Mehraj Bhat writes of his experiences at Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital, Srinagar, Kashmir
Sameer, a 15 year old boy, and a lone bread earner in his family was hit by pellets in both eyes is admitted in ward 9, Ophthalmology department of SMHS hospital. The picture was clicked while he was having his lunch failing to get hold of a glass of water and ended up messing his bed. Imagining Sameer being a backbone of his family and now even failing to hold a glass of water shook everyone around Sameer’s bed leaving everyone around him in tears. Feeling the sudden silence and numbness Sameer said something excruciatingly moving “Shall I not feel contempt in my heart that I lost those eyes in resisting the brutality of a ruthless occupier”?
And isn’t those martyrs more fortunate then me who offered their lives in resisting this occupation? Continuing my conversation with Sameer and injured kids around his bed helps one to understand the courage of this nation to stand and struggle against the mighty fascist Empire.
Lying next to Sameer’s bed were two Kids, Adil and Farooq, hit by pellet in one of their eyes asked me “brother, we all will be summoned and asked on the day of judgment about our responsibilities towards our nation and we don’t want to be ashamed of ourselves on the day of judgment so we willingly and consciously decided to fight against this occupation in whatever means possible”. Out of my own selfishness and maybe considering the future of these two kids, i suggested them not to participate in the processions in future and their reply shook me inside “bhai abhi ek aankh baaki hai” brother our eye is still intact
Like other struggles for liberation, Kashmir continues to resist the 8 decades long illegitimate occupation. A farce democracy and its brutal policy of exclusion exterminate all sorts of dissent keeps betraying the world with the mask of inclusivism. Since the killing of Burhan Wani, 21, a famous rebel leader, who rose into a prominent iconic representative of armed resistance in the valley with his ideological warfare using the technological tools kept the idea of resistance alive in Kashmir. The Indian state, a self—proclaimed “secular liberal democracy” fails to prove their theoretical rhetoric of “atoot ang” intact whenever their sovereignty in Kashmir is questioned on ground. The only reply they are aware of and are acquainted with is the language of oppression and repression. While the ongoing uprising enters 73rd day, the Indian state with its practical manifestation of inclusion leaves 750 people who lost their one eye to pellets and more than 30—who lost their both eyes to pellet injuries and more than 12,000 people injured. A “democracy”, looks deceptive and coercive when it works under the patronage of 5 lakh jackboots and a barrel of guns including draconian laws like AFPSA and PSA to maintaining its legitimacy and authority in Kashmir.
Kashmiris were betrayed by Sheikh Abdullah and the successive regimes of mainstream political parties who continue to maneuver their deceptive politics for power even if it costs the blood of hundreds and thousands of Kashmiri people. The emergence of PDP; which some would define as a promoter of “soft-separatism”, playing political of exclusion under the garb of mainstream political framework. It was their unholy alliance with BJP which helped them to come into power in 2015, but their theory of “healing touch” seemed not more than a Platonian Utopia. The response filled with the message of terror was unleashed on people across gender and age—as young as a kid like Nasir, 5 yr old was slapped and a needle was pricked into his eye and as old as 80 who was showered with more than 200 pellets in his body. The reality on ground in Kashmir crystallizes the clash of public and personal farcical face of “indian democracy” and unveils the pseudo-secularist and progressive colonial hegemonic attitude of Indian state.
I clicked this picture when we shifted Hilal (18 yr, madrasa student, Dist. Pulwama) from operation theatre to the post-surgical ward not knowing the details of his injury. After talking to his attendants that he is hit by three bullets in his left leg and one nerve is also damaged so they took one nerve out of his right leg and adjusted it his left leg. The family of Hilal was unaware of his injury and the steel rods inserted in his leg with alternate day dressing of his wound left him in intense pain. I still remember that there was hardly any visit when I met Hilal and he was not in pain. So, I started to sitting and engaging him when doctors used to change the older bandages with the new one. The pain would leave him in pain and one day while we were talking, a senior journalist from Hindustan Times visited him and asked his opinion about the current uprising. His reply flabbergasted everybody around his bed including the reporter “The brutal occupation and its manifestation on ground always promoted me to join the armed
resistance but the current uprising firmed my resolve and If I could only handle one gun before this uprising I will take two guns in my two hands”.
