Srinagar,(By ZAHID RAFIQ) Nov 25:On an October afternoon I drove to Bemina, a middle-class area in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered-Kashmir. An acquaintance led me to a spacious double-storied house to meet Hayat Ashraf Dar, 21, who is one of the numerous young men in Kashmir who have lost their eyesight after being fired at by the Indian troops and police with pellet guns. Most of the injured have lost one eye. Mr. Dar had lost both.Mr. Dar has a fuzzy beard and blank eyes. The afternoon sun streaming through the large windows fell on his makeshift bed, the pattern on the carpet, a Kindle, a mobile phone, a transparent box stuffed with medicine strips and eye drops.
“Who is it?” he asked, stretched out on the carpet, his aunt putting drops into his eyes from a little plastic bottle. Our arrival had stirred the stillness of his room. “Who has come?” Mr. Dar asked.
I was just another voice in the hazy glow of his blindness.
Mr. Dar stared into an unending night. For three months now, everything has been dark. The world has been wiped out from in front of his eyes. “It is me,” said Faraz Yasin, his friend, who had brought me to meet him. “And the journalist.”
The two men began talking, and the conversation soon drifted to news, to an encounter between militants and Indian soldiers on the border and then to another encounter in the outskirts of the city. “I have someone read to me,” said Mr. Dar. “Three newspapers every morning and then I watch the news and debates on television. I want to keep track of what is happening in Kashmir.”
His eyes wandered beyond the curtains and walls of his room and rested at some far away point. As he spoke to me, his gaze moved right past me, as if I were someplace else.
The last thing Mr. Dar saw was a policeman 50 meters (160 feet) away, with his gun pointed straight at him. That moment bisected his life. Before that moment there were colors and streets, his favorite Wayne Rooney blazing through the TV screen with the ball at his feet, books with their large and small typefaces. Now, there is darkness.
Before that moment, he was an economics student dreaming of joining a business school. Now, he is a young man blinded into sitting inside a room, chilly on a sunny day.
Mr. Dar left Kashmir in fifth grade and has spent the last 10 years in Delhi, where his family has a flourishing handicraft business. As he entered high school, he began to develop a greater consciousness of his identity as a Kashmiri. “I felt that my relationship with India was much more complicated than that of my classmates,” he said.
The feeling of that difficult relationship was strengthened by his visits back home every summer for two months. He rekindled old friendships, made new friends and walked through the labyrinthine lanes of Srinagar’s downtown. In this Nowhatta neighborhood of downtown Srinagar, politics is enmeshed with life. Downtown Srinagar and its labyrinthine lanes are the center of separatist politics in Kashmir.
Mr. Dar was in Srinagar in 2008 when mass protests returned after several years and Indian troops fired upon unarmed protesters. “I saw people getting shot and dying on the streets of Srinagar. People I knew, I saw them bleeding on streets,” he recalled. “Something changed in me.” On his return to Delhi, he felt like a stranger in the amnesic bustle of the metropolis.
On June 14, Mr. Dar was walking back from a religious gathering in Nowhatta. It was Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. He entered a street leading to his uncle’s house and saw a group of policemen coming out of the street, firing teargas shells. “There was smoke all over,” he recalled.
“A policeman, who was also taking video on a Handycam, was shouting the vilest of abuses and making vulgar gestures,” Mr. Dar recalled. “I shouted at him if did he not fear God even in this month of Ramadan.”
Mr. Dar stood on a black manhole cover. All that stood between him and the policeman was the tear gas smoke. “He pointed his gun straight at me, but I thought he was just scaring me,” he said.
The policemen fired the pellet gun.
Mr. Dar had more than 20 pellets in his upper body, seven of them making an arc around his heart, and two in his face: one in each eye.
“It was like one of those scenes from ‘Tom and Jerry,’ where they are hit so impossibly hard that they see stars. I literally saw hundreds of stars in a flash, and then it all went dark and I was stranded,” he said. His eyes bled and a fluid oozed out of them.
The family rushed him to one hospital, from where they were immediately referred to another and then another in Delhi. As his aunt recounted their journeys to multiple hospitals, Mr. Dar looked in the direction of her voice. “Don’t cry,” he requested her. “It is a test from God and nothing will come out of crying. Inshallah, God will restore my sight,” he said.
