Light After Darkness: Kashmiri Pellet Victim’s Fight for Education

Despite pellet-eclipsed eyesight, Adil is now a reckoning tutor in town. Photos courtesy, Adil’s personal album.

As pellets once again returned to haunt Kashmir near a Shopian gunfight site, the victims of the duck-hunting guns continue to grapple with the enforced darkness. But one pellet-affected boy is showing the way by fighting his victimhood with the light of education.

By Zeenish Imroz

A young boy walking swiftly, hands in his pockets, eyes fixed on the ground, enters a cafe opposite to the Shalimar garden. Dressed in ripped jeans and dusty-black hoodie with the chain unzipped to the chest, he sits confidently on a chair ready to narrate the horrendous event that changed his life.

Adil insists us to sit beside a stove. A cup of tea is served to each one of us, as he begins narrating his life trajectory.

He expresses his passion for learning mathematics and science. A peculiar student, Adil scored 89.8 % in his class 10 board exam. His performance was outstanding considering that he had stopped going to a tuition centre after he was asked to pay the fee. His daily-wager father asked him to wait for a few days till he gets paid by the employer. But the teacher humiliated him in front of other students and he never went to a tuition centre again.

Adil started using his neighbour’s slow data connectivity for lessons from Khan Academy which is an online American non-profit educational organisation. The American accent being different, it would sometimes take him 2 hours to fully understand a 5-minute video.

The pursuit of learning compelled him to repetitively watch the same video until he grasped the concept. The routine task gradually decreased the amount of time he needed to understand the topic. His passion for studies and efforts was a positive slope on a line graph. He dreamt of cracking JEE after the 12th Board Exams, a dream that soon shattered into blinding glass pieces.

Life before the pellet assault was all about studies and style.

That evening of 10 September 2016 was all mundane, till 9:00 pm, when news about the killing of Nasir, a school-going boy of Theed, Harwan flared the city. Another summertime bloodshed had already interred 85 civilians till that day and now Nasir, pierced by hundreds of pellets was added to the deadpool.

Massive protests followed his funeral at Shalimar ghat, Harwan and Brein. Government forces fired tear-gas and pellets in retaliation, blinding and maiming people.

Inaam, Adil’s neighbour had gone for a walk and heard shots being fired. He saw a boy showing his eye to people present around him, “Something is hurting my eye”.

It was Adil.

Inaam, shocked to see his neighbourhood boy’s swollen face, rushed home to get his car. The numbness from the pellet injury was resisting any pain, but Adil’s eyes were bleeding tears.

Inaam along with Adil’s friend Muzammil drove around 9kms amidst road blockades to SKIMS, Soura where they were referred to SMHS for the removal of pellets surgically.

A long distance was to be travelled with barbed wires, obstructing the vehicular movement. Being mindful of the risks, Inaam asked Muzammil to hang Adil’s legs out from the window as evidence of an injured person being taken to the hospital.

Once reaching the SMHS, Adil’s pellet injuries were examined through X-ray and scans, before he was admitted for the surgery. As the upheaval in 2016 was started by the killing of Burhan Wani, commander of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, all the pellet victims had registered themselves with the name “Burhan” at the hospital, hiding their identity at the same time to avoid faring on police radars.

Adil’s name was standing out in the list.

While his eye was being operated, his family was oblivious of the grave ordeal befallen on their son.

Paying no heed to the routine bangs of pellet cartridges and tear-gas shells, the family was sitting in front of television, watching news about the killing of the 11-year-old.

After a while, as people gathered outside Adil’s house, his sister ran towards the house screaming. Her mother thought she was being chased by a dog until she heard the words that wreaked havoc on them, “Something has happened to Adil!

Immediately, the sound of all the pellet guns and tear-gas shells that had been fired made sense.

Adil’s mother’s chest filled with remorse for not searching for her son like she used to do every time there were clashes. A witness to the incident, her cousin informed her that he saw Inaam taking Adil to the hospital.

While his family was losing heart, Adil was in the theatre bearing the brunt of being a Kashmiri.

The anesthetist wrongly injected him four times in the eye which is one of the most sensitive parts of human body. The fifth time he made it through.

