We prayed for a peaceful Friday, hoping that no one dies of bullet injuries and nobody is blinded by pellets, but that was not to be. An eyewitness account.
Srinagar: As the imposition of curfew continued, I left home on Friday (August 5) morning with a friend in an ambulance to volunteer at the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital, a major public hospital in Srinagar that has treated hundreds of people injured by bullets and pellets in the last month. Till midday, no major injuries were reported at the hospital. Even a few hours after the Friday prayers, things were relatively calm. The hospital was continuing to treat patients admitted for injuries sustained in the last few weeks.
We prayed for a peaceful Friday, hoping that no one is shot at, no one dies of bullet injuries and nobody is blinded by pellets. But in the afternoon, our worst fears came true.
Ambulances rushed in with a stream of injured young people, some of them holding their bloodied eyes injured with pellets, others brought in on stretchers with bullet injuries. People had bullet injuries in their legs, arms and abdomen. In north, south and central Kashmir, blood was spilled yet again. People accompanying the injured talked about being at the receiving end of “targeted firing” by the security forces.
The hospital corridors were suddenly filled with a frantic rush of people and attendants in the late afternoon. People were rushing the injured into the casualty ward. Some screamed in grief, others shouted azadi slogans in anger. Every eye was moist.
Minutes later, the cries and slogans grew even louder as a group of attendants and others emerged from the casualty ward. A 21-year old, who was brought from the Khansahid area of Budgam, had succumbed to his bullet injuries. He was declared ‘brought dead’ by the doctors. Carrying his body covered in a white sheet, people made their way out of the hospital, crying and shouting slogans. The white shroud was getting soaked in blood near his abdomen, where he had received a bullet.
As mourners carried his lifeless body past me in the hospital corridor, my legs froze. The young man’s mouth was half open, his head bandaged and arms swaying on the stretcher as he was carried out of the hospital. He had become a statistic, another number in the “56 killed and over 4,000 injured” in the past 29 days. Since July 9, about 378 people have sustained eye injuries. Many of them may never be able to see again.
As soon as the group stepped outside the hospital, the police came through the gates. They asked the group to immediately hand over the body of the young man they were carrying on their shoulders. The mourners raised an outcry as they wanted to offer funeral prayers.
The police then fired teargas shells very close to the hospital emergency entrance. Terrified, people ran into the hospital corridors, choking with tears induced by the teargas that now filled the entrance. The body was taken away by the young man’s relatives and hidden from the policemen. The volunteers, who were trying to help the injured, also ran in the commotion following the teargas explosions. A few of them were injured in the melee. Women inside the hospital were wailing, many of them beating their chests. “Ha Kudayo, marek ha!” (Oh God, they are killing us!) an inconsolable woman cried, raising her arms in the air. “Kaeta jawan maerik” (How many youth they have killed!)
Writing on the wall
Earlier that afternoon, we had travelled in an ambulance to drop a patient in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. On the way, while passing through lush green rice fields and ripening apple orchids, we could sense an enforced silence on the roads littered with stones and road blocks. Posters with messages like ‘Burhan Zindabad’ and ‘Burhan abhi zinda hai’ (Burhan is still alive) could be seen hung across electrical poles on the main roads.
One of the flex banners on a main road in a Pulwama village had a montage of Burhan Wani photos with a message written in capital letters: “NO SOLUTION. ONLY GUN SOLUTION, ONLY GUN SOLUTION”. The roads leading to Pulwama were covered in graffiti, in white capital letters: “GO INDIA GO BACK”. Even the shutters of closed shops had defiant messages painted over them. “I FEAR NO BULLETS” was painted in red on the shutters of a shop in Pulwama. A few kilometers ahead, the shutters of a few closed shops had a counter message – “We love Army” – painted in black over the earlier message of “We love freedom”.
The police, CRPF and other paramilitary forces were stationed on all major roads and crossings leading to the district. They looked exhausted, having failed to quell public protests and keep people away from the streets for more than three weeks now. Many policemen could be seen sleeping on pavements, lying on the roadside after enforcing yet another day of curfew. They looked as if they hadn’t slept in days, worn down by their battle against protesters.
While going home that day, I came across about 100 people of all age groups, including women, who had assembled for a peaceful protest. They lit up the evening with candles of protest. They also shouted slogans of freedom. Soon after, the police came and charged at them with batons, firing teargas shells to disperse the assembly. People ran for their lives, disappearing into the inner lanes, away from the main road. The candles were left abandoned on the roadside, some of them trampled upon, others still flickering.
Walking closer to my home, I could hear protest slogans blaring from neighbourhood mosques while, in between, more teargas shells exploded in the distance. The protests stretched into the night in other parts of the city as well.
As I stepped inside my home, sad, exhausted and overwhelmed with emotions, I saw a news ticker running at the bottom of a news channel: “Centre tells Supreme Court: Situation under control in Kashmir”. It was followed by another brief news ticker: “3 killed, over 100 injured in Kashmir”. Bloody Friday had come to an end.