SRINAGAR: At Srinagar’s SMHS hospital, the parents of eighteen-month-old Hiba Jan are struggling to calm her down. Every now and then, she cries when stopped from removing the padding on her eye that was operated last night.

Doctors say Hiba is the youngest pellet victim admitted at the hospital and she may lose eyesight because of “extensive damage” by the tiny metallic ball fired by security forces that caused corneal perforation in her eye.

Pellets have been used with deadly precision by security forces against locals in Kashmir to curb anti-India, anti-government and pro-freedom protests but children like Hiba were never targeted. Until now!

On Sunday morning, Hiba was injured when security forces fired pellets and bullets indiscriminately at a group of protesters in south Kashmir’s Kapran village after an encounter left six militants and an Army soldier dead.

“Since morning, she (Hiba) was choking due to the teargas smoke that had spread in our entire locality and refused to eat anything. I thought of taking her and my five-year-old son out into some open space so that they could breathe freely. Little did I know that I will make her a prey for forces,” said Masarat, Hiba’s mother.

Masarat said a pellet gun was aimed at them as soon as she opened the door of their home. “Forces were chasing protesters. Suddenly I heard a bang. I pushed my son to one side and covered my daughter’s face with my hand,” Masarat said.

Three pellets hit Masarat’s hand but one managed to evade the shield and perforated the cornea of Hiba, “When I saw blood oozing out of her eye, I lost consciousness. Why didn’t they fire at me? What was the sin of my daughter?,” Masarat asks, tears rolling down her face.

The little girl was brought to a local medical facility by neighbours from where she was referred to Srinagar for specialised treatment. Masarat’s husband, Nazir Ahmed, was away for work when the incident happened.

“I don’t want my daughter to lose her eyesight. We gave her chips and chocolates for distraction but doctors are saying her situation is not good. Please pray for her,” Ahmed said.

Doctors say Hiba will be operated again, “We will try our best to undo the damage caused by the pellet but the condition of her cornea is not very encouraging,” a doctor at SMHS hospital said, wishing anonymity.

At least one and half dozen civilians with firearm injuries were brought to the SMHS hospital for specialised treatment from the encounter site in Shopian’s Kapran village.

“Five had bullet injuries while the rest had wounds caused by pellets. 11 persons had eye injuries due to pellets. One of the injured had a bullet injury in neck and he was referred to super speciality SKIMS,” medical superintendent of SMHS hospital, Dr Saleem Tak, said.

A civilian was killed when security forces fired at protesters while six bikes owned by relatives of slain militants who had come to collect their bodies from Shopian District Police Lines were later set on fire allegedly by government forces.