This area in South Kashmir is testimony to the indiscriminate use of shotgun ammunition
There is a man who mourns his lost love, a mother who weeps in loneliness for his son now unable to study, a driver left unfit to drive his cab during night, and there is a father who gets sleepless nights for his daughter whom he is finding it difficult to marry off.
This is the story of a picturesque village, Rohmoo, in south Kashmir nestled between apple orchards and hillocks clad in thin line of snow, where devastation caused by the deadly pellet shotgun ammunition used by government forces against the civilian protestors has left indelible mark on people’s lives, like in many other parts of Kashmir.
According to the statistics provided by valley’s premier SMHS hospital, which have been mentioned by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) in its annual report, 1253 people have been blinded due to pellet ammunition in Kashmir until last year since the summer of 2016.
For Mohammad Ashraf Wani, a man in mid-20s wearing dark glasses; meaning of life has changed since the day girl he loved left her.
“I don’t want even to recall it. It is pain for me,” says Wani, puffing a cigarette inside his home on a winter afternoon.
Wani fidgets with a book left in the room by his younger brother pursuing post-graduation in political science. The book mentions concept of ideology, sovereignty, human rights and democracy on its front cover page. Wani, a graduate looks intently at it and then laughs away with himself.
All of a sudden, Wani cries: “She left me the moment she came to know that pellets have damaged my both eyes. She had told my friend that I cannot marry a noetwan (disabled person)”.
Wani’s both eyes have been damaged by pellets in 2016. “I used to work in a telecom company,” says Wani with his looks betraying his disability.
After a series of surgeries, Wani says though vision got restored in his left eye, he is not able to see properly with his right eye.
Though Wani’s family has fixed his marriage with another girl, there seems little effect on him. “I have agreed to it, since my mother used to weep every time on seeing me. I am not able to move out in bright sun, it gives me headache. I am not able to venture out in the dark, since I am not able to see. The pellets have turned me into a dependent person,” says Wani.
He almost whispers to tell that he has started smoking cigarettes to “mourn his lost love”. “This blindness made me realise that love is not at all blind,” says Wani lighting another cigarette.
A few meters away from Wani’s, Hasina weeps seeing every dream vanishing away that she had dreamt for her youngest son, Zahoor Ahmad Dar.
Dar was also hit by pellets in both eyes in 2016, when he was a class 12 student. “I wanted my son to excel in his life. His father is a labourer. Despite facing hardships in life, I ensured that my children get education. But then there are things which are in nobody’s control, only Allah knows them best,” says Hasina, while caressing the face of his son wearing specs.
The successive series of surgeries carried on both eyes of Dar, he says have restored vision only in his right eye, while his left eye has only blurred vision.
Dar says he feels ashamed when his family members assist him in going to washroom particularly during morning and evening, the time when light is fading, as tears trickle down Hasina’s face.
“He always wanted to be a teacher. Now it can’t happen,” says Hasina.
Few days back Hasina says the family had decided that Dar will sit at their newly opened bakery shop. “But then he couldn’t withstand smoke and ash emanating from the oven. He was all tears. We wanted to make him believe that he is as good as he was, but then it did not happen,” says inconsolable Hasina.
“Gareebee ya amiri, acchen huend gash katee bane (Rich or poor, nobody can afford to lose eyesight,” says Hasina, worried about the dark future of her son.
Adjacent to Hasina’s house is the home of Nazir Ahmad, in early 30s. Ahmad, a cab driver used to be a known face for his good driving skills. But not anymore, after pellets damaged his eyes in 2017.
Ahmad’s both eyes were damaged in the summer of 2017, when a group of boys he says insisted him to ferry them to nearby Bamnoo village.
“Upon reaching there, I saw protestors clashing with government forces. I hurriedly dropped the passengers and moved my vehicle into a nearby small alley. I thought that it will be better to leave after situation returns to normal. I went down the vehicle and lit a cigarette. I had just taken one cigarette shot that there was darkness and pain in my eyes,” says Ahmad.
Though, Ahmad says even though he spent a huge amount on treatment of his eyes, but only partial vision could be restored.
“For six months, I was at home. I could not earn. There was a huge cost on my treatment. My wife sold her jewellery to pay the expenses,” says Ahmad.
A father of two kids, Ahmad says though he is able to drive his cab during daytime, but it becomes impossible for him to drive at night. The disability caused by pellets has affected his business.
“People are apprehensive to travel in my cab. Once they come to know that the cab is driven by a pellet victim, they feel it is risky,” says Ahmad.
The warren of lanes leads to the house of Mohammad Akram Mir, whose daughter’s Sabroza’s eyes have also been damaged by pellets. Mir is having a nap in the bright winter sun on veranda of his single storey house, while Sabroza with pot-marked face looks desolate.
Sabroza was in her 10th standard when she was hit by pellets in 2016. The successive surgeries have been able to restore his vision in the right eye, while she says she is able to see “shadows” through her left eye.
“She was a girl full of life. Now she has turned into corpse. She now stumbles hundred times to negotiate a lane that leads to a village shopkeeper,” says Mir.
Mir says future of her daughter worries him. “Today, it is me and my wife that are caring of him. But, who will care for her once we are no more?” says Mir.
He adds it was this thought for her daughter that he decided to marry her off. “I witness it how she silently cries every day before sleeping. I thought marriage will bring some cheer into her life. But then no body is ready to marry her. Even relatives have shut their doors. This gives me sleepless nights,” says Mir.
Human rights lawyer Parveez Imroz says there won’t have been emergence of this new kind of population called pellet victims in Kashmir had government banned use of pellets by its forces when Bar Association had filed a petition with state’s High Court in 2016.
“We won’t have been seeing 19 month-old-pellet victims like Hiba today,” says Imroz.