Church seeks to set up eye bank in violence-hit Kashmir

October 6, 2016 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

Srinagar, October 6, 2016: Catholic Church officials in Jammu and Kashmir have sought government permission to start an eye bank to help casualties of recent violence in the Muslim-majority state, where organ donation is eschewed.

Jammu-Srinagar Diocese, which covers the entire state, has submitted a proposal to the state’s Directorate of Health Services. “We are hopeful to have the necessary permissions to start soon,” said Father Shaiju Chacko, director of diocesan social services.

It is “a priority for the church as hundreds of people are suffering,” the priest said. Although Catholics are a minority in the state, the church exists to serve people regardless of “caste, creed and religion,” he said.

Some 11,000 people were injured and at least 80 people were killed in protests and security actions, when a demand for freedom from Indian rule turned violent. The violence flared after security forces shot and killed militant commander Burhan Wani on July 8.

An estimated 800 people suffered eye injuries as government forces made extensive use of pellet guns, considered to be non-lethal. When fired, the lead pellets disperse widely and penetrate skin and soft tissue. Eyes are especially vulnerable to severe and sometimes irreversible damage.

Pellets were introduced in Kashmir as a non-lethal alternative to bullets after security forces killed nearly 200 people to crush violent protests against Indian rule from 2008 to 2010.The state government’s reasoning was that when fired from a distance, pellets inflict only minor injuries.

However, local media reports quoting doctors say some 250 people have lost their eye sight.

As eye donation could help restore sight to victims of pellet injuries, doctors and members of Kashmir’s civil society have started to call for the establishment of an eye bank in Kashmir.

So far the state has not given a license to operate an eye bank, said Shazia Nabi, a civil rights advocate. A misconception exists among people that organ donation is against the basic teachings of Islam. “Being a Muslim majority state, people are reluctant to the idea of organ donation,” Nabi explained.

Islamic scholar Mufti Nazir Ahmad said that Islam once looked at organ donation — from a living or dead person — as an immorality. But now it is “permissible and appreciated” provided there is the consent of the donor, no danger to the donor’s life and the organs are not being sold, he explained.

Ophthalmologists like Sajad Khanday, a specialist in medical and surgical eye problems, say that if a license for eye transplant is issued, corneas could be transplanted to help restore the sight of many. Only a cornea needs to be transplanted, not the entire eye, said Khanday who is Kashmir’s leading ophthalmologist.

He told that eye donation should be seen “as the highest human act of charity” consistent with the tenets of all religions. “However, traditional beliefs are a major stumbling block for eye or organ donation in Kashmir.”

Khanday said media campaigns and awareness programs are necessary to help people understand the necessity of organ donations.

For Asif Ahmad, who lost his sight due to pellets, anyone who donated their eyes for him after death would be “an angel.” Asif, a university student, said he felt an electric shock in his head followed by a sudden darkness all around. Doctors who operated on his eyes declared him blind.

“I am waiting for the day when I will be able to see again. Life is nothing without light,” sighed Asif as his mother sobbed nearby.

Father Chacko said the church’s aim is to help people like Ahmed. Permission to operate an eye bank “will be a dream come true. We hope the government will understand the situation and soon allow us to function,” he told ucanews.

– ucan

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