Srinagar: Farida Banoo, 50, shivers as she recalls the horrific evening of Sunday when her 17-year-old son came home wounded and blinded by pellets.
“It was agonising to see my son’s condition. He was pale, his whole body was bruised, and he was covering his left eye with a cloth,” Farida told Kashmir Reader in ward number 8 of SMHS Hospital.
She said her son, Asif Mehraj, left home in Feripora village in Shopian when he heard about the exchange of fire between army and militants in Kachdoora village. He went there with his friends. In the evening he came home badly injured.
“He left home in the morning at about 8am, without informing us. We thought he went to his tuition centre. Later we came to know from his friend that he was among the injured in Kachdoora,” said Farida.
Asif said he woke up to appeals made from loudspeakers of the local mosque to people to march towards Kachdoora. Minutes later, a teacher called him to inform that the tuition centre will not be open due to disturbance in the area.
“I didn’t inform my parents and left quietly with my friends for Kachdoora,” he told Kashmir Reader at SMHS. For the next hour or so, Asif walked towards Kachdoora along with other people, covering nearly 4km.
“As soon as I reached there, I saw that an encounter was going on. I could hear the gunshots all around. A sea of people had already gathered there. They were going towards the encounter site to help the militants escape,” Asif said.
As they entered a nearby orchard, people started raising slogans and throwing stones at government forces.
“After some time, police, CRPF personnel and army men surrounded the orchard from all sides and shot at us,” Asif said. “A barrage of pellets hit me and many people around me. I also saw a civilian dying on the spot.”
“I couldn’t walk after being hit by pellets. My friend helped me to get away from the orchard,” he said.
Asif said that the forces had taken position at the road which is at a certain height above the orchard. He said that the firing became more intense when more army and police personnel were called in. “There was chaos all around. I had no strength to walk anywhere as bullets and pellets were showered at us. After some hours I walked back home with my friend,” he said.
His mother said that they couldn’t take Asif to hospital immediately as army men stopped them at Chawalgam. “His treatment got delayed for two days because army stopped us at Chawalgam while we were going to Kulgam district hospital,” she said.
On Monday, the family sought help from the Nehama hospital in Shopian, which gave them an ambulance to ferry Asif to SMHS Hospital.
According to doctors at the Ophthalmology ward of SMHS, pellets have entered deep into Asif’s left eye. “It is very difficult to remove the pellets from his eyes as they have settled behind the eyeball. We have decided to keep him there and administer drugs to prevent any kind of infection and further damage to the eye,” said the doctor who is treating him.
Another survivor, Mohsin Nabi of Memandar, told Kashmir Reader that a joint team of police, CRPF and army laid a siege around the orchard to prevent people from reaching the encounter site in Kachdoora.
“I joined many of my village neighbours after early-morning announcements from the mosque. Our village is 3km from Kachdoora and I walked along with other people. When we reached near the encounter site, we saw thousands of people gathered there. When police attacked us, I tried to escape but was hit by pellets,” he said.
Sabzar Ahmad, another pellet victim who lives in Kachdoora village, recalled the intervening night of March 31-April 1 when militants were trapped in a neighbourhood house. “We were frightened when the firing started at around midnight. We were planning to leave the village to save ourselves but then someone suggested we stay back till the morning,” he told Kashmir Reader.
According to his brother, Adil Ahmad, the family ran away from the village in the morning. But while doing so, Sabzar was hit by pellets in his eye.
“Police targeted everyone who was fleeing the village. We were unaware of Sabzar till a neighbour called from a hospital,” Adil said.
In the evening, the family reached SMHS Hospital, where Sabzar is still admitted.
“He has already undergone one surgery but doctors are not sure about whether he will regain vision or not,” Adil said.