A SHARED STRUGGLE: DOCTORS AS A SYMBOL OF RESISTANCE
At times, while having informal conversation with doctors about the magnitude of injuries and the possibilities of recovery of these injured patients would turn into tales of collective suffering. Dr. Wajeed (Registrar, Medicine) told couple of friends including a journalist “I’m too weak to go on the road and throw stones, I just don’t have the courage to face the army – that’s the raw truth. But inside me, I have the same feeling as the protestors,” he says, his voice rising. “That sense of injustice, that rage against an uncaring state…I feel it too, deeply. It is like white matter in the brain.”
“As doctors we usually feel neutral, we treat the wound, not the person,” says Yaqoub, sitting on a bench outside the medical college. “But when I see this extent of discrimination and heartless violence, I want to shun the neutrality and take sides.” A young Kashmiri himself, Yaqoub grew up in the nineties listening to the same “tales of loss and betrayal” as the youth protesting today, and seeing traumatic scenes of violence enacted against his friends and family. “For some reason, I became a doctor and banked on optimism,”. Doctor Raashid (Consultant Surgeon in Opthalmology Department, SMHS Hospital) told me “doctors have to take consent from a patient or his family before performing surgery but in this situation doctors have been receiving patients who are near-unconscious, blinded or younger than 18 but People bringing them were also most often friends or strangers, not family, so we ended up having to get quick signatures from the kids themselves, while wheeling them into surgery.
Dr. Raashid Maqoob, working in the SMHS, later posted on his Facebook, “When I wanted a break from the emotional scenes inside our theatre, I walked into the next room, trauma theatre of the surgery department with my surgical gown on, by the time I reached the operating table I didn’t know i have lost the battle of emotions. I witnessed the team of surgeons and anesthetists resuscitating a young 24-year-old bullet-ridden body…the guy lost the battle and he died, i couldn’t hold myself and busted into tears.”
THE POLITICS OF FEAR
The state, with its diverse web of security apparatus in place is well-knit with the tools to sabotage, crush and muzzle the voices of dissent. One among such tools is the presence of security agencies (CID/IB/Police) on ground. These underground ghosts are present within stone pelters, within pro-freedom rallies and even in the hospitals updating the list of “dissenters” to take necessary action against them. In the ongoing uprising, the files of injured patients are invisible from their beds. Instead of that, they are given numbers because of the possible security threat. While talking to a senior surgeon, who want to hide his identity due to the possible threat to his life/career told me “we decided to restrict the files to ourselves because the security agencies come and take the names and address of these patients from the files and start harassing and minting money from them after they are discharged from the hospitals”. One of the attendants, a father in his 60’s nursing his 20 year bullet injured son in ward 16 told me “I am getting regular calls from the SHO (in-charge of the police station) of my area inquiring about the date of discharge from the hospital”. The attendant, who is the father of this patient, adds “They fired him in his abdomen and after we tried to bring him to hospital took him out from the ambulance and started hitting his wound with guns which damaged his intestines”. The presence of security agencies in hospitals is psychologically so depressing that a lot of patients don’t even visit hospitals for their treatment.
BETWEEN HOPE AND DESPAIR ?
Working as a volunteer for more than two months in the hospital, what I witnessed was brutality in its nude form but also a hope in the eyes in every new injured brought into the hospital. A huge rush of people thronged to hospitals asking if they could donate blood for the injured, ambulance after every half an hour with injured patients engulfed in blood chanting slogans “Hum Kya Chahte Azadi”, “Burhan Tere Khoon se Inqilaab Ayega”, aasie jaan detna-ghar baar detna, masoom detna, teli kyaze yeeni teli kyaaze yeene [didn’t we gave our lives? Didn’t we leave our dreams? Didn’t we offer our young kids? Then why will it (azadi) not come].
