Srinagar: Mohammad Salim Khan sits quietly on a bed and blindly attempts to eat the rice and curry he is served at the SMHS hospital. With each morsel his fingers fumble around on the plate, and he can’t get right the placement of rice and vegetables. Khan is 17 years old and this groping in the dark is new for him.
Both his eyes swathed in cotton and bandages now, Khan had a perfectly healthy teenager’s sight 48 hours ago.
He lifts his hands and slowly gropes for the glass of water which is placed just beside the plate. Before his brother could help him with it, his moving hands find it. The glass falls over his bed and disappears in the mattress.
Khan’s elder brother, Bilal Ahmad, and a few other attendants, who stand by his side, silently broke down, tears in their eyes, their sobs muffled.
A resident of Kralpora in Kupwara district, Khan was among the 55 patients admitted to the SMHS wards who were hit by pellets in their eyes, fired mostly by the police. Everyone in the ward had been hit by pellets in their eyes but unlike most, Khan had been hit in both his eyes.
Narrating the ordeal, Khan said that soon after the Friday prayers were over, people gathered at the local Jamia Majid and raised pro-freedom slogans. The police, he said, came soon after and forced them to stop protesting.
“Later a large procession from nearby villages like Hirri started converging at Kralpora. The people were protesting peacefully,” Khan said. “A large number of CRPF policeman and SOG personnel were deployed in the Kralpora main market. The protesters told the SHO Kralpora that they will protest peacefully, but he turned furious and started indiscriminate shelling and firing pellets on the protesters including ladies. It was police hooliganism”.
While all this was happening, Khan said he was on the lower bank of a stream (nallah)- close to the Jamia Masjid- to have a look of his water motor fixed there.
“Hundreds of people were watching the police and CRPF action from across the Nallah. They too were raising pro-freedom slogans,” he said.
“I was scared because there was lot of noise of blasts and people’s cries and there was a lot of police presence. The policemen were standing up and when I raised my head to see what was happening around the Jamia Masjid, the SHO fired a full cartridge of pellets at me from less than 60 feet,” he added.
“The moment pellets hit my eyes, a complete blanket of darkness enveloped me. The blood was gushing out of my eyes. Some of the pellets peppered my body as well. I could feel the warm blood spilling from my eyes with my hands. I fell on the spot”.
After that Khan said he could only hear the screaming and wailing and could not see a thing.
“I was removed by my friends to the local hospital from where I was put in an ambulance to be urgently sent to Srinagar. On the way, the police and CRPF threw stones on our ambulance; they also broke glass panes and hurled abuses,” he added.
He said that at Kupwara hospital, the CRPF and Police landed inside the hospital, and started beating patients and attendants.
“We were scared. There was complete mayhem. Scores of injured people were being rushed to the hospital. Later a lady mustered courage and slapped a CRPF man. Then they left the hospital,” Khan said. “I was given first aid and shifted to SMHS hospital”.
Khan said his right eye could detect no light at all.
“My right eye has no sense of sight. If you bring your hand and wave it before my right eye near a well-lit place, I can sense nothing. In left eye I faintly sense the light,” he said.
His brother, Bilal said that doctors are not sure if he could regain his eyesight.
“Our father has passed away. Even though he (Khan)was younger to me, he would do odd jobs to sustain my education and pay for the family expenses,” Bilal, who is finishing his post graduation, said. “For six months he worked as electrician, for another six he would go outside Kashmir and sell shawls.”
“What shocks us is that just 48 hours ago, he could see the world. Now he cannot not find a glass of water due to complete darkness which has shrouded his eyes. I do not know how to reconcile with this reality”.