When given a chance to research the impact of glass pellets, in Kashmir, Chennai-based Meena Vishwanath, jumped at it. "Being a civil aspirant I have always had a leaning towards political and historical developments and this moved me to undertake a research on the use of pellets in Kashmir, for my summer internship," said the Social Work student from Madras School of Social Work, who is specialising in Community Development.
Her research on the use of pellets was used as a citation by the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), an advocacy organisation based in Srinagar, to file a petition in the Supreme Court advocating a ban on the use of pellets against civilians. Led by her coordinator Syed Faisal Kadri, Meena was the only intern representing southern India, besides others from Gujarat, Delhi, and Kashmir. As part of the law network, the 22-year-old said that she also got an opportunity to work in the field of disappeared people, as part of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), led by Parveena Ahanger, whose sons went missing way back in the nineties.
Her research primarily focused on the substitution of pellets with other non-lethal weapons and the compensation paid by the security forces. Even the doctors of Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS), a mainstream hospital in Kashmir, where several pellet victims are treated, are against the use of pellets as a restraining weapon. “The use of heavy pellets not only defaces the body but may also result in permanent loss of vision or disability, said the doctors of the hospital,” she revealed.
Asked if the trip to Kashmir was an easy one, she replied with a stretched out 'I wish'. She explained, "I had to face resistance at home. It took me around ten to fifteen days to convince my family members to allow me to take up the internship. I also had to shell out over `50,000 for a month's stay in the valley," she recounted.
Confessing that it was not easy the first week, she said that a month’s stay in Kashmir was enough to give her enough of an adrenaline rush — through a militant attack outside the office premises and being prevented by army men during a curfew. "As soon as I entered the city I was traumatised by the sight of bearded men in Kurtas walking on the streets. Also, unlike Chennai, the eerie silence of the valley haunts you. Like the small tea shops present in every lane of the Indian cities, army bunkers are a common sight in Kashmir. The day would come to an end by 7 in the evening and an eerie silence will envelope the whole place at night. I wanted to run home on the second day, but once I started interacting with the victims, my fear turned to empathy," she recounted.
Although she has returned to Chennai, this researcher is taking up the fight for Kashmir and it’s people at a micro-level. “If I vouch for their cause I will come under fire from several directions, so I do a presentation in every class of MSSW to make them understand that the real picture of Kashmir is murkier than the one being portrayed,” she concluded.
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