‘I am not a normal person now. I may look like I am, but I am not’

‘I am not a normal person now. I may look like I am, but I am not’

A poor family in Srinagar had all its preparations for the future shattered by the new pellet gun that was fired in Kashmir in 2010

Srinagar: Back in 2010, Ghulam Ahmad Shalbaf, a 54-year-old willow basket weaver of Srinagar, was preparing for the marriage of his son, the eldest of his seven children. To earn extra money, he had started weaving carpets during the time he usually spent walking outdoors.
“For a labourer like me, bearing the expenses of a wedding is like breaking a mountain. That is why I was doing two jobs,” said Ahmad.
Even as the wedding day was approaching, Shalbaf’s youngest son, Sameer Ahmad, was struck by a terrible new ammunition that government forces were using for the first time in Kashmir against street protesters. Among the thousands of people that pellet guns left badly injured in the 2010 uprising was Sameer Ahmad, then a 14-year-old school student.
Sameer now works as a lowly mechanic at a two-wheeler repair shop in Nowshehra area of Srinagar. A soft-spoken skinny boy, he has such poor eyesight that he struggles to identify even his friends. The name by which he is known in the locality is “model”, but the fine figure that he would have cut as a teenager has now changed to that of a feeble, disabled wretch.
Shalbaf said that he used to admire Sameer the most among his children.
Sameer has just entered his 20th year. He left studies four years ago, when he was in Class 10. He has recently joined the mechanic workshop. Before this, he worked at a stationery shop in Soura main market.

Double victims: of Pellets and of Poverty
Farooq Ahmad of Ganderbal, a father of three daughters, has been blinded in one eye by pellets fired in this year’s uprising.
The precarious situation of the family has made Farooq Ahmad think of selling the little land he owns in his village of Chak Fatehpora.
A 44-year-old labourer, Farooq Ahmad was planning to raise one more storey to his 20-year-old one-storey house. Now that he is unable to work
even as a labourer, that building plan has disintegrated.
His younger brother Bashir Ahmad, who has been attending to him in different hospitals in Ganderbal and Srinagar since the day he was injured – on July 8 – said that Farooq has been struggling with enormous pain in his damaged eye.
“It is heart-wrenching to see him trembling in severe pain. But I have no means to cure him. Doctors here have declared his eye completely dead. They say he has no chance of regaining his eyesight. We want to take him to some private or government hospital outside the state, but being extremely poor we can’t afford it,” Bashir said at SMHS hospital where Farooq is currently being treated.
“I am myself a labourer. If I do not go to work, my wife and children have to sleep hungry. I am here at the hospital for the past three days. Apart from my brother, I am also worried about my own family,” Bashir said.

“I repeatedly pleaded with my son to continue studying as it would benefit him in the future, but he refused every time,” rued Shalbaf, who had dreams of seeing Sameer at a high official position.
With tears in his eyes, Shalbaf said, “Whenever I would ask him to resume his education, he would cry that how can he read or write when he cannot even see the alphabet clearly. If he tried to focus his eyes, the letters blurred and he became exhausted.”
The soft-spoken Sameer said for himself, “I am not a normal person now. I may look like I am, but I am not.”
Recalling the fateful day when Sameer fell to pellets, his friend Amir said that for most of the day, Sameer would play carom with his friends. “There were fierce clashes going on at main market Soura. At about 4pm, we decided to wind up the game and check whether the clashes had ended. We had walked for about 10 minutes towards the market when we heard screams from a lane. We rushed to the lane and found a woman wailing over her son, who had been struck by a volley of pellets in his abdomen. Unfortunately, we stayed in that lane unaware that government forces were coming towards us,” Amir said.
Sameer said, “They were in shoot-at-sight mood that day. We didn’t know much about pellets then and that’s why we were less careful. We thought pellet guns to be teargas guns. Later I realised that a single pellet had destroyed my life.”
Sameer underwent three major surgeries in his eye but the vision remained deficient. He could not even distinguish light from shade when a hand was waved in front of his eye.
“In the past six years, we spent more than two lakhs on his eye treatment. We went to Amritsar twice and also visited an eye hospital in Indore. But we only ended up wasting our money,” Shalbaf said.
Shalbaf said that all the money he had saved for his son’s wedding went into the treatment of Sameer’s eye.
“Our entire plan for the coming years changed. The wedding was delayed. Much of our monthly income went into buying medicines and medical equipment like lenses,” he said.
Shalbaf said he was still paying back the money he had borrowed from friends and relatives. “Even after six years I am yet to finish off the debt. I owe 20,000 rupees to one of my friends and I feel embarrassed whenever I come across him on a road or elsewhere,” Shalbaf said.
Shalbaf spoke of his plans for building another house to accommodate his children, who comprise five sons and two daughters. “Unfortunately, that remains a distant dream. For the past four years, my elder son was roaming in search of a place to live after he decided to live separately, but he couldn’t (find a place on rent). Exhausted, he came back and now lives in an incomplete one-storey house near us,” he said.
He said that what hurt him the most was that nobody came to help after his son was injured by pellets. “Several organisations have been providing help to needy people. But we have been left to fend for ourselves.”

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