Srinagar: A 28-year-old youth who people thought would not survive his bullet and pellet injuries is proving to be a caretaker for thousands of pellet victims in Kashmir.
Mohammad Ashraf Wani, president of the Jammu Kashmir Pellet Victims Welfare Trust, says his aim is to help and support those whose life came to a painful halt due to pellets.
“We are just flesh-and-blood bodies; emotionally and mentally, we have died long ago,” said Wani, a resident of Rahmoo Pulwama. “We have been murdered but our murderer has not even been charged for the crime,” he said.
Most of the pellet victims in Kashmir belong to poor families, Wani says, which makes the medical expenses hard to afford. The state government last September promised to rehabilitate the pellet victims by giving them specialised treatment and compensation in terms of job and cash, but that promise is yet to be fulfilled. The pellet victims themselves came together and formed an association to help each other.
“Two years have passed but the government has done nothing for us. We (pellet victims) got together and formed an association to take help from the general people/society. Our association has more than three-thousand members – victims of oppression and brutality. We have about 1,250 members who have lost eyesight,” Wani said.
Thanking the common people for their help, Wani said, “In the month of holy Ramadan, people from different walks of life helped us financially. Because of this help, many pellet victims got treated well. If people help us this way, we are hopeful that many victims can start their small businesses and earn so that they don’t become burden on their families.”
The issues faced by pellet victims are not limited to medical expenses. They face many more problems like loss of education, isolation, disability and mental trauma. Wani said that many victims are unable to pursue education and a special school for them is urgently needed. “It can only happen when people help us,” Wani said.
Wani’s own story is a terrible sequence of pain, hardship and suffering. He lost complete vision in his right eye even after going through three surgeries at SMHS Hospital, while his left eye has little vision left. But that has not stopped him from helping others.
In the ten districts of Kashmir, Wani and other victims volunteer to help other victims.
“For the past six months we have been trying hard to help other victims. We are also trying to help those pellet victims who were hit in 2017 and during this year. We are hopeful that society will help us,” he said. Ashraf Wani before and after 2016
Before August 24, 2016, Wani was hard to find at home as he was working with a telecom company as a field officer, recovering outstanding bills from customers and also purusing his graduation. On August 24, 2016, people were protesting at Prichoo, Pulwama, and Wani was part of the protest.
“We were peacefully registering our protest but police didn’t allow us to do so. Soon, stone-pelting started. I moved towards a safe corner but one CRPF trooper started firing at the protesters from his vehicle. Many protestors got hit by bullets, including me,” Wani narrated.
On that day, two people died of bullet injuries and six others were wounded. Wani was on ventilator for almost a week.
“Everyone thought that I will not survive as the bullet had hit my back and pierced my liver. It touched one of my lungs and came out through the chest. It was a miraculous escape,” Wani said. He was discharged from SMHS Hospital after two weeks and doctors advised him to take rest up to three months. But it was not the end of his miseries.
On October 31, 2016, Wani was still recovering from the bullet wounds when, in the early morning, another round of protests was witnessed in his village. Wani said that policemen and CRPF men went around beating up villagers, vandalising property, and even beat up one girl so badly that she remained unconscious for two days.
Wani, who was still hurting from the bullet wounds, tried to escape. He moved to a nearby hill – Lidergan, surrounded by a dozen houses, hoping it would be safe there.
But soon, Wani’s fears came true. The government forces came climbing up the hill, chasing youths. “After some boys climbed the hill, the policemen fired pellets indiscriminately, along with tear gas shells. It was very difficult for me to move so I tried to hide myself behind a tree, but a policeman aimed his pellet gun at me and fired. I was bleeding from head to toe. The pellets were all over my body,” Wani said.
For one week, Wani remained unconscious in hospital. When he woke up, he realised that his eyes were no more.
After three surgeries at SMHS hospital, the right eye of Wani is still blank with no vision at all. The left eye is yet to be operated and has little vision left. The left eye still has tiny lead pellets inside. Wani fears that after surgery, he will lose this little vision, too.
“I don’t want to have my left eye operated. Whatever vision it has, I don’t want to lose it. I cannot afford to do that,” he said.
Wani had lost his father in 2005. The responsibility of feeding and providing education for his four younger siblings fell on his shoulders.
He worked in an apple orchard and in a telecom company to make ends meet, but now he is confined to his room.
“My bodily pain is nothing compared to the helplessness of not being able to help my family,” he rued.