By Majid Maqbool Jul. 15, 2016
In the raging battle after Burhan Wani’s death, Kashmir’s security forces have been lobbing tear-gas shells into hospitals. These safe havens are the conflict’s latest casualty.
ifty-three kilometers away from south Kashmir’s Anantnag, the epicentre of the ongoing turmoil in Kashmir, nine-year-old Tamana Ashraf was brought to Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital by her mother.
The girl wasn’t part of any protest, but was simply peeping outside the window of her house in Ganderbal to see what the commotion was, when she felt a searing pain in her left eye. She had been hit by a pellet, which the forces had fired to stop the agitators, who were sloganeering against the killing of 22-year-old Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani.
Wards seven and eight of the SMHS Hospital were teeming with many Tamanas after violent protests gripped the Valley last Friday. Some had already been operated upon; some were waiting for their turn. Relatives of patients, along with the other volunteers from Srinagar, were helping the overburdened doctors keep a tab of medicines and tried to comfort the patients.
“We aren’t even safe inside our houses anymore,” said Tamana’s weeping mother, as doctors attended to her bleeding daughter.
Little did she know that she wasn’t safe even inside the hospital.
Nine-year-old Tamana has been discharged from the hospital now, but with just 10 per cent vision recovered. Yawar Nazir/ Getty Images
Nine-year-old Tamana has been discharged from the hospital now, but with just 10 per cent vision recovered.
Yawar Nazir/ Getty Images
On the morning of July 9, around 8 am, Dr Nadeem Rashid stepped into his car to head to District Hospital in Anantnag. The street outside his house was barricaded. It was the day of the funeral of Wani, who was killed in an encounter in the district a day before. Anantnag was on edge, as protests turned violent and crowds of angry youth pelted stones at government forces. The police retaliated with the use of live ammunition, tear-gas shells, and pellet guns, which are considered above-board for use by authorities because they can be dubbed “non-lethal weapons”.
Even as a large part of Anantnag stayed indoors after a curfew was imposed, Dr Rashid was determined to make it to work. He requested the security officers to clear his way, but the Central Reserve Police Force officials stood their ground. Waving his identity card, the doctor insisted that he needed to reach the hospital. Protests against Wani’s death were spiralling out of control, and with forces resorting to firing, the hospitals would already be inundated with patients. “I’m a doctor and I have to reach the hospital,” pleaded Dr Rashid. “We are already short-staffed.”
The persistence seemed to further agitate the CRPF officers. “How does that matter,” shot back one angry official. “Go back inside.”
But Dr Rashid refused to budge. A Kashmiri policeman, who was once treated by the young doctor, recognised him and only then was the barricade lifted, as if it were a favour.
The District Hospital was a sea of faces, mostly young faces, with bloodshot eyes. Some were protesters injured by pellet guns used by security forces to quell the agitation, but a lot of them were innocent children who were mere eyewitnesses to the protests and now victims of the police action. And there were others with more serious bullet injuries.
Through the day, the deluge of the injured kept surging. All the 150 beds of the hospital were occupied, some with two patients, some with three. The corridors were strewn with writhing bodies. As Dr Rashid took stock of the critical patients, a teenage boy protesting in Anantnag came in with a bullet injury to the abdomen, an AK-47 as they would soon learn, and had to be operated upon immediately.
Dr Rashid had just begun the surgery when the police charged inside the hospital and fired teargas shells. Smoke filled the hospital wards; some of it made its way into the operating room. As his eyes flooded with water, Dr Rashid was able to operate upon the boy successfully, but only just. Outside, hospital attendants and volunteers had kept the baton-wielding officials from barging in.
Dr Rashid pulled off his surgical mask to take a deep breath. He didn’t know it then, but he and his team at the District Hospital would be working for 50 hours straight.
His day had only just begun.
Even as the Centre flies in eye specialists from Delhi to treat the victims of pellet injuries, security forces have been lobbing tear-gas shells into the same hospitals that the specialists work in. Yawar Nazir/ Getty Images
Even as the Centre flies in eye specialists from Delhi to treat the victims of pellet injuries, security forces have been lobbing tear-gas shells into the same hospitals that the specialists work in.
Yawar Nazir/ Getty Images
In Kashmir’s raging battle with security forces, hospitals are the latest casualty. This presumed “safe haven” where the injured flock for comfort and treatment is off limits in areas experiencing armed conflict even as per the articles of the Geneva Conventions. But those rules would apply if the Indian government could admit that the situation in Kashmir is almost war-like.
But as far as we are concerned, war is something that takes place in Afghanistan, where a hospital is the target of an airstrike. War takes place in far-off Syria. Instead, we prefer using less weighty terms like “clashes” or “unrest”, to describe Kashmir, as if that would somehow diminish the magnitude of the conflict.
Even as the Centre flies in eye specialists from Delhi to treat the victims of pellet injuries, security forces have been lobbing tear-gas shells into the same hospitals that the specialists work in. The terrible irony of this situation is inescapable. In this land of eternal conflict, nobody is off-limits – be it the doctors, who are fighting to save lives, ambulance drivers who are rushing in with the injured, or even the victims themselves.
In the gathering twilight at SMHS, Tamana waited for her turn, clutching the edge of her mother’s clothes anxiously. As the evening set around all these mothers and their terrified children, screams broke out from surrounding rooms. The police had started shelling tear gas and lobbing them toward the casualty ward. The police personnel, headed by a DSP-rank officer, barged into the hospital, broke doors, and fired tear-smoke shells amongst screaming patients. As the gas filled the wards, the doctors and patients began choking. Four patients with lung diseases were being managed in the emergency room when the shells went off. Operations came to a halt and the casualty ward of the hospital had to be shut down for three hours.
Tamana finally made her way back home from SMHS Hospital with just 10 per cent vision recovered. This state of almost blindness could be permanent. From here on, the beauty of the Valley will appear to her as a blur of green. At nine, she doesn’t even know what a pellet is. All she knows is that she shouldn’t have peeped through the window.