giving details of what they told him "of their pain."
  • Amir Kabir Beigh, 26, from Baramulla, says, “I have gone through a lot of surgeries all over India but I am still completely blind". 
  • Danish Rajab Jhat, 24, is from Srinagar, and his "left eye was unsalvageable, so doctors replaced it with an artificial eyeball. He still has 90 pellets inside his body, and from his right eye he can barely see shadows."
  • Shabkal Nazir Waseem, 25, is from Bijbehera. "Police left him with one hundred pellets all over his upper body when they shot him on the Muslim holiday of Eid. Two lodged in each eye, leaving him almost totally blind. Four people were blinded by pellet guns in Kashmir on the day he was shot, he told Pasquarelli".
  • Asif Ahmad Sheikh, 10, is from Anantnag. "Asif received one pellet in his right eye, losing vision entirely on that side. He told Pasquarelli the injury has caused lots of problems at school".
  • Faiz Firdouz, 18, was hit by 20 pellets, two of which entered his right eye. “Why? What was my fault? Why [have] they ruined my career, my future?”, he asks the photographer.
  • Aquib Zahoor Pampore, 16, is from Anantnag. "One pellet perforated the retina of his left eye; leaving him blind on that side. He told Pasquarelli he was forced to leave school because of his injuries".
  • Shakeela Begum, 35, is from Sheeri. "She was hit by dozens of pellets on her chest and face. One entered her left eye and two hit her right eye. The pellets were shot from a very short distance and traveled beyond the retina, leaving her with only 10% of her vision".
  • Mohammad Asif Dar, 23, is from Baramulla. "He says he was playing cricket when he was shot in the head, shoulder and chest. Despite eight surgeries, he only has 10% of his vision left in his right eye."
  • Shahid Ahmad Wani, 16, is from Achabal. "He was forced to end his studies after being hit by 93 pellets all over his body, with two in the left eye. After three failed surgeries he is now able to only see shadows. To the right of his portrait, his medical records are pictured."
Pasquarelli first met pellet gun victims last October at a workshop in Srinagar for people who had lost their sight, held by the HELP Foundation, an NGO working with victims of the conflict. When darkness fell at 5 p.m. during the oppressive Kashmiri winter, he decided to take some portraits.
While doctors told him that removing the pellets is too dangerous, as they remain lodged into victims’ bodies, as permanent as their blindness, what drove him crazy the x-ray of Amir Kabir Beigh, one of Kashmir’s first pellet gun victims.
"Hundreds of small pellets all over his head. It was then I realized I needed X-rays, to make the project complete and to balance the message that I want to convey", the photographer is quoted as saying. This led him to collect several more testimonies of x-rays so that his main goal, to raise some awareness on the issue, is achieved.
Asif Ahmad Sheikh
The report quotes Dr. Anna Feigenbaum, an expert at Bournemouth University, U.K., to say, "We tend to only be interested in weapons that kill... In the era of drones and missiles and police firearm killings, a pellet gun can seem frivolous. Except when you’re looking at these kinds of images.”
It also quotes the Omega Research Foundation, a UK-based charity that monitors military technologies, to say, “The Indian forces call it a pellet gun, but it is a pump action shotgun".
"The only difference is the type of ammunition: a cartridge with up to 500 tiny lead pellets, which disperse in all directions when fired. They are commonly used by hunters. The ammunition is not designed for crowd control,” Omega said.
It added, “This weapon should not be used at all... No modification could make its use compliant with international human rights law and standards. Those laws state the use of force must be strictly proportionate and targeted. Pellet guns, on the contrary, spit a cloud of lead in all directions, making it impossible to guarantee bystanders will not be injured."

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