Sopore: Sixteen years old, Saqib Shakeel Bhat, is one of the latest victims of metal pellets shot at him by government forces, leaving him blind in one eye. Son of an impoverished driver from Mumkak Mohalla in this north Kashmir town, the boy has undergone two surgeries on his left eye at SMHS Hospital in Srinagar, but there is no hope of him regaining vision.
Saqib’s home is a small house in a congested area at the end of the narrow lane of Mohalla Mumkak in Batpora area. Saqib was not a stone-thrower, nor did he participate in any protest. His family says he had gone for a languid stroll on a hartal day, bored at home, completely ignorant that the day had a different significance in Kashmir’s history.
The shutdown on 13th of July, observed as Martyrs’ Day, registers a protest against the killing of 22 men outside Srinagar’s Central jail in 1931; it also symbolises Kashmir’s continuous demand for political rights. The atmosphere on the day this year was charged. Government forces patrolled neighbouhoods to clamp down on any possible demonstration.
“I told my father I was going out. On way to the market, troopers showered volleys of pellets on people. Their action was sudden, unprovoked. I know I was hit with pellets as everything turned dark around me and blood started oozing out from my eyes,” Saqib told Kashmir Reader.
“I managed to walk some distance, but I fell soon after, unconscious. When I regained consciousness, I was in the hospital and I could see with my right eye only. Those small metallic balls has hit my left eye.”
Saqib’s mother, Naseema Begum, sits next to his son in the small room where Saqib spends most of his time now. She recalls she was preparing to serve lunch when a sudden wave of screams rang in the neighbiurhood. “I came running out, I saw my son lying near a vehicle parked vehicle outside our lane. There was blood everywhere on his body,” she says. “We took him to Sopore hospital and then SMHS (hospital) in Srinagar. An emergency surgery was done but it was too late as the pellets had ruptured his retina.”
Saqib, a handsome young man with blonde hair, sits quite while his mother recounts the tragic events that have left her devastated. Naseema pauses to wipe her tears while she speaks. “Last Saturday, a second surgery was done Dr Tariq Qureshi in SMHS hospital in Srinagar on his left eye, but of no use. He did not regain any light,” Naseema says. “But we can’t leave our son like this for the rest of his life. We will keep trying, till he is able to see with his left eye again, even if we have to sell this house.”
Since the incident, Saqib has not gone out of our home. He hardly walks around the house and keeps to the room. Except a few visits to the doctor, he feels better to keep to his room. That is not how family and friends remember the teenager.
“He used to play a lot of cricket. Sometimes I wonder how difficult is this for my son, who was always busy playing. He now sits at one place, cannot move without help,” Naseema says. As she finishes recounting their life since July 13, she remembers her son has to take his medicine. “Mouji Wuen Hai Che 25 minute (Mom, there are 25 minutes to it),” Saqib says to settle her anxiety.
Government had asked that pellet guns be used in the ‘rarest of rare cases’, but its use continues to be rampant to quell major as well as minor protests in Kashmir.