It was chaos and mayhem in the hospital and fear on roads, phone services were suspended and internet blocked. It was no less than a war declared on the people of Kashmir. A new patient was brought in the hospital and what I experienced was most of them almost 95 % were targeted above their waists. The majority of them had pellets in their eyes, a new generation of young kids maimed and blinded for life at least in one eye. More than 500 boys lost eye of their one eye and more than thirty had bilateral injuries (both eye pellet injuries). Ophthalmology unit, which according to doctors was used to be a ghost ward before uprising is now the most busy and fearsome ward in the hospital. In the evenings, especially after dinner, you would hear young kids listening and watching Azadi songs, mostly the recently sung on Burhan. It would take you to another world of Hope and Despair but it was only hope which was visible and dominant in the eyes and words of these injured patients.
I remember the scene inside Ward 9 of SMHS hospital in Srinagar turned emotional when Shiraz Ahmad Ahangar, 26, spoke to his mother in Murran (Pulwama) telling her, “I am hit by pellets. But you don’t worry, I am alright.” Then, unable to hold his emotions for long, he let out a loud cry and said, “I wish it was a bullet. It hurts…It hurts badly, mother.”
Everybody around him–small crowd of friends, well-wishers, local journalists and photographers, other pellet victims–began crying. A friend, who was sitting at the corner of his bed, quickly snatched phone from his hand and assured his wailing mother, “he is alright, just a bit frightened”. But everybody around could see that Ahanger was not frightened but in pain, and why not, he has more than hundred pellets in his body. Then to everybody’s surprise, Ahanger, who had half of his face covered with fresh bandage, circling over his pellet hit right eye, stood up on his bed and took off his trouser, then his shirt. “See how they treat us,” he shouted. “See what a Kashmiri gets from India.”
But, when the mood in the Wards gets too tense, a joke or a funny story is being thrown up to divert the attention. “All these days they have been like brothers in arms; they crack jokes, share their life stories and occasionally try to cheer up each other when the going gets tough,” said one Nadeem Ahmad, an attendant.
The words of Arif seem to have done the trick this time. Many of these injured youth come out of the ward for a walk while as others prepare to “inspect” the wards. A youth from main town of Pulwama, blinded in both eyes due to the pellet injuries, is helped by another youth from Tral, who has lost vision in one of his eyes, out of the Ward.
Putting arms on each other’s shoulders, the two youth come out in the corridor to take a walk. They are interrupted by a middle aged woman, presumably relative of the Tral youth. “You aren’t in a position to help him,” she asks the Tral boy. “We will manage it,” the youth responded as they disappeared into the corridor. On the opposite side of the corridor, teenager Zakir from Hader, Kulgam is talking to Fayaz Ahmad from Anantnag (Islamabad).
Both of them have lost vision in their right eye. Though discharged in the morning the duo couldn’t make it to their homes owing to the non-availability of the transport amid strict curfew across the Valley for the 9th straight day. “It is also risky to move during day time as police and CRPF look for injured persons and beat them,” said Fayaz, a truck driver as they move towards the Ward to spend another night there.
But at the entrance of the Ward, on the left side, attendants have gathered around the bed of Feroz Ahmad, a youth from Sopore, who has pellet injuries in both eyes, with minimal chances of him recovering the vision. “I want to talk to my mother; she must be worried…I haven’t talked to her for all these days,” Ahmad asked his friend. But, moments later, he stops his friend from making a call to his home.
“They don’t know about my position. Mouj (mother) will be worried for the whole night…I will talk to them in the morning,” Fayaz said as tears continuously rolled down his eyes. The scene is filled with emotions again. Fayaz recites verses of holy Quran, asking his friends to pray for his recovery. There is pin drop silence in the Ward. The injured youth return to their beds.
