Churath, Qazigund: On 18 July 2016, an incident of unprovoked firing by the Indian Army’s 9 Rashtriya Rifles broke out at Churath village in Qazigund. Three persons were killed, two of them women. Seven others, most of them children, sustained bullet injuries.
Among those injured in the gruesome incident was 18-year-old Junaid Wani, hit in the face by shell, damaging his left eye and fracturing his cheekbone. “I can never forget that day,” he told Kashmir Reader. “It gives me nightmares.”
Ahmad witnessed the incident while he sat at a shop from the place where shooting happened. He vividly recalls the “bloodbath”. “I was sitting on a bench outside the shop and speaking to the woman shopkeeper. Everything was calm. At around 6 p.m., a number of army vehicles came like a wind up the Qazigund road and stopped in the middle of our village. I quickly got to my feet to see what they were up to. First I saw an army vehicle carrying a heap of stones. They shot stones from slingshots in every direction. Window panes began shattering, and women began screaming,” Ahmad said. He recalls that women amid their screams yelled out, “They will kill our sons playing in the field.” He says there was “terror in the village” after the calm of the day.
The former sarpanch of the village, Haji Ghulam Hassan Mir, was not home when tis correspondent approached him for an interview. He did not answer the phone either. Another eyewitness, who lives next to the playground in the village also refused to speak about the incident.
Junaid Wani, however, recounted, “We were so engrossed in playing. We had no idea the army was pelting stones at the other side.” The playground is at the other end of the village where troopers had first started throwing rocks. “We saw army vehicles coming from the Khargund side, the other end of the village. We stopped playing and watched as they stopped a few metres away from the playground. They started to stare at us.”
The soldiers pelting stones in the village joined their comrades near the playground after people started to gather in protest. News had spread across the village that the army had abducted children and were going to kill them. This rumour spread like wildfire. Mothers ran out of their homes, frantic.
Junaid Wani added, “We heard the army had taken away some boys from the other side of the village, and we at once assembled on the road to protest. All that was available to us were stones, and we started to pelt them at the army in return. As they saw us assembling and pelting stones, they took position to fire at us. They started shooting everywhere. All we could hear was a whizzing sound of passing bullets and shells. I was hit in the face and I felt to the ground.”
Junaid said that he saw people falling to the ground one after another. “Dozens of people would have been killed had the walnut trees not stopped many of the bullets.”
The shooting, Junaid says, lasted for more than 15 minutes. As the firing seized, he was rushed to SMHS hospital in Srinagar. Later, he was referred to AIIMS New Delhi for specialized treatment. His medical report said he was left with “multiple fractures … involving the lateral, medial and interior walls of the left orbit”. It further reads, “Multiple bony fractures are seen with the left orbit in the intra as well as extraconal compartments. The left globe is deformed and collapsed with non-visualisation of the lens s/o left (eye) globe rupture.”
Juaid’s elder brother, Tariq Ahmad Wani, said the doctors told the family that Junaid could not see with his left eye, and that they would have to remove it to prevent infection. “We were numbed with shock,” he said. “But they told us they could implant an artificial eye which would look like a normal eye but would have no vision.”
Not wishing to bring Junaid further sorrow before the operation, the family did not let him know this, so he went in for the surgery with much hope. “I thought I could see with this artificial eye,” he says with a loud sigh.
He could not appear in his Class XII examinations due to stress in his right eye. “I could not focus on my studies. Sometimes my sight would turn black, and I would be unable to see,” he said.
He could not join school this year either as he was still coping with his eyesight problems. He was prescribed spectacles to ease the tension in his right eye, but they did not help him resume his studies.
His brother added that Junaid dreams of becoming a doctor and was determined to appear in the MBBS exams. “But it looks like his dream has been shattered,” Tariq said.
Junaid, however, is resolute and says that he would join school next year and appear in his exams, despite what he is enduring. “I am hopeful I can appear in the exams. I look forward to preparing for the MBBS exams after I pass my XIIth. It is not impossible. I can do it.”
Despite his resolve, Tariq says Junaid was depressed and angry at missing out on school this year. “He tells us he wasted a whole year of his life,” Tariq said.
Junaid mostly spends his days reading in the room and at times helping his mother in the kitchen. “They have ruined my career. It is frustrating,” he said. “I am always thinking about how I am to spend the next day as there is always some worry inside me.”