Forgotten by us

  • Nayeem Rather
  • Publish Date: Oct 14 2017 1:40AM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Oct 14 2017 1:40AM
Forgotten by us

Not just the state, our society too has failed Kashmir’s pellet victims

 

 


Mehraj Din Dar, 24

Sher Colony, Sopore

Injured on August 15, 2016

 

“Patte Kamis Chu Yaad Roozan,” Mehraj says when asked if anyone helped him through his ordeal.

Mehraj, 24, is a pellet victim from Sher Colony in Sopore. “I have no expectations from the government but I had expectations from our people but they disappointed.”

Mehraj says he was returning home from work and chanced upon a stone-pelting protest at Gadde Koche. The forces were firing tear gas and pellets at the protesters.

“There were many other people there. We began to run to safety but in the chaos, a volley of pellets hit me on my face, from close range. They were fired by CRPF men.”

Three surgeries later, Mehraj cannot see with his right eye. The injury has changed his life irrevocably, pushing him into “near beggary”.

Mehraj, a landless labourer, worked on the farms of other people to feed his wife, son and daughter. He had saved about Rs 20,000 for his children’s education. But that money went for his treatment. His children had to leave private school because he could no longer afford their fees. They are now in government school.

“I had lots of dreams for my children,” he says. “But everything is lost. I do not know what to do. I have contemplated suicide many times.”

Mehraj was hoping for help from his community, or the Auqaf committee, but it never came. He says he went to many people asking for help but they turned him down.

Tired of asking the people, Mehraj approached the local legislator. “He didn’t even let me enter his house despite knowing about my case.” 

 

 


Ulfat Hameed Parrey, 18

Andargam, Pattan

Injured on October 1, 2016

Her family spent over Rs 2.5 lakh on her treatment, including two surgeries, but Ulfat’s left eye could not be saved.

“My father is a labourer. It was getting difficult for him to feed our family. I have two sisters, both younger to me. To help my father, I took up tailoring after school. I used to earn around Rs 9,000 a month and we were making do. I had dreams; I wanted to see to it that my sisters got a decent education. But all the money I had saved has gone for my treatment.”

“I wanted to be my father’s son. Our only brother was killed in a road accident two years ago.”

“I was in class 10 when I got injured. I wanted to study more and become a teacher. But that dream remained just a dream.”

“After the blinding, I am unable to study or work. I try to study but my eyes hurt. I cannot walk on my own, someone has to hold me by hand. I have become dependent on others.”

“I get nightmares of being shot with pellets again and again. I wake up with a terrible headache.”

“I wish I had died instead of being blinded. My world is dark. I am a living dead.”

 


Omair Ahmad Ganie, 15 

Gousia Abad, Sopore

Injured on July 14, 2016

“See my arms and ears, I don’t have any jewellery. I sold it all for my son,” says Heleema Akhtar , 37. Omair, her son, looks away, his eyes welled up. “I told you I don’t want to get operated upon,” he says to his mother. “Why don’t you listen to me?”

Haleema is a frail woman, wearing an old kameez with almost torn sleeves. Omair’s room is dark but for a beam of light flickering through the tarpaulin that covers the windows.

“We keep this room dark for Omair,” Haleema says. “Light hurts him.”

Omair, a ninth-grader, had accompanied his mother to a local hospital. As they were coming back, they were caught in a pitched battle between stone-pelting protesters and the CRPF at Shalpora Crossing. Omair says they hid behind a shop. But the CRPF men, whom he “vividly remembers”, came after them and fired pellets in their direction. He was hit in the lower body, neck, face and eyes. He fell to the ground. He underwent two surgeries at SMHS Hospital in Srinagar but to no avail. The doctors at the SHMS Hospital told his family to take him to Delhi or Punjab for further treatment, but they couldn’t afford it.

“Whatever money and jewellery we had, we spent. We have no money left now,” says Haleema.

Omair’s father is a daily wage labourer, earning about Rs 8,000 a month. “Whatever he earns is spent on treatment and medicines,” Haleema adds.

Because his family cannot afford another surgery, Omair is suffering. “I have begun to lose eyesight in other eye too. The doctors say if I do not have another operation immediately, I could go completely blind,” Omair says.

The family says their neighbours helped them initially but they are on their own now. “Initially, some help came. But no more. We can’t blame anyone. We all have our own lives to live,” says Haleema.

“I wish I could cry,” says Omair. “I wish I could die. What do I have to live for? Just blindness, bleak darkness.”