Gowhar, 21 year old, 6 feet tall boy was supposed to get married next month. He was also preparing for next year’s heavyweight bodybuilding championship. Not knowing he will be hit by pellets in both the eyes leaving his dreams shattered and will cast an evil shadow on the beginning of his new life in September, 2016. While we were consoling him about the loss of his eyes, a man with white beard and a young girl standing beside him introduced themselves and said something which ended up everyone in tears “I have given my daughter to the boy when he was fine and it would be unethical and immoral if I take a backseat when this tragedy has befallen on my going to be son-in-law. His daughter (Dawood’s would be wife) said “I will marry him on the same date we were supposed to get married whether he regains his eyesight or not”.
The fear of losing the vision has left an impact on their mental health. Most of the time these young and minors who have been left blind in one or both eyes owing to the pellet injuries, huddle around to talk about the “tougher days ahead”, the “dark future” and the “life of a blind”.
The magnitude of our tragedy is so grave that even on the day of Eid, 13th of September 2016, the holiest days for Muslims, we had 40 injured referred to SMHS
3 martyred, 6 blinded, 14 year old boy, Aadil was hit by bullet on his private parts. And while we were shifting him from the ambulance to the operation theatre blood was oozing out of his body and he was telling us “Don’t be afraid of the consequences and don’t drop your tears on this finite soul—our dream is much bigger than my existence and started shouting slogans “Burhan tere Khoon se Inqilaab Ayeega” till he felt unconscious in the operation theatre.
Even after the tall claims of central and state government about the usage of pellets in the rare of the rarest cases, we received more than 30 patients on the next day of this statement and hundreds till this date. As a volunteer and a first-hand witness, what we experience after every passing day in this uprising is the arrogance of Indian state and the unfettering collective resilience of Kashmiri people. The patients are neither sorry nor shying away from their “conscious engagement” with the Indian state, the real representatives of this democracy which shower bullets and pellets on these kids who ask you to give them the basic right of deciding their future. In this uprising, the unanimous unequivocal answer you hear from the parents of these injured kids is “We dedicate the limbs, the eyes of our kids to this particular uprising and we feel proud for sacrificing our sons and daughters for upholding the honor and dignity of our sacred goal—AZADI”. As Najeeb Mubarki in his recently written piece “Stone Manifesto” in Outlook argues “This is a generation that has clarity on where its self-respect and dignity lies. One that’s unafraid of the bogeys and horrors you have visited upon Kashmiris to control and suppress them. This is a generation that knows precisely what the symbols of occupation are, who its representatives are, even locally. A generation that, while being systematically killed and maimed, knows perfectly well that (as will happen) when protestor fatigues sets in, the police state will file FIR’s and PSA’s against their maimed bodies. That a hundred hounds of demonization and de-legitimization will again be let loose on them. Yet, they will be in the streets again with that stone in their hand next time. It is just what they think. For them, you are then the Indian equivalent of the rabid, deranged Israeli settler dancing as phosphorous bombs melt the skin of Gaza’s children. The Israelis, at least, are clear in their hatred. You occupy and pretend its democracy.
Now, what purpose does sharing the story of these kids really serve who are now lying in beds maimed and blinded for the rest of their life? Who lost their lives even in the infant dreams for their future? The only desire of these brave people who never surrendered to the inhumane brutalities is a dream and a right to choose their future? What Danish, 18 yr old boy who was hit by pellets in both eyes out of which one had to be removed due to the beyond repair damage and another one with 95% vision loss told me may help you to understand the idea of this struggle. He said “We will consider it our achievement if this struggle, the deaths, the sacrifices of our martyrs, blinded and maimed for life will only achieve this much that the last soul left even in the womb of some mother who will see the sun of AZADI”.