By Kashmiri standards, the afternoon of 2 October 2016 was sunny and warm. A group of boys from the Kawdara neighbourhood in downtown Srinagar were playing cricket at the Radpora stadium, which is nearby. Among them was 12-year-old Moin Mushtaq, dressed in a white-kurta pyjama, who was fielding at mid-on. “All of a sudden, I heard slogans and screaming coming from the lane adjacent to the ground,” Mushtaq told me when I met him in late October. “As I turned to look, I felt sharp pain in my face, and fell in a heap.” “When I saw him, I couldn’t believe it,” Mushtaq’s mother, Sabina, said. “His kurta-pyjama was no longer white. It was red—only red.”
Sharp lead pellets fired from a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun, better known as a pellet gun, had hit Mushtaq. The pellets entered his eyes, face, neck and chest, destroying his right eye beyond repair. The family, which sells bread from their one-room home and earns about Rs 5,000 a month, had to spend close to Rs 5 lakh on four surgeries for Mushtaq’s eye—three of which were conducted in Hyderabad. He is still unable to see through his right eye. “If I close my left eye, I only have a sense of light, if a source of light is close to me,” he said.
Danish Rajab, a 22-year-old resident of Rainawari in Srinagar, was even less fortunate. On the evening of 17 July 2016, he recalled, the curfew—which had been imposed during the unrest that followed the death of Burhan Wani, a divisional commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, on 8 July—had been lifted for the day. Rajab stepped out of his house to meet his friends at a tea-stall. “I saw eight or nine CRPF [Central Reserve Police Force] jeeps pass us by. Then, as the last jeep was about five metres away, the man stationed on top of it fired at me. I looked up at him when I heard the sound, ducked instinctively and soon fell down after feeling a piercing pain,” he told me. He said that the next thing he remembers was waking up at the hospital, and “the sounds of my sister crying next to me.” “I couldn’t see her,” he said. Pellets had entered both of Rajab’s eyes, his face and parts of his skull, blinding him permanently. “There has only been darkness since,” he added.
Mushtaq and Rajab are two among over a thousand residents from Kashmir who suffered pellet injuries to their eyes during the 2016 unrest in the valley. Most of those who suffered injuries to their eyes experienced partial or complete loss of vision. Close to 13,000 people were injured, and nearly 6,000 of them suffered pellet injuries to various parts of their bodies. According the 2016–2017 annual report published by Amnesty International, pellet injuries also accounted for 14 deaths during the unrest. The report described pellet guns as “inherently inaccurate and indiscriminate.”
Since July 2016, the use of pellet guns has become a point of contention. At the time of the unrest, the armoury of the CRPF included 640 pump-action guns, and about 125,000 cartridges. In mid-August, the CRPF told the Jammu and Kashmir High Court that between 8 July and 11 August 2016, the forces had used 3,765 cartridges—each of these contains 450 metallic balls, or pellets.