Srinagar: On a wooden bookshelf, a bunch of notebooks and half-a-dozen textbooks lie scattered, seemingly untouched, for the past two months.
“No one attends to them now,” says 20-year-old Afiya Mohammad (not her real name). “The books are lying in the same position as I left them.”
Afiya, a Srinagar resident and second-year undergraduate student, says that reading was like breathing for her. “Even though I had little (money) to buy any book, I used to borrow them from my friends or relatives. In the lawns, on the stairs, on the verandah of our house, wherever I would find a place, I used to sit and read for hours. I did not even mind sitting near the shoe shelves to read,” Afiya said.
In the past two months, Afiya’s eyes stopped looking for books. She has lost, she said, the idea of who she is and what she wants to become.
Afiya is the eldest of five daughters of Ghulam Mohammad, a 44-year-old who lives in Anchar locality of Srinagar. Mohammad, a farmer, is the sole bread-earner for his family of eight, which includes his wife and the youngest 8-year-old son.
On October 9, Ghulam Mohammad became another victim of pellet ammunition that is used by the JK Police and the CRPF. The pellets struck him so hard that he fell unconscious. When he awoke, he found that his left eye was severely damaged.
On that day, Mohammad says, he had just reached home after finishing his daily work in the fields, which are a few kilometers away on the other side of Anchar Lake. At about 5pm, Mohammad heard that CRPF and police personnel had raided the Anchar area to arrest youths on charges of stone-pelting. Mohammad quickly went out to bring back his 8-year-old son who was playing outside the house.
“Amid the chaos and the panic, I saw no sign of Musaib (his son) even after searching for half-an-hour. I went through dozens of houses in my neighbourhood but he was nowhere. The troops were advancing quickly, firing pellets, teargas and pepper shells, and stun grenades. It had created terror in the entire area,” Mohammad said.
A person in the neighbourhood told Mohammad to look for his son in an area where the boy frequently played with his friends. “Unfortunately, troops had already occupied that area,” Mohammad said. “I thought that by going through some interior lanes I would reach the spot. I was making my way when as soon as I opened the main gate of one of the houses, a CRPF trooper fired a pellet gun at me. I tried to jump behind a nearby wall but the pellets hit me in the head and in my left eye. I couldn’t bear the pain and fell unconscious on the ground,” he said.
Locals who witnessed the incident told Kashmir Reader that troops did not let anyone pick Mohammad up. “They were continuously firing live ammunition towards us while he (Mohammad) lay bleeding on the ground,” the locals said.
Mohammad was later taken to the nearby SKIMS hospital, from where doctors referred him to SMHS hospital due to severity of his injuries.
“For several minutes he couldn’t open his eyes and that worried all of us. His left eye was ruptured,” said Bashir Ahmad, Mohammad’s brother who accompanied him to SMHS hospital.
Bashir said that Mohammad, when he regained consciousness, was more worried about his daughters than about his eye. “He kept asking about their well-being. His daughters, too, have been by the side of their father ever since the incident happened,” Bashir said.
Bashir said that Mohammad would go to work even on his off days to earn some extra money to support the educational expenses of his daughters. “The future of his daughters, who are all under 20 years of age, troubles him throughout the day,” Bashir said.
Afiya, in the middle of her undergraduate course, has decided to leave her education and search for some means of earning.
“Being the eldest sister I have to sacrifice my career to secure the future of my sisters,” Afiya said.
The girl said her dream was to serve society in a way that would have made her parents proud, but “God has written something else in our destiny.”
Afiya has now joined an artisans’ training centre and is learning the art of weaving Kani shawls.
For 17-year-old Samiya (name changed), the younger sister of Afiya, education has become a “secondary” concern. “My primary responsibility is to support my shattered family,” she says.
“I had a dream to teach at university. But since the incident occurred, I haven’t touched any of my books” Samiya said with moist eyes.
The other three daughters, all of them minors, are yet to understand the calamity that has befallen them. All they have been doing is staring at their father, who in his black glasses lies on the mattress throughout the day.
Their mother, a housewife who used to weave Pashmina cotton to earn some rupees, says that the family’s priorities have now changed.
“Earlier our priority was the education of our daughters, but now we have to first arrange proper treatment to save the eyesight of my husband. We will sleep hungry but we will spend every penny for his treatment. For us, he is everything,” said Mohammad’s wife.
Doctors treating Mohammad at SMHS hospital say that they have extracted the clotted blood from his eye and are continuing his treatment.
“Doctors are trying hard to save the eyesight of the patient. Nothing can be said as the treatment is under process,” said a doctor at SMHS.