Eighteen-month-old Hiba Jan from Indian Occupied Kashmir was the latest victim of pellet guns used by the Indian army on Kashmiri pro-independent protesters.
On Sunday, an Indian army operation in south Kashmir’s Shopian led to the death of six militants, one civilians and leaving almost twenty injured, the young Hiba, one of the injured.
Since last Sunday, south Kashmir has seen four different gunfights killing at least 12 pro-freedom fighters.
After Sunday’s encounter, the injured civilians were rushed to Sri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS) hospital is the summer capital of Kashmir, Srinagar.
Hiba was admitted in the infamous Ward 8 of ophthalmology which has seen hundreds of pellet victims in the past two years since the Indian armed forces started firing pellets indiscriminately leaving scores of Kashmiri civilians blind.
Hiba is the youngest victim of pellet guns. “A pellet has gone deep inside her eye, causing injury to parts critical for vision. We have done primary care, but she would require a surgery,” said a surgeon who attended to her.
The pellets guns used in Kashmir are duck hunting pellet guns that are metal shrapnel in a cartridge that explodes and cover a large area. Its usage on animals is banned in many countries but they are used on Kashmiris by Indian forces.
When the Indian army was rampaging in Kapran, near Batgund village in Shopian, constant tear gas shelling was making it difficult for Hiba and her five-year-old brother to breath. That is when their mother Masarat thought of taking the children out of that area.
“I couldn’t tolerate my daughter choking and nauseating with tear-smoke and decided to take her and my five-year-old son away from the house, somewhere where they could breathe better,” she said.
“As soon as I opened the door of my house, I saw a pellet gun aimed at us while youth were rushing away from the spot. I pushed my son to a side and shielded my daughter’s face with my hand,” Masarat said. “Three pellets hit my hand suddenly, but one hit my daughter in her eye”.
“As I tried to cover my daughter’s face, I saw blood coming out of her eye,” recalled the infant’s mother.
The incident received widespread condemnation from rights groups to citizens of Kashmir. The United Nations wrote on Twitter, “Nineteen-month-old Hiba Jan, who was hit with a pellet in her right eye yesterday, may lose her eyesight. Kashmir Conflict takes away many things but it must not be allowed to snatch the eyes of kids.”
The doctor explained that a pellet had made a hole in the middle of her right eyeball which has damaged parts vital for vision. She is at risk of being partially blind. “We would operate on her again. Let us hope we are able to correct the devastation caused by the pellet in her eye,” he said.
Another teenager, a class eight student, Faizan Ahmed was also admitted Sunday for having a pellet wound and bullet wound.
On Sunday, the armed forces not only fired pellet on protesting civilians but also used live ammunition.
Khurram Parvez, the coordinator of Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a Kashmir-based rights organization told Al-Jazeera that 2018 is the "bloodiest year since 2009".
According to JKCCS, 528 people have been killed so far this year, including 145 civilians in the occupied valley. "Federal elections are set to take place in India in a few months and the BJP government is selling the body bags of Kashmiris to gain votes," said Khurram.
Disclaimer: A previous version of the story used rubber-coated bullets instead of pellet guns in its title. As they are different things, the title has been changed.