Srinagar: Sitting near the window of their one-room home in Karimabad, Pulwama, around 27 km from Srinagar, eight-year-old Owais Ahmad looks tired and helpless. His bloodshot right eye is swollen.
His family alleges that security forces shot him with pellet guns on May 22 after a clash erupted in the area between the youth and security forces.
Born to his parents after 15 years of them trying to have a child, Ahmad is loved by all his neighbours, his mother, Ameena Bano, says. She says she would look into her son’s dazzling green eyes on any given day and thank god for having given her a child.
It has been more than three weeks since Ahmad’s family has been waiting for surgery so that they can get to know whether there is a chance he could regain his eyesight.
“I asked doctor if my son will regain his eyesight, he was silent,” Ameena says.
On the afternoon of May 22, security forces launched a search operation in Karimabad village in Pulwama. Fayaz Mir, Ahmad’s father, had been taken along by security forces and ordered to help them in the door-to-door search operation. Taking civilians along for search operations to find militants in Kashmir by security forces is a norm. Many civilians have also lost their lives doing the same over the years.
According to the family, that afternoon, Ahmad was playing with some other children near a stream in their locality where the children usually bathe and have some fun. It was at that time that the clashes erupted.
“I was scared when I saw security forces running after those who were supposedly pelting stones,” said Ahmad, who also ran to get out of the situation.
Ahmad reached a narrow passage in a different locality, where he tried to hide himself from the forces. But many of the youth who allegedly pelted stones had already gathered there, says his family.
“When my son tried to move from there, he was shot with pellets. Locals took Ahmad to a house because they couldn’t immediately rush him to the hospital due to the fear of security forces.”
In pain, Ahmad cried continuously and said he wanted to go home. The locals finally took him. From there, he was taken to the hospital only after the search operation wrapped up in the village.
Ahmad was first taken to the district hospital in Pulwama, and was then shifted to Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital.
As per the medical reports, Ahmad has a hole in the iris of his right eye. When Mir asked them about his son’s condition, he says the doctors told him, “We will get that know only after the surgery.”
Security forces have long been using pellet shot guns with the aim of crowd control during protests in Jammu and Kashmir. Amnesty International India documented more than “88 people’s eyesight was damaged – some temporarily, some permanently – by metal pellets between 2014 and 2017”.
In a recent report on Children and Armed Conflict in Jammu and Kashmir, the United Nations verified the killing (8) and maiming (7) of 15 children between ages of 1 to 17 by joint operations of the CRPF, Indian army, SOG, Lashkar-e-Taiba, or during shelling across the line of control.
‘Thinking of taking loan from bank’
Making matter worse, the family has been struggling financially. Mir, his wife Ameena and Ahmad live in a single room. With the lockdown, earning money became even harder.
“After my son was shot, I have been staying in home. I have no one to take care of my work, so I have zero income at the moment,” he said.
The doctors have told the family that Ahmad has to go through a few surgeries. “His eye has to be operated on June 23, after which doctors will come to know about any improvement.”
Mir is now thinking of taking a loan from the bank as he will not be able to pay outright for the medical expenses. “We have already spent over Rs 15,000 on his treatment without having any surgery yet. I think we might have to spend a lot of money,” he sighed.
“I cannot stare towards the light, and I don’t feel like going outside,” Ahmad tells his father. According to Mir, Ahmad’s mental health has been on the decline since the incident.
The family says that whenever there is any clash nearby or when he hears from someone there are security forces in the area, Ahmad becomes scared. “He doesn’t move and repeatedly asks me when they (forces) will leave,” said Mir.
These days, Ahmad’s friends visit him sometimes and try to divert his attention.
After a long struggle amid financial issues, the family had admitted Ahmad in a school in Karimabad a few years back. Ahmad, currently a Class 3 student, is worried about his studies.
“He was asking me whether he can attend the examination and it broke my heart. I know he wanted to study and make our name,” said his mother, who prays consistently for her son’s eyesight to be restored.
His father told The Wire that the police claim that their son was part of the protest that day. “But he is just eight year old, he is too young to do that,” said Mir.