 

 

Mohammad Ramzan Khan, 51

Bangdara, Kreeri, Baramulla

Injured on August 4, 2016

Since pellets ruined his right eye, Ramzan has barely slept. Not because of his injury, he says, but because he has four daughters of marriageable age, and no money to marry them. He has no land or employment. And there is no one to help. “I have absolutely no hope. I have pinned all my hopes on God,” he says.

Ramzan was shot with pellets by the J&K police’s Special Task Force, blinding him in the right eye.

His eye was operated upon twice and his doctors advised him to go to Delhi for further treatment. “I didn’t go,” he says. “I had no money and gradually I lost my eyesight completely.”

Ramzan used to work as a mason, earning Rs 400 a day. Since the injury he can barely see or walk let alone work. “I stumble if I walk by myself. I cannot concentrate on anything for two minutes with my left eye.”

He rues that no one has come forward with “substantial” help. “I can’t earn even Rs 10 now and my family is on the verge of begging. We hardly manage to eat on daily basis. I have no agricultural land.”

Ramzan had approached the Baramulla deputy commissioner for help, but to no avail. “I simply don’t know what to do now.”

 

 

Nisar Ahmed Lone, 34

Heeri, Kupwara

Injured on August 23, 2016

A labourer, Nisar was picking walnuts when a group of protesters passed by. They were being chased by CRPF and STF men, firing tear gas shells and pellets. The forces spotted him on the tree and fired pellets at him, hitting him all over his body and damaging his left eye. He has since been living a “life of misery”.

“I cannot see anything with my damaged eye,” Nisar says. “I was a daily wage labourer. I earned around Rs 15,000 a month and with that I managed to feed my wife and two daughters. I worked hard; I dreamed of making my daughters doctors. That dream is gone now.”

“I am not able to do anything now. I cannot even go out into the sun. When I got out, my head starts aching. There are still pellets lodged in it. I get extreme pain, it is unbearable.”

“At night, I can barely sleep. I feel this constant sensation like someone is scrubbing my hair with an iron scrubber. I bear it all, for my daughters. I do not want them to know that I am in pain.”

“I don’t have any dreams anymore, not even a wish to live. I don’t think I will be able to do anything. I cannot. I have been rendered too weak to do anything.”

“Many times I think of committing suicide. But I then think what will happen to my daughters. I wish I had died that day instead of getting blind.”

“No one has helped me. I am on my own. Whatever money I had saved has supported us so far, but I don’t know for how long it is going to last.”

“I am thinking of begging now. There is no other alternative.”

“On top of everything, the Kupwara police has not stopped harassing me. I had gone to the station to lodge an FIR but they refused. They threatened to arrest me for being a ‘stone-pelter”. I told them I am not. Also, they want me to accept money from the local MLA and keep quiet about my injury. I have refused. I can’t accept money from those who blinded me. I cannot accept money from those who have murdered our kids.”

 

Inadequate support

Although many NGO and charity organisations have provided monetary help to pellet victims, especially in Kashmir’s rural areas, but it is not nearly enough.

Istiyaq Ahmed Mir, a social worker, says some victims are being helped but it is not adequate. Also, much of the help is in the form of providing basic medicines. “Most of the victims come from poor families. We have helped them to buy medicines. But that is not enough. They need more,” Ishtiyaq says.

Many of the victims were the breadwinners of their families. Their families are desperate. “I know some families that are literally begging. Some have sold land to eat,” Ishtiyaq says. “It is the responsibility of our society to help them.”

Advocate Habeel Iqbal Taing, who is working with a pellet victims group, points out that it is the state’s moral obligation and legal responsibility to rehabilitate the victims. “The primary responsibility is with the state. They blinded them so they must rehabilitate them.”

Habeel is waging a legal fight on behalf of some pellet victims who have been denied disability benefits. He says in most of these cases, the victim’s disability has been put at 30%, which is 10% less than that required to avail social security benefits. Habeel blames the state for creating such “systemic as well as systematic” hurdles.

The state follows the archaic Jammu and Kashmir Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1998, to provide disability benefits to pellet victims. It requires the victim to have double the magnitude of disability than is mandated by India’s Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, to fall under the definition of “blindness’’.

“As a consequence of this, most pellet victims do not come under the definition of ‘disability’ and they are thus denied the disability benefits systematically,” Habeel says. “It seems the state of J&K is deliberately not bringing the state law on a par with the central law. By doing so, the state is not only further hurting the pellet victims but it is also keeping a large number of disable persons out of the ambit of disability benefits.”