The world has turned dark for 17-year-old Mohammad Shahnawaz Alam, the latest victim of pellet guns in the Valley. His bloodshot eyes and pellet-riddled face deeply reflect the teenager’s pain and agony.
Originally from Araria district of Bihar, Alam – a labourer – moved to Kashmir just a month ago with a few other villagers to earn his livelihood. He rented a room at Murran Chowk in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, where he has been staying with some companions.
On May 24, after finishing Friday prayers, Alam was buying ration for dinner when a violent protest erupted against the killing of Zakir Musa, the commander of Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind militant group. Running for cover, Alam reached a nearby alleyway a few metres from his rented accommodation.
“I felt scared. I wanted to return to my dwelling,” he said, adding: “When the situation thawed, I stepped on the main road and a shower of pellets fired by security forces penetrated my face.”
Alam fell to the ground and was rushed to Pulwama district hospital by locals. After initial treatment, doctors contacted the teenager’s acquaintances and he was referred to Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS) in Srinagar.
“I gained consciousness after doctors at Srinagar removed the pellets and gave me the treatment,” said Alam. “I was working hard. I thought I would earn some money and send it to the family before Eid. The tragic incident has shattered my plans.”
When 20-year-old Shahwaaz Ahmad, Alam’s elder brother, was informed of the incident, he hurriedly left home for Kashmir.
“My parents and sisters cried their heart out. I took the evening train on the same day and reached Kashmir,” he said.
Ahmad said before this, he was not familiar with pellet shotguns. He was astonished when one of his villagers informed him about his brother.
“I have never heard about pellets. Even my neighbour, who called me, was seeming surprised. He told me pellets have created multiple pores on the face of my brother and he has lost his eyesight,” said Ahmad. “The condition of my brother broke my heart. He was writhing in pain. He only recognised me when I spoke to him.”
Alam was joined by his brother and uncle, Mohammad Naseem, who also works as a labourer in Kashmir. When he was discharged from the hospital, Naseem took him to his rented accommodation in Pulwama.
Alam has undergone one operation and has another scheduled for Monday. As the pellets have deeply pierced his both eyes and he is unable to see, Ahmad said he is helping his brother perform daily tasks.
“Doctors have told me that only after the operation it will get clear whether Alam will regain his eyesight or not,” said Ahmad. “If my brother doesn’t regain complete eyesight, I will take him to Chandigarh or Delhi for treatment.”
Ahmad is hopeful that the Jammu and Kashmir administration will provide full assistance if his brother loses eyesight.
“We don’t have any other source of income. I will approach the government if my brother will not get back his eyesight. We have three younger daughters and ailing parents at home,” said Ahmad
In Bihar, he said, their family lives in a mud house.
Ahmad has also worked in Kashmir as a labourer for three years. “I came to Kashmir in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Usually, Kashmir remains under lockdown, but I have never faced such a problem,” he said. “As our family responsibilities increased last year, Shahnawaz came to Kashmir for work. He fell in love with it. He was always speaking about the landscape and perfect weather for work. He was desperately waiting to come to Kashmir this year.”
But now, Ahmad continued, since the pellets have injured both his eyes, he keeps repeatedly murmuring ‘I’ll never be able to work again properly.’
Kashmiris come forward to help
When pictures of Alam’s his pellet-scarred face went viral on social media, scores of people approached him and offered financial assistance.
“Some Kashmiri people have shared my phone number on social media. I am receiving scores of calls every day. A number of people have so far taken my bank account details,” said Ahmad. “They are also giving me hope that my brother will recover soon.”
“We have already burrowed around Rs 20,000 from our fellow labourers,” he added. “Cost of medicine is high. Doctors have also advised me to give a healthy diet to Shahnawaz.”
Use of pellet guns in Kashmir
Officially labelled as a “non-lethal” weapon, the pump-action pellet gun emits around 600 metal balls simultaneously at a high velocity, causing severe injuries to the public.
The security forces used shot-gun pellets in the Valley for the first time during the 2010 uprising to quell the protesters. The weapon has so far killed scores of people in Kashmir while thousands of others have been injured.
Human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for a ban on pellet guns in Kashmir but its use by security forces continues unabated on the ground.
A recent study titled ‘Psychiatric Morbidity in Pellet Injury Victims of Kashmir Valley’ by the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences has revealed at least 85% of pellet victims in Kashmir have developed psychiatric disorders.
On May 29, one civilian was killed and at least 100 people were injured when security forces used pellets, bullets and tear gas to quell the protesters near two encounter sites in Kulgam and Shopian districts of South Kashmir. Last week, according to hospital authorities, over 30 pellet victims were admitted for treatment at SMHS hospital, Srinagar.