Baramulla: It has been 12 years since the black bear attack that left Mehraj ud din Peer, son of Gulam Ahmad Peer of Binner village of Rafiabad, Baramulla, so seriously injured he regards his present life as changed into hell. Yet the government has failed for over a decade to compensate him or provide the youth even basic help with plastic surgery.
“It was May 12, 2005, when I visited my orchards a few miles from my home,” Mehraj told Kashmir Reader. “I was working there when a black bear appeared and attacked me. I resisted it for about half an hour; it tried to get me to the ground, but I fought till it ran away. I was left in a pool of blood but managed somehow to reach the Binner-Baramulla road nearby, where people seeing my wounds, took me to the Baramulla district hospital. By this time, my brothers and father had heard about my accident and they too reached the hospital from where I was shifted to SKIMS, Srinagar. I spent at least a month there. The SKIMS doctors saved my life, but when they opened my bandages after a month, I found the bear had completely changed my life and had turned it into hell. I saw there were serious injuries to my face and hands; the doctors told me they could help with them, but it would need many plastic surgeries which would cost a lot of money. I belong to a poor family – my parents had no way to afford the money for such operations.”
Mehraj further related how his father sold four kanals of orchard land to admit him at a private hospital in Sopore, where doctors performed surgeries on his gashes but could not make him as he was before the attack. “My parents and my brothers tried a lot, but since we were running out of money, I told them I didn’t want any more surgeries in private hospitals.” Sorrow continued to pursue the family, for Mehraj’s father passed away in 2014, leaving the home to the care of his eldest son, Mohammad Ashraf – Mehraj’s other brother, Mohammad Younis, is mentally disabled.
Before his life was completely battered in the bear’s attack, Mehraj ud din was among the handsomest boys of his village. “Soon after the attack, a team from the Baramulla police station reached my village and registered the incident. They promised my parents they would forward my case to the government, which would help my family through different channels. But nothing was done by any government agency.”
Mehraj now spends his days in a mask which he wears all the time, in all seasons, both inside his home and out. At this reporter’s request, he agreed to remove it for a short time when we met. Although otherwise fit of physique, Mehraj cannot get over the feeling that his face is too repulsive for anyone to stand the sight.
“After some time, a team of wildlife officials came to our home and assured us that they would use departmental funds to help me for further treatment. Days passed into months and months into years, but I never saw them again. The J&K wildlife department is claiming that they are providing compensation and medical aid to all who are injured in any beast attack, but then here is my case. What have they done for the last 12 years? They do not even visit my home, relief is another matter.”
In 2013, Mehraj applied for monthly aid to the social welfare department, Baramulla, but nothing has come of it. On the other hand, said a friend, Firdous Ahmad, scores of people take monthly help from the department fraudulently.
Mehraj is from an educated family – four of his brothers are graduates, while Mehraj himself had completed his Class 10 before the event that has proved so catastrophic. With the family’s finances drained in his treatment, all the children of Gulam Ahmad Peer are labourers. Younis and Mehraj live with their eldest brother; other brothers and an unmarried sister have stayed after their father’s death with their mother, Hafiza Begam.
“I applied for a BPL ration card to the department of food and supplies, but they too have denied me. They told me a person must be married before he applies and so they cancelled my application,” Mehraj said.
A senior doctor posted in Baramulla said there is a separate wing for plastic surgeries in SKIMS and that doctors there do such surgeries free of cost. Why they have not done so in this case leaves an immense question mark. “World organisations are providing funds for medicine for such patients; if they can’t step in with at least some effort, it is a matter of concern,” the doctor said.
Doctors from SKIMS could not be contacted, not even a plastic surgeon. On the other hand, regional wildlife officer, Kashmir zone, Rashid Ahmad Naqash though saying he had no knowledge of the case, directed this reporter to check about it with the north Kashmir wildlife warden. “If his case was registered there, they will forward to me, and I will clear it within minutes,” he said.