During the unrest of 2016 in Kashmir, when the pellet guns wounded around 15,000 civilians were wounded in the street protests, health experts had cautioned that the tiny pellets retained inside the victim’s body could be the “ticking time-bombs” that may explode any day.  Their worst fears have now started coming true as one of the victims died five months after being wounded.

Waseem Ahmad Thoker, a 23-year-old youth, who was hit by around 300 pellets in his chest in 2016, was found dead at an orphanage in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district on February 21. Waseem worked as an ambulance driver at Bait-ul-Hilal Yateem orphanage, headed by his father.

According to his family, Waseem was injured after the government forces attacked a pro-freedom rally at Mirhama Chawalgam in the district on September 7, 2016. He was out to ferry the wounded to the hospitals on the fateful day when the pellets hit him.  His family claims that he was not feeling well since then and would often need medical help.

While the government has been pleading the use of pellet as a non-lethal measure for crowd-control, the weapon continues to prove deadly. Scores of people have died and over 1,000 were blinded by the “non-lethal” weapons.

This is because unlike bullets, which are mainly removed from the body through surgical procedures, the pellets are often too tiny for removal, and thus often get retained inside the body. Health experts say that the presence of these “foreign objects” can prove fatal anytime. Though the police is unwilling to buy such claims, Waseem’s sudden death has vindicated this expert opinion of the Doctors Association Kashmir (DAK).

In August 2016, the DAK President Dr Nisar Ul Hassan in a handout had cautioned the government that “pellets retained in the body have the potential to cause severe life-threatening infections or simply death.”

“Retained pellets are potentially dangerous. They can enter the heart or brain and can cause a heart attack or a stroke. Lead poisoning due to pellets is equally very dangerous. All such complications can cause death,” said Dr Hassan.

In fact, medicos also say that modern day devices like metal detectors or CT Scan machines actually make pellet victims more vulnerable to complications even after they visibly recover from the injury. “Once we get closer to such magnetic field, there’s a possibility that these metallic pellets can move. Such mobility into brain, heart or other vital organs can simply lead to death,” the doctors added.

There has been no let up in the use of pellet guns despite public outcry. On February 12, during protests in Kulgam, over two dozen people received pellet injuries while two youth got blinded.

Ironically, Kashmir is believed to be the only place in the world where pellet gun, actually meant to hunt animals, is used on humans.

But while local dailies have widely reported about Waseem’s death, the police rebutted the reports. “The news reports published by some local dailies is baseless, concocted and far from the truth and are therefore rebutted. Kulgam police is ascertaining facts about the cause of the death of Waseem and people are advised not to fall prey to the vested interests,” a police handout said.  “Kulgam police taking cognizance of the incident  has primarily  found   that there was no medical history as has been published in the new report.”