SRINAGAR, India (GPI)-- Showkat Hussain Bhat says that his mother died after police fired pepper gas on protesters in March 2013 outside his home in Srinagar, Kashmir’s summer capital.
On the second floor of his home at the time, Bhat says he was unaware that the gas had seeped into the ground floor, causing his 67-year-old mother, Hajra Begum, to collapse.
“A team of doctors visited our locality recently and told us that everyone, whether young or old, is affected by the gas.”
Showkat Hussain Bhat, Srinagar resident
“My mother had arthritis, so she was confined to the ground floor of the house,” Bhat says. “She was also suffering from heart disease and had two stents placed in her heart. When I came downstairs, I found her overturned on the floor, and she was breathing heavily.”
Bhat called his brother, and they took her to the hospital. Doctors told them their mother was in serious condition, Bhat says.
“They asked us what happened to her, and we told them about the pepper gas,” he says. “They said that young people can cough up what they have inhaled, but for an elder person, like my mother, it wasn’t so. Whatever she had inhaled was stuck inside her lungs.”
Bhat’s mother did not recover.
“She again had breathing difficulty in [the] hospital even after being put on oxygen,” he says.
Her breathing became faster before she died. Doctors attributed her death to the pepper gas exposure, Bhat says.
Pepper gas has affected others in Bhat’s neighborhood, Srinagar’s old city area, as well. Bhat says that one of his neighbors, a father, bled from the mouth recently after exposure to pepper gas.
“Doctors told him it is because of the pepper gas,” Bhat says.
The entire community is at risk, Bhat says.
“A team of doctors visited our locality recently and told us that everyone, whether young or old, is affected by the gas,” he says. “They said our chests are involved.”
Since February 2013, three people have died allegedly from pepper gas exposure, according to Amnesty International and local news reports. Bhat’s mother was one of them.
Kashmir has witnessed frequent protests since Feb. 9, 2013, when the Indian government hanged Mohammad Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri convicted of being involved in a 2001 attack on India’s Parliament. Human rights activists say that Guru did not get a fair trial, and many Kashmiris say he was innocent.
The most recent clashes erupted on Friday, March 29, in old Srinagar as well as in two other districts in the region. Two dozen suffered injuries, according to local news sources.
The Jammu and Kashmir Police use pepper gas grenades and pepper spray guns, as well as tear gas, pellets, bullets and force, to disperse protesters. The police started using pepper gas in 2010 as a nonlethal method to control protesters, says a police official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
Kashmir is a conflicted region disputed by India and Pakistan. An armed separatist movement started in Indian-administered Kashmir in 1989. The movement is now mostly nonviolent, but people continue to protest human rights violations.