Alone is the darkness

  • Auqib Salam
  • Publish Date: Feb 26 2018 1:13AM
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  • Updated Date: Feb 26 2018 8:19PM
Alone is the darkness

Once remembered as ‘living martyrs’, Kashmiris injured and blinded by pellets have been mostly forgotten by their society, let alone the state

In the restive summer of 2016, “pellet” became perhaps the most feared word in Kashmir. Not without reason: employed by the government forces to crush protests ignited by Burhan Wani’s killing, pellets left thousands of people wounded, hundreds of them blinded, partially or completely. It was a great humanitarian tragedy that moved the civil society, media, aid and human rights agencies – and they all vocally demanded rehabilitation of the “pellet victims”, especially the men, women and children robbed of their vision.

But two years later, they are at risk of being abandoned – and normalised as yet another bloodied facet of the Kashmir conflict like custodial killing, torture, enforced disappearance, rape. Once described as “living martyrs”, many pellet victims have now come to begging for some attention – forget compassion – from society and state. Scores of them gathered at Srinagar’s Press Enclave in mid-February to draw attention to their plight.

Chiefly, they were demonstrating, they said, to make people aware of their circumstances. They alleged that some NGOs were even minting money in their name, forcing them to float the J&K Pellet Victims Association. They appealed the public to help them directly through this association so as to keep out “people running shops” in their name.

As for the state, they argued that the government’s token compensation to a handful among the victims had harmed rather than helped them. Terming the compensation as “mere eyewash”, Muhammad Ashraf Wani, 28, from Rahmoo in Pulwama, who was injured in his right eye in Oct 2016, said people had stopped helping them after the government announced jobs for a few victims. “There is a belief among people that we got compensation and jobs from government but that is not true,” he said. “Only 13 victims out of 1,250 who were hit in their eyes got jobs, which is not even two percent of us. Our condition is such that our sisters have to sell their jewellery to pay for our treatment.”

Ashraf reiterated that “we want people to help us through our association so that the help reaches the deserving victims. There are many people and some NGOs who are minting money in our name while leaving us in the lurch.”

Some of the pellet victims said they could no longer afford treatment and, as a consequence, were losing whatever was left of their vision. Aamir Hussain, 24, from Shopian, was injured in his eyes in July 2016. He had to give up treatment after just two months. “It is very unfortunate that helping us has been reduced to social media campaigns,” he complained. “Will only posting emotional comments on social media help us?”

“I couldn’t get treatment after two months because I ran out of money,” he added. “We want our people to help us locally so that we don’t have to beg the government. We want to remind the public that we are the same people who were promised help by every section of the society. What happened to those promises? Do you want us to beg to the state?”

Shabroza Jan, 17, from Rahmoo village in Pulwama was preparing for her class 10 exam when she was hit by pellets in her left eye in October 2016. Hers is a poor family and they have struggled to pay for her treatment, let alone her education. Shehas had three surgeries with no improvement in her eyesight. “I was alone when protests started near our house and the forces started smashing window panes. I was terrified and I towards our neighbour’s house. Before I could get there, I was hit by pellets in my eye,” Shabroza recalled. “We have had to manage one and a half lakh rupees for my three surgeries and my father is a farmer.”

She was going for her second surgery when her classmates wrote the class 10 exam. “They are in class 12 now, and it breaks my heart thinking that I am sitting at home while they are in school. It is difficult for me to even look at a book for a long time. It hurts.”

The young woman complained that the “attitude of people towards us has changed since the government said they would give compensation to pellet victims”. “People think we got compensation and jobs but we did not,” she said.

There were many pellet victims like Shabroza, Aamir and Ashraf at the Press Enclave who felt let down by both their people and the state, and they were crying for help. Is anybody listening?



‘Please, don’t forget us’

Owais Farooq Rather, from Pulwama, partially lost vision in both eyes when he was hit by pellets in August 2016. The 16-year-old was part of the demonstration at the Press Enclave, where he spoke with Ink.


When did you get hit?

In August 2016. I was returning home from tuition and came upon a protest by a group of group. The Indian forces indiscriminately fired pellets at the protesters and I was hit as well. I wasn’t even protesting.

I was injured in both eyes but my left eye was severely damaged. There were five pellets in my left eye; two were removed at SMHS Hospital in Srinagar and the rest in three separate surgeries in Hyderabad. They also removed more than 200 pellets from my head.


Do you want help from the government?

No, I don’t want any help from the state. I won’t take it even if they offer. It was the state that blinded us first and then created a problem for us by announcing help to a handful of the victims. It has changed the perception of the people towards us. Everyone thinks we received help and the result you see. We have been forced to take to the streets to demonstrate that we did not receive any help from the government. We are calling out to people for help. But I want to tell people that don’t let anyone extract money from you in our name. If you want to help us, please do so directly through our association.


Are you able to afford your treatment?

I am not from a rich family. In fact, most of us who have gathered here today come from humble backgrounds. My father is a farmer and he can barely attend to our day-to-day needs, let alone pay for my treatment. It has always been very difficult for us but now as our people have started forgetting us, it is heart-aching. It costs 15-20 thousand rupees to just visit Hyderabad for a check-up. The medical costs run into lakhs of rupees.

So, I’m again appealing to our people: “Please, don’t forget us.”