Over 2,500 people were injured, many in the eyes, by pellets fired by security forces during the crackdown on protesters following the killing of militant Burhan Wani in July 2016. Fayaz Wani and photographer Zahoor Punjabi met a few pellet victims to see how they were coping, and found that their stories were no less moving than that of Insha Mushtaq, who cleared her class X exams despite being blinded in the firing
From shop owner to salesman
Nayeem Khan, 26, was standing near his house at Safa-Kadal in downtown Srinagar on July 26, 2016, watching from a distance the stone throwing going on in the area.
“The security men fired tear gas shells and pellets towards the crowd. Before I could realize what was happening, blood started oozing from my right eye. I was taken to a hospital, where doctors said I was hit by pellets,” said Nayeem, the only son of his parents.
His family took him to Amritsar, where he was operated upon. “The doctors suggested another surgery last year for regaining some vision in the damaged eye. However, due to financial constraints, my family could not afford the surgery,” said Nayeem.
The family has been financially drained by the cost of treating Nayeem’s injured eye.
“I had a vehicle and I sold it for my treatment. I was running a shop selling garments and cosmetics, but had to close it as I remained confined to my house for about a year,” Nayeem said.
Sold wife’s jewellery for treatment
Firdous Ahmad Bhat, a father of three, was hit by pellets in the left eye on September 5, 2016.
“I was part of a religious congregation in the Palpora area of Noorbagh in Srinagar. The security personnel, without any provocation or justification, started firing pellets and tear gas to disperse the congregation. I was hit by pellets in the left eye and hospitalized,” said Bhat.
His vision in the left eye has been badly affected. “I was operated upon by doctors in Srinagar hospital. I had to sell some of my wife’s jewellery to bear the expense of surgery and medicines,” said Bhat.
His elder daughter is 11 years old and the younger one is two years old.
“My livelihood has been affected after my eye suffered damage. I used to earn `400-500 by making bags before my eye was damaged, and now I hardly earn `150-250. The fall in daily income is due to the fact that I cannot concentrate on my work for long due to the stress on the eye,” said Firdous, adding that he had been experiencing memory loss since he suffered the injury to his left eye.
Even the Disabled not spared
Showkat Ahmad Misgar, 42, who is mentally challenged, was hit by pellets in the left eye on September 17, 2016 in the Safa-Kadal area of Srinagar.
“No stone throwing was going on in the area. The security personnel fired pellets and targeted Showkat after some boys called a police officer by his nickname. When I tried to rescue the injured Showkat, the cops fired pellets towards me, injuring my right leg,” said Showkat’s cousin Hilal Ahmad.
The locals said the police and paramilitary personnel knew that Showkat was mentally challenged, but still they fired pellets at him.
Showkat lost vision in his left eye and the doctors said this could affect his right eye if he did not get proper treatment.
Showkat’s family is going through a tough time. His elder brother Nazir Ahmad Misgar, who was taking care of him, is suffering from health problems.
He is the only earning male member of the family, which comprises his two daughters, wife, mother and Showkat.
Passed class X despite blinding
Sixteen-year-old Faizan Nazir Sheikh, whose eyes were damaged by pellets last year, has passed his class X exams.
“On March 19, 2017, when I was watching clashes between youths and security personnel in the area, security men fired pellets towards me. They hit my left eye,” said Faizan, a resident of Nawab Bazar area in Srinagar. He underwent multiple surgeries, however, that did not help. Even as he was coping with the situation, tragedy struck again.
“On August 7, 2017, I went out to give a pack of juice to a customer at my small provisional store. As I stepped out of the lane, security personnel in an armoured vehicle fired a pellet cartridge at me without provocation. The pellets hit my right eye and damaged it completely,” said Faizan. He now has only five per cent vision in the left eye.
Faizan’s relatives and friends helped him clear the class 10 exams by recording his tutorials and helping him memorise them.
Forced By Injury To Give Up Studies
Salman Gulzar, 16, was hit by pellets in the right eye on July 26, 2016, a few hundred metres away from his home in Bagwanpora, Noorbagh, in downtown Srinagar.
“I underwent two surgeries in a Srinagar hospital and the doctors told me last year that a third surgery was needed,” said Salman. But since his father was a handloom worker, he could not afford the cost of the additional surgery.
Salman has not only delayed the vital surgery on his pellet-hit eye, he has also given up his studies. “The circumstances forced me to give up studies and take the job of a salesman in a retail cloth shop,” he said.
Like many others, Salman had big dreams.
“I wanted to pursue higher education and provide a decent life to my family. But all my dreams and those of my family have been shattered.”
“How can I support my family when I am myself dependent on them,” he said, and added that the government should provide monetary assistance or jobs on humanitarian grounds to pellet victims so that they could sustain themselves and their families.
‘Take My Job, Give Me Vision In One Eye’
Daanish Ahmad, 25, was hit by pellets in both eyes at Rainawari Chowk in Srinagar on July 17, 2016.
“My left eye was totally damaged by the pellets. The doctors retrieved a cartridge of pellets from the left eye,” said Daanish.
He said he underwent two surgeries on his right eye, which was also damaged by the pellets. The surgical procedures restored five per cent vision in his left eye.
“I cannot see a person sitting in front of me. I can only see a shadow,” he said.
Daanish was a marketing executive in a firm and now sits idle at home.
Daanish was recently given an appointment order for a government job by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.
While he has been given the job, he cannot perform his duties. “How can I perform the duty when I cannot see?” he asked.
“For me, vision is more important than the job. Can they take my job and restore vision in at least one of my eyes?” he said.