Mr. Dar sought solace in faith and accepted his blindness as the will of God: “There is no other way. Or I will get depressed. And depression can be fatal, not only for me but for my relatives and friends too.”
His voice was sharp and his shoulders erect. Maybe it was the hope that the doctors will be able to heal him, his firm belief that God will not forsake him.
In these months of darkness, Mr. Dar said, things have actually become clearer, and the world has been stripped of its distractions. “We are in a state of war; I know that now more than ever,” he said. “I have been killed, without leaving my dead body behind.”
A little later, his aunt brought tea and homemade bread, and fed him like a child. He opened his mouth and waited uncertainly for an invisible piece of food in an invisible hand.
Things, useful things — books, tables, chairs, cups — have suddenly become obstacles, and someone’s hand or shoulder is always needed to negotiate hundreds of such obstacles in a journey to the bathroom.
At times, he would endure the need to urinate for up to six hours, he said. “It would kill me to be suddenly so dependent that I couldn’t even piss by myself.”
In the early days of his injury, he would avoid bathing for days. He was uncomfortable being naked around his brother who had to bathe him.
His right eye, which was operated on three times in the first two weeks of his injury, is now completely blinded to light, and he can see a slight glow through the left one. For four days and four nights after the first surgery, he did not sleep a wink. He was awake in darkness and in such pain, as he had never known before.
“The darkness was nothing compared to the pain. We sometimes say the word excruciating, that pain was truly excruciating,” said Mr. Dar. “But maybe I wouldn’t have felt that pain so much if I could see something. Maybe darkness added to the pain.”
The intraocular pressure of his right eye, which for a normal eye ranges from 10- 20, was 50. An ophthalmologist at Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (S.M.H.S.) Hospital in Srinagar said it must have been pain from another world. “It is pathological,” he said, “and pellets do that to the eye.”
Mr. Dar’s left eye has a little bump, which Mr. Dar points out for me, just above the iris. “That is the pellet,” he said.
“The pellet is slowly coming out itself; the bump wasn’t there before,” his aunt added. She walked across the room and brought back a small glass bottle from a shelf. A little black ball lay at the bottom of the bottle; it was like the ball bearings in a bicycle wheel, only smaller. “They removed this from his right eye.”
“The doctors in Delhi had no idea what was in his eyes,” she recalled. “ ‘What are they shooting the boys in Kashmir with?’ they kept asking us.”
A pellet cartridge holds around 500 little iron balls in it, a senior police officer said, and when shot, they scatter in the air, hitting anyone in the range. The Jammu Kashmir Police say that the pellet gun is a nonlethal weapon that is very useful in controlling crowds without causing much damage.
According to the ophthalmologist, S.M.H.S. Hospital has already treated more than 300 young men with pellets in their eyes. “And most avoid coming here if they can, because of the spies that police has posted here,” said the doctor, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter. “They keep a check on our registers and see who has pellet injuries, and then the police comes and arrests them.”
Most of the boys with pellets buried in their eyes either go to or are referred to specialty eye hospitals in Amritsar in the northern state of Punjab. Mr. Dar has consulted seven doctors, who have different opinions. One of them has recommended another surgery and remained hopeful that Mr. Dar would recover eyesight.
“My days are like nights,” Mr. Dar said. “Sometimes I simply cry.” He finds strength in the answers he gives himself. “If I become depressed and broken, wouldn’t they, who shot me, succeed? Didn’t they want to make an example out of me and scare the people around me from resisting the oppression?” he explained.
Without this argument, he said, he feared that his voice would have been filled with self-pity, his shoulders would have drooped, his head bent — another victim without agency.
As we got up to leave, Mr. Dar hugged his friend and then shook hands with me and hugged me too, and the strap of my haversack lightly slapped against his face.
“I can see you,” he said. “You are wearing a bag, I can see the strap,” he said, touching it.
“You are wearing a bag too,” he turned to Mr. Yasin. “I can still make out things, you see.”
“No,” Mr. Yasin said. “No bag today.”
“But he is wearing one,” Mr. Dar said, laughing, as he turned toward where I was standing a moment ago.
Zahid Rafiq is a writer based in Srinagar.
Courtesy: (NY Times India Link)