SRINAGAR, (REUTERS): Indian security forces in Kashmir blocked medical care for injured protesters by firing on ambulances, holding up emergency vehicles and preying on hospital patients during clashes in the restive region this year, a health rights group alleged on Tuesday.
At least 80 civilians were killed and more than 10,000 wounded in almost five months of clashes between protesters and security forces, sparked by the killing of a Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in a joint army and police operation on July 8.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) claimed that not only did police and paramilitary forces use excessive force during the unrest, they also delayed wounded people seeking medical attention, increasing the likelihood of permanent injuries and deaths.
“Such delays in care are violations of the longstanding protections afforded to medical workers and facilities in times of conflict and civil unrest,” said Widney Brown, director of programs for PHR, a New York-headquartered advocacy group.
“What’s more, the doctors we interviewed said police were present in their hospitals, intimidating patients and monitoring those being admitted,” Brown alleged.
The report also claimed that Indian security forces harassed medical workers attempting to treat protesters and prevented doctors from reaching the hospitals where they work.
Police in India-held Kashmir said they would respond to the allegations once they had studied the PHR report.
The unrest, sparked by the killing of Wani, is the worst in the region for six years, and critics accuse Indian security forces of heavy-handedness in quelling the protests.
Many of those killed in the clashes died from shotgun pellets or rifle bullets fired by police and paramilitary troops. Hundreds of bystanders were blinded by the pellet rounds, the report said.
While Indian authorities claim the use of such weapons was meant to reduce the potential for injuries or fatalities, PHR found that their use actually caused serious injury and death.
Police in held Kashmir say pellet guns are non-lethal weapons but they have been fired from short distances in “unavoidable circumstances” when protesters target security forces.
PHR’s report ─ based on hospital records and interviews with doctors, witnesses and victims ─ alleged that police used 12-gauge shotguns loaded with metal pellets that directly caused an estimated 5,200 injuries and at least a dozen deaths.
“Injuries inflicted by ‘less than lethal’ weapons like pellets, rubber bullets, and shot guns require early medical intervention to avoid permanent or debilitating injury, including loss of life,” the report claimed.
“In Kashmir, delays in accessing medical care for hundreds of injured protesters increased the risk of permanent damage, including for those with eye injuries.”