Srinagar: After facing loss of vision, many victims blinded by the pellets in Kashmir are now grappling with loss of memory which could take an ugly turn if the treatment is ignored, doctors and experts warned on Wednesday. The doctors said that the pellet victims could face permanent memory loss if they don’t turn up for the treatment which includes effective counselling and cognitive therapies.
Shabroza Mir from RohmooPulwama was hit by a volley of pellets inside her home during the 2016 uprising triggered by the killing of HizbulMujahideen commander BurhanWani. “I was not even protesting when I was hit by pellets,” she said.
Her face and eyes were left peppered with the lead-coated metal balls. Repeated surgeries have restored partial vision in her left eye. The other eye however is “dead”, according to the doctors.
“I face difficulty in reading a book or a newspaper. I cannot focus on anything for more than a few minutes due to acute pain in the eyes,” she said. A year on, she is now facing symptoms of forgetfulness as she fails to remember routine things like taking medicines on time.
“Pellets have ruined my life,” Shabroza said.
Other pellet-blinded persons like Danish Rajab Jhat of Rainwari Srinagar and Manzoor Ahmed of Pulwama are experiencing similar problems.
A burst of pellets fired by the police reduced Danish’s eyes to a mangled mass of soft tissues, a doctor said. Repeated surgeries have not helped him and he now needs help in moving around.
“I am blind now,” he sighed. “Now I don’t remember anything, not even the names of my family members. Pellets snatched my vision and now I am struggling with memory loss.”
The fate of Manzoor Ahmed is no different. The metal balls fired from shotguns by Central Reserve Police Force hit the optic nerve of his left eye. His right was salvaged after several surgeries.
“I can’t play cricket or football,” he said. “I tried to play football recently, but I tripped repeatedly.”
He said that he is having problems in remembering things now.
XuhaibHumza, a young photographer from Srinagar, said that after being hit by pellets in September 2016, light started playing hide and seek with him. “Depression, trauma, darkness, pain, numbness of emotions and memory loss are things I started going through since the day I was hit,” he said.
Xuhaib has a blurred vision in one of his eyes.
“As far the memory loss is concerned, I suffer a lot. I keep on thinking about things whether I have done them or not. At times, I forget that I have parked my car and start travelling on foot. Forgetting taking medicine is a routine for me. My doctor has advised me to keep my medicines near my bed, else my eyes will develop severe pain.”
Dr Tariq Qureshi, who heads the department of Ophthalmology at SMHS hospital here, said that pellets have damaged the eyes of many youths. “It is a sad story,” he said. “Figures itself speak about the extent of damage inflicted by the pellets. The damage caused pellets is rare and can’t be seen anywhere in the world, except Kashmir.”
Kashmir’s leading psychiatrist Dr Arshad Hussain while commenting on the fresh challenge being faced by the pellet victims in Kashmir said that memory problems in people with “traumatic life experiences” are either because of “dissociative amnesia” which is many a time part of their post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or because of declarative memory problems and also due to concentration difficulties because of re-experiencing.
“Re-experiencing traumatic life event causes difficulties in daily life. The difficulty in declarative memory is also because of abnormalities in the hippocampus and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, and the prefrontal cortex and catecholamine system,” Hussain said. “The hippocampus the part of brain which has a huge role in memory is the one atrophied in post traumatic stress disorder.”
He strongly advocated that the pellet victims who complain of any sort of memory loss should seek help at places which offer trauma-focussed therapies and cognitive behavioural therapies, besides biological treatments which can be of help.
Naziya Rashid, a senior counsellor at ‘Kashmir Lifeline’ said they have counselled a huge number of pellet victims who were hit in their eyes, at various hospitals across Kashmir.
“What is more important is that they need frequent counselling to overcome the shock they are in. During counselling, a born blind is trained and counselled by us to live on and he or she lives with the natural blindness boldly,” she said. “As far as those blinded by the pellets, it is high time they should seek proper counselling without feeling shy as seen in many cases. Counselling and various therapies can help them stay mentally fit. But if they ignore it, the mental trauma can take an ugly shape and the memory loss problem they are complaining of can further aggravate.”
Amnesty International India recently documented 88 pellet-blinded persons in Kashmir in its latest report on use of pellet shotguns. The report said that pellet victims range from nine-year-old children to 65-year-old men. The report said that pellets have damaged both eyes of 31 people in Kashmir.
The pellet victims include 14 females who were shot at inside their homes, the Amnesty said.