A man from Kaniyakumari who works with an aim to prevent the world from darkness is trying to illuminate the lives of Kashmiris pushed toward blindness by Police and paramilitary forces.
The anti-India graffiti on roads, walls, and shutters of shops and slogans like ‘Go India Go Back’ reverberating across Kashmir is a clear reminder to every visiting Indian of what Kashmiris want but an South Indian doctor, Dr S Natrajan is trying his utmost best to provide a healing touch to the injuries inflicted upon them by his uniformed countrymen.
Dr Natrajan, a Vitreoretinal (retina) surgeon, has titled his trip to Kashmir as ‘Project Splendid Kashmir’ which aims at “bringing back the lost glory of Kashmir”.
“I don’t want anybody to be blind and the concept of my entire work is ‘From darkness to light,’” he says.
Before visiting Kashmir, the Padma Shri Award winner Dr Natrajan had treated eyes damaged with toy pellet guns and toy bullets.
“This is the first time I am treating damaged eyes hit by pellets fired by real pellet guns,” he says. “I have never treated such huge number of pellet injuries as I did in Kashmir.”
According to Dr Natrajan, when he visited Kashmir the last time, 330 persons admitted at SMHS hospital were injured in the eyes by pellets and he was shocked to know that the numbers had now jumped to 880.
Dr Natrajan, the Chairman and Managing Director of the Aditya Jyot Eye Hospital, Mumbai, has conducted 140 surgeries in Kashmir till September 21.
Though he has been able to bring back slight vision in the eyes of Firdous, a youth whose both eyes were damaged, he is unsure how many such injured would be able to see the world again.
“Every surgery is a challenge as pellets have damaged almost everything in the eye from front to back,” he says. “If macula or optic nerve is damaged, then the chances of regaining vision are grim and in most of the cases, the injured have damage to the macula.”
Natrajan, who is on his third visit to Kashmir in two-and-a-half-months, is “hopeful but not sure” that the injured who had undergone a couple of surgeries in the eyes would be able to see again.
“There are 25 patients who have damage to both eyes and the rest have damage to an eye,” he says. “We are trying to minimize the damage and hope they see again.”
Talking about the injury of Insha Malik, the 14-year-old girl, whose optic nerve has been damaged with a volley of pellets fired in her eyes, Dr Natrajan says, “When I met her, she told me that she wants to be an ophthalmologist but that is not possible now as her eyes are damaged beyond repair.”
According to Dr Natrajan, no ophthalmologist was ready to operate upon her but he took the challenge and operated upon her at his eye clinic but she was not about to regain vision.
When the ongoing uprising started in Kashmir and over 100 people lost vision to pellet guns, Dr Natrajan, who is on the board of the International Society for Ocular Trauma and Euretina, on the advice of a friend decided to visit Kashmir and help the injured.
“I received a message in a WhatsApp group comprising of about 100 ophthalmologists that Borderless World Foundation had asked for consent from ophthalmologists who wanted to help the people of Kashmir and I readily gave my consent,” he says.
Dr Natrajan first visited Kashmir on July 26 along with two more ophthalmologists and started his ‘Project Splendid Kashmir’.
“Initially, the injured thought I am an agent sent by the Government of India but I told them that I had come here to spread love and affection and want the same in return,” he says. “And since then, I have been coming here every month and getting love from the people of Kashmir.”
Dr Natrajan says it is this love of Kashmiri people that makes him visit the Valley repeatedly.
Whenever he is in Kashmir, back home his family and friends remain worried about his security.
“They know even ambulance driver are at risk,” he says.
Dr Natrajan, the former President of All Indian Ophthalmological Society, has updated Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who during these 77 days of uprising has not even visited the hospital once, about the severity of pellet injuries to the people.
“The CM told me that she wants peace in Kashmir and that it was New Delhi and Islamabad that had to sit together and solve the problem and that she could support doctors and provide equipment,” he says.
Dr Natrajan, an advocate of peace, says, “We all have to pray hard for Kashmir peace and think about the rehabilitation and counseling of these patients who are going to have a tough time ahead.”
He feels apologetic knowing that despite treatment, the eyes these injured will not function as they used to.
Yet, Dr Natarajan will not give up on treating them for he shares the love for humanity besides his new found love for Kashmir.