Infants, elderly at highest risk: Doctors
Srinagar (ZEHRU NISSA ): Amidst the incessant use of pepper gas by security forces across Kashmir, hundreds of people especially children, elderly and sick people are facing respiratory problems of serious nature. The no-holds-barred use of pepper grenades that harm the common people as much as protesters has been decried as a form of ‘bio-terrorism’ by health experts.
Hospitals across Kashmir are witnessing a huge rush of people with respiratory problems triggered by exposure to pepper gas. Doctors said that exposure to pepper gas was causing breathing distress in otherwise normal individuals as well as worsening of condition in patients with existing respiratory problems such as asthma, bronchitis and heart diseases.
At Chest Diseases Hospital at Srinagar, since the past fortnight, official records show 300-400 people seek consultation everyday. Doctors at the hospital said that one in four people reporting at the hospital with respiratory issues has had an exposure to pepper gas triggering the onset of symptoms.
“Elderly people are more prone to developing respiratory distress and often report at the hospital with serious bouts of dyspnea (shortness of breath),” a senior Physician at CD Hospital said. He added that children and infants were also experiencing serious breathing distress when exposed to pepper gas.
GB Pant Hospital, doctors said that children and infants from areas where pepper gas shelling happens regularly and intensely get admitted for respiratory distress ‘quite often’. “There is no study or statistics to present that show how children exposed to pepper gas develop breathing problems, but I tell from my experience that it happens very often,” a senior pediatrician at GB Pant Hospital said.
He further said that such tactics whereby innocent people such as women, children and elderly were being punished for no fault of theirs are a form of ‘biological terrorism’ – intentional release or dissemination of biological agents for warfare.
Saim Ismail, a resident of Batamaloo Srinagar said his whole family was suffering from respiratory distress. “I had access to a gas mask that my mother puts on now whenever there is shelling in the area or vicinity,” he said. His mother reportedly has bronchial asthma. He added that he has to rush to his car and put his three year old daughter inside to help her breathe.
“What is their fault? Why are they made to suffocate everyday,” he asked alleging that forces fire indiscriminately irrespective of the nature and intensity of protests. “Sometimes they fire the shells into the lawns of houses,” he said.
Terming the intensity with which forces resort to pepper gas shelling in residential areas as ‘dangerous’ to the population, doctors said that it amounts to ‘bio-terrorism’. “In an international conference recently, some international researchers discussed how exposure to irritants such as pepper gas was subjecting populations to sickness, irrespective of whether they were at the spot where ‘action’ took place or not,” a senior doctor in Srinagar wishing anonymity said.
In past, pepper gas has also led to deaths as per reports. In 2013, a 60-year-old woman, Hajra Begum a resident of Aali Kadal Srinagar died of a severe asthmatic attack triggered by exposure to pepper gas, as per reports.
On March 11, 2013, the issue of pepper gas harming the innocent civilians was raked up in state Assembly by Peoples Democratic party (PDP), then in opposition, demanding an immediate ban on the use of pepper gas against the protesters and raised slogans like government was adamant to ‘kill Kashmiris by pepper.’
A report published in Journal of Public Health Policy (JPHP, May 2014 issue) titled Exposure of Pepper Gas Explosions on Non-Combatant Bystanders states that pepper gas causes serious respiratory problems in people living in and around areas where this gas is being used.
According to this report, 97 percent of people visiting the hospital after exposure to pepper gas reported irritation of airways. The researchers also report children under six years of age developing wheezing after exposure to pepper gas, to the extent that it required medical attention.
symptoms’ were reported by researchers in children and elderly. The research further stated ‘not only were severe acute effects observed in non-combatants, but one fatality also occurred in a close temporal relation to the use of pepper guns’.
This research compiled by four doctors at SKIMS Srinagar, and headed by senior Pulmonologist, Dr. Parvaiz A Koul reads ‘Exposure to pepper grenade explosions leads to severe toxic collateral symptoms in non-combatant bystanders who not infrequently require medical attention. Long-term effects of exposure remain unclear and need to be studied.’ In 2013, High Court had dismissed three Public Interest Litigations demanding ban on use of Pepper gas clubbed together and allowed its use for crowd control.

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