Srinagar: The ophthalmology ward at Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital received its first pellet victim since the Centre’s announcement to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status – and bifurcate it into two union territories – at around 11:50 am on August 5. He was 17-year-old Akeel Dar, with nine pellets in his right eye and four in his left.
The white-tiled walls of Ward No. 8 were filled with the shadows of Akeel’s relatives, surrounding the bed on which the teenage boy lay. His face was swollen and his hazel eyes had turned bloody, with tears continuously rolling down his cheeks.
Akeel, an only child, narrated the events leading up to when he lost vision in his right eye and his left eye became blurry.
Akeel and his 50-year-old father, Ghulam Mohammad Dar, who works as a daily wage labourer, were sitting in front of the television on the morning of August 5 watching India Today’s coverage of the ongoing parliament session in Delhi. Other news channels had been barred.
A day before the parliament session, on August 4, all cellular, internet and phone services had been snapped in the Valley.
“All of us were sitting in the kitchen, we were waiting to hear why Kashmir had been put under a curfew. We were sure a war between India and Pakistan was imminent as most colleges in the Valley were occupied by the forces and an emergency had been declared. Additional troops were deployed. Tourists and Amarnath pilgrims were ordered to leave as soon as possible,” Akeel said.
At 11:19 am, Union home minister Amit Shah stood up in the Rajya Sabha to introduce two bills – revoking Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and reorganising the state into two Union Territories. “It was clear, all the preparations were made to stop people from protesting against revoking of Articles 35A and 370. They [the government] knew the people weren’t going to accept such an undemocratic decision,” the young boy added.
Soon after, people in Srinagar’s downtown area began raising slogans against the ruling BJP government over the scrapping of J&K’s autonomy.
Slogans were resounding from the deserted streets as forces prepared to chase away protestors using pellets, bullets and teargas canisters. Young Akeel ran out of his one-story house to see what the chaos was all about.
“I reached the corner of the lane, which connects my home with the main square. Even before I could figure out what was happening, I saw one CRPF man already in a position to shoot,” Akeel recalled.
It was a shotgun loaded with a metal pellet cartridge, and before Akeel could turn back, pellets shot out of the barrel towards him. Most of them pierced his eyes and face.
“I screamed in pain, everything in my sight seemed broken into pieces. The shooter ran towards me and when he realised that I was badly hurt, he left me there,” said Akeel, wiping tears from his eyes.
He didn’t know it then, but his right eye’s lens had been damaged and the retina sliced due to the hot metal pellets. He was still able to see from his left eye, but the vision was blurry.
Akeel’s friends and neighbours managed to get him to hospital, but during their journey, they were stopped multiple times. They had to make multiple detours due to the barricades placed by the security forces.
Akeel was the first patient to enter the hospital premises with pellet injuries since the declaration of Jammu and Kashmir as a Union Territory.
His screams kept echoing through the hospital’s corridor. “Mea ha gov gaash (I have lost my vision),” he yelled. His friends were trying to calm him but he continued screaming in pain.
“I was taken to the X-ray room, I thought they wanted to see if my bones are broken, but they were trying to find how many pellets were in my body,” Akeel said.
Ninety pellets were found in his body – most of them in his upper torso. Just as he came out of the dark X-ray room, Ghulam Mohammad and his wife, 45-year-old Sakeena Begum, ran toward their child, wailing and beating their chests.
After a few hours, Akeel was taken to the operation theatre, but pellets weren’t removed from his eyes then. From there he was shifted to Ward No. 8.
A second operation will be conducted when the swelling from his eyes down goes, most likely after August 15. The beds around Akeel have been filling up with more pellet victims.
“They have orders to keep the patients in the hospital for no more than two days. But I’m not ready to go, as I can be detained by the police which had happened to one of my friends in 2016,” said Akeel.
On August 6, a nine-year-old boy was admitted to the bed next to Akeel’s. “The young boy would ask his father what had happened to him, and if the pellets were dangerous enough to kill him. The next day he was discharged after being given a date for surgery,” Akeel said.
Akeel, an electrician by profession, dropped out of school in 2017 when he was in Class XII. On February 9 of that year, Kashmir saw a complete shutdown on the death anniversary of Afzal Guru. Protestors had then emerged from multiple parts of the Valley, including Kalamdanpora in Srinagar.
Akeel was detained during one such protest just two days before his exams. “For the next 18 days, I was under detention. I missed my exams,” he said.
After that, Akeel began working as an electrician, earning Rs 9,000 a month. He would hand over his entire earnings to his mother for household expenses.
At present, the only thing on Akeel’s mind is the revocation of Articles 35A and 370. “Everyone knows the BJP government revoked these Articles illegally, but no one is speaking about it. When all Kashmiris will be killed, only then the world will realise our sufferings,” Akeel said, while holding a tissue to his right eye.
Zubair Sofi is a Jammu and Kashmir-based journalist whose work has been published in international, national as well as local news organisations. He tweets @zubairsofii