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For Dr S Natarajan, a Mumbai-based retina surgeon whose motto is to keep trying when everyone gives up, it will be the fourth visit to Srinagar on December 22 to conduct yet another round of surgeries on youngsters who have suffered pellet injuries in the eye.
Just last week Natarajan motivated 14-year-old Insha Ahmed — who had emerged as the poster girl for Kashmiris protesting against the use of pellet guns in the state in July and August — to join a school for the blind. Insha had pellet injuries in both eyes and had lost vision. She can now see some light in the left eye after Natarajan operated on her. Last week, during her check up in Mumbai, Natarajan persuaded her family to let her learn Braille. “I have been trying to counsel the girl and even challenged her to learn Braille. And now she can work with me as a scientific researcher,” Natarajan said.
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“Like Insha, there are several youngsters who have suffered grievous injuries. These victims and their families now need psychological counselling,” Dr Natarajan told Pune Newsline.
Natarajan’s efforts were prompted by an appeal from Pune-based Adhik Kadam from Borderless World Foundation, who had urged opthalmologists to treat the victims of pellet firing in the Valley.
Pellet guns were used by the police and security forces to quell protests in the Valley following the killing of Hizbul militant Burhan Wani.
Dr Tariq Quereshi, Head of the Department of Ophthalmology, Government Medical College, Srinagar, said that between July and August this year he has seen as many as 1,000 injured from pellet firing, while six have lost vision in both the eyes. All the victims are youngsters between the ages of 16 and 22. Another 75 youths have perception of light only in one eye.
While teams of experts in Srinagar and doctors from Delhi and Mumbai have operated up on the victims, an assessment will be done on the pattern of injuries from December 22 to 24. “Their eyes are mutilated. We have tried to bring life back into dead eyes,” said Quereshi, adding that the initial wound repair was done at Srinagar before the victims were shifted to Delhi’s AIIMS and some hospitals in Mumbai.
Natarajan, a Padma awardee, has managed more than 10,000 eye trauma cases — from injuries suffered in the Sri Lankan civil war to 1980s’ Operation Blue Star in Punjab, but the plight of youngsters injured in Srinagar has moved him. “I have never seen so many people losing vision or being affected by pellet injuries,” Natarajan said.
When pellets go through the centre of the eye, they cause more damage, he added.
Natarajan, director of Aditya Jyot Eye Hospital in Mumbai, had handled some of the worst cases caused by pellet firing. Although his visits to Srinagar are facilitated by Borderless World Foundation, what drives this staunch follower of Swami Vivekananda is the maxim: “They alone live, who live for others. Rest are equivalent to the dead.”
A committee of experts and doctors has strongly recommended that the government must provide psychologists and counsellors to help rehabilitate the victims.