They all turn a blind eye to pellet-blinded in J&K

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Blinded forever: Insha, 14, lost her both eyes to pellets (photo: Faisal Khan)

Sohail Shafi, 25, of Sopore was born deaf and dumb. Now he can’t also see in one eye, hit by pellets during the current strife. No, Sohail wasn’t throwing stones nor part of a protest. His family says he got hit while going out on Bakr Eid to call his brother to attend the sacrifice of an animal at the home.

Before his fatal injury, Sohail, despite his disabilities, earned well. He worked as a videographer and a decoration man in weddings.

“Now with just one seeing eye, it will be difficult for him to continue the work,” says the mother Sara. “What will happen to him now? Who will take care of him? He already can’t hear and speak”.

Urfi Jan, 19, of Shopian was preparing for her board when just twelve days ahead of her first paper ob October 28 she was hit by pellet gunfire while on her way to see her ailing grandmother in the neighbouring village. She now can’t see in her left eye. Doctors at SHMS, Srinagar’s main hospital have so far unsuccessfully tried to salvage some vision. “I couldn’t write my examination. And I just can’t come to terms with this fact,” Jan says as her right eye turned moist. “My life has been scarred now”.

Her family says she was preparing for the exam over the duration of the unrest with her four cousins but ultimately couldn’t write it. “Her cousins also decided not to take the exam in solidarity with her,” says her mother Atiqa. Yet another teenager Touseef Ahmad Khawaja, a Class 12 student from Kralgund, could not appear in his annual examination after pellets left him half-blinded and a bullet ripped through his left shoulder. He is still being treated at the hospital.

“Bullet has been recovered from my shoulder but my eye treatment is still ongoing,” Khawaja said. “I can’t see with my one eye. Doctors have already performed two surgeries. They are trying their best”.
Khawaja has his own story about how he ran into the midst of the security forces and was fired at: “It was Friday. My father asked me to get bread from a shop. On my return, forces appeared out of nowhere and fired at me which hit my left shoulder,” Towseef recalled. “Seconds later they fired pellets at me, some of which hit my left eye”.

These are but a few of the estimated 1,100 of the people, a significant number of them youth, whose vision has been impaired, for many of them irreparably. Pellets have also caused the death of 14 people and injured a massive 7136 people in various parts of body, figures from Valley hospitals estimate. Among these injured is Mohsin, 18, from Pulwama who was brought to SMHS Hospital in July with an “entire pellet cartridge in his spine”. Mohsin had suffered severe spinal cord injuries and doctors foresee a lifelong confinement to bed.

Records with SMHS and the SKIMS Medical College, Valley’s main hospitals, reveal that 1,130 patients with eye injuries due to pellets were admitted for the treatment. Among them is Insha, the 14 year old girl, who lost her both eyes to pellets. Her plight has since become emblematic of the current turmoil in Valley. The picture taken of her disfigured and pellet-riddled face while lying on a hospital bed has become a reference point for the horror wrought by the indiscriminate use of the pump action guns, popularly known as pellet guns in Valley.

Forced by public outrage, Insha was sent by state government to AIIMS for treatment and later to Mumbai. But after conducting several rounds of surgeries, doctors declared her completely blind. She returned home to an uncertain, dark future. Sitting among her family members she demands to see again and continue her studies.

“I want to see again,” she insists to her mother and asks for her books and the school bag.”I want to go back to school”.

Now the veteran separatist leader Shabir Shah has adopted Insha and he has once again rushed her to Mumbai for further treatment. Earlier Shah’s wife, two daughters, elder brother, sister and a few other family members visited Insha’s village Sedow in Shopian to seek her parents’ permission “to take her home”.

However, while Insha due to media attention has been looked after by the government and the separatists — albeit with no real redeeming difference to her plight – the rest have been forgotten. Their parents have been left to bear the heavy expenses of their treatment alone. For obvious reasons, the State Government has tried to play down their tragedy. And except for a exploitation of their collective plight for politics, separatists have done so far little to extend a helping hand to them.

This was the case too with the youth blinded in 2010 unrest. Forty five people, according to a study by the SMHS in the same year, lost their vision in one or both the eyes. But nobody now knows who they were. Amir Kabir of Baramulla was one of the first to be blinded by pellet guns. The pellets pierced through his retina, and he lost vision in both eyes. Successive surgeries failed to recover his sight.

“I was told at hospitals in both Chennai and Delhi that had there not been delays, chances of regaining some vision may have been better”, Kabir says. “But that opportunity is lost. There is nothing a specialised treatment can do now”.

This is a prognosis that stands true for Insha and scores of others similarly injured who have now been reduced to a statistic in the description of the current unrest in Valley. The plight of hundreds of others who are less grievously injured but with little chance of regaining their full sight hasn’t similarly been a concern beyond its political use in advancing various ideological and political agendas.

Moin Mushtaq, 11, of Khanyar in downtown Srinagar was hit in the right eye by pellets when he was playing cricket at a ground. The family took him to a hospital in Indore where doctors performed two surgeries on him but the prospects of his regaining the sight look bleak.

“Nobody helped us out. We had to bear all the expenses ourselves,” says the father Mushtaq Ahmad, a small time baker. “We had to stay in Indore for sixteen days. But we have to still spend on the treatment and there is little hope that my son can see again in his one eye”.

The families of the pellet-hit Firdous Ahmad and Zahid Ahmad from Sopore have faced the similar hardships, being left alone to shoulder their burden. What is more, there is no discourse worth its name underlining the need for solidarity and support for the victims. This concern was highlighted in a recent editorial of a local English daily. “The blinded and injured youth have been left to fend for themselves. It is cynical on our part to project the victims of gross human rights excesses as reference points for the uncounted sacrifices made by the people of state over the past 27 years and not do anything for them at a community level,” the editorial carried by Kashmir Observer read. “Did anybody help these families to cope with their trauma and pain? Did anybody help them financially? These questions have answers that could embarrass us all — we the lovers of big fat and showy weddings with a penchant for the large, hulking houses that we don’t need”.

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