Srinagar: At SMHS hospital here, Sohail Shafi, a 21 year old pellet victim darts out of the ward when an unfamiliar person approaches him. When his mother assures him its safe, he looks at her face with questioning eyes and gestures by drawing two lines on his shoulder with his two fingers. Then he brings his fist forward and twists his index finger. “No no, it is not police,” his mother calms him down.
Sohail a resident of Sopore, according to his family, was born deaf and is mute. Now, with his right eye injured by pellets and not able to recover any vision despite three surgeries, he has also been blinded in one eye. The incident has also had a profound psychological impact on the victim, as per doctors.
“Sohail used to work and earn for himself and family despite his disabilities. He was a videographer and did decorations for marriages,” a relative of his, identifying as Abdul Majeed said. “He was a very jovial, lively person before the injury and festivities would excite him every time, no matter whose occasion it was,” Majeed said.
“But he has not moved out of the house since Eid. He is so scared that he shudders at the sight of any stranger,” Sohail’s mother Haleema (name changed on request) said.
His family narrated – Eid ul Adha was a very special day for Sohail. Every year, this festival of sacrifice would excite this young man and he would run around for shopping and jump around all the festival preparations. This year, on September 13, Sohail was waiting for the moment when his family would sacrifice the animal they had purchased for the occasion.
“At around 02:00 pm, he went to the Chowk where his younger brother was playing with some kids,” his mother said with her eyes moist. “Because he cannot speak, he yelled to call his brother and signaled sacrifice time by moving his finger over his throat,” Haleema said. As Sohail was very excited about the occasion, he kept hollering and laughing while gesturing the slaughter on his throat.
This sign language, the family said, was perceived by the security forces as ‘jeering’ by the young man. “They rushed towards him, hurled expletives and fired pellets,” Haleema said, holding the hand of her son. Sohail’s family said his injury had also pushed his three sisters into trauma. “He was their favorite brother and they protected him in their own way,” Majeed said. “They cannot come to terms with the reality that Sohail may never get vision back in his eye,” he added.
Sohail’s mother believed that it was her ‘misfortune’ that her son was ‘targeted’ with pellet guns. But she also felt sorry for all the mothers whose children were losing eyes to pellets. “I have come with my son to this hospital at least 10 times till now for the treatment of his eye. Every time, I see a different crowd in this ward,” she said. “How many more are they going to blind?” she asked.