The surgery was started with a machine that stopped working in the middle of the operation. The effect of anesthesia began diminishing. The impaired machine worked again and the doctor continued operating Adil’s left eye. The boy was feeling it now: The instruments being inserted in his eye. He was crying out of the sharp pain.

“The pain was so intense that I would rather opt being blinded than resist the unbearable ache,” Adil recalls the horrible episode. The doctor would respond to his cries, “Just a few minutes!”

Sealed by three stitches, those few minutes extended for twenty minutes.

After Adil’s surgery, Inaam brought his mother, sister and uncle to the hospital as there was no public transport available.

His ailing father lingered in his one-storey house as he suffered from cardiovascular disease. Though he had left consuming tobacco after much damage was done, his lungs were seriously affected confining his physical movement.

Lying on the bed of one of the three wards allocated for pellet victims, Adil’s ghoulish surgical pain was soon neutralized by the scenario of the 50-patient ward he was in. While one of his eyes was bandaged, he discerned that he was one of the least injured victims of pellet guns.

His father’s demise on the heels of his injury is still haunting him.

A lively figure that Adil was, he got bored and asked his friend to get him an earphone so that he could relax his mind listening to songs.

During his stay in that trauma-filled ward housing Kashmir’s new-age conflict-torn lives, a reporter entered the ward asking about Adil- the pellet victim, the sight of a broad muscular young man did not identify him as a pellet victim. Only when he removed his sunglasses, did the reporter recognize him.

Adil explains the scene of the ward in these words:

“On my left side was an old man, whose one eye was blinded and he was saying ‘I can sacrifice my second eye too, for our righteous cause’. Another young man was proud of being the first pellet victim with 600 pellets in his body. The sharp pain in his body was an evidence of his resilience, though the light of his eyes was snatched away by the lead pellets. He said, “My name will always remain inscribed in the history of Kashmir as I have the most pellets.”

Three days after the surgery, Adil’s bandage was removed and Inaam asked him if the sight of his left eye had returned to which he replied in the negative, “I’m not recovering, everything is blur. They can’t help me here. I should go outside for treatment.”

Adil had talked to some of his friends in Chandigarh for the treatment but the family’s financial status hindered his recovery.

“The other pellet victims who were taken outside for treatment recovered to an extent,” says Adil’s sister but he had to make peace with a distorted vision for the rest of his life.

A physics student, Adil explains the malfunction of his eye, “The cornea of an eye is supposed to refract the rays of light, but in my case, it reflects some of it, creating double-vision.”

A passionate opening batsman, he went for games all day long before this gruesome incident. Now he sees two balls instead of one, not knowing which one to hit.

Life, indeed, isn’t the same for Adil after his piercing tragedy.

One of the friends was Mumin who became friends with Adil when Muzammil coerced Mumin to become a gym member. He joined in peer pressure. A muscular young boy, wearing a red-stripe black hoodie was a role model for other boys in the gym. He was none other than Adil.

During Pandemic lockdown, he conducted online tuition classes.

Their friendship strengthened with the late evening daily walks on the ghats of Nishat discussing politics, sports, entertainment.

After a long haul of shutdown following the killing of Burhan Wani, the group of three decided to meet at the gate of SKUAST at around 5pm every day.

The trio shifted the meeting point to inside the campus where they once robbed bags full of walnuts. Every Kashmiri child has a memory of stealing fruit or walnuts from someone’s garden. Next day, the gatekeeper stopped them from entering the campus and they knew what the reason was. “We passed each other a vicious smile,” says Mumin recalling the event.

In one of the meetings Adil while sitting under a Chinar started discussing about the horror of pellets, not knowing the same weapon would change the course of his life.

While he sips tea from the paper cup, Adil’s sparkling almond-shaped eyes, brown-curled eyelashes droop down in sorrow as he talks about the forthcoming agony.

After the pellet incident, Adil wouldn’t go out with friends as he used to, but on one of the rare meetings, he received a call from his home which impacted his story like no other. His father had passed away.

The sick father tried to cope up with his work even though his heart ailment was a barrier for his normal functioning but Adil’s life-changing incident broke him emotionally and physically leaving him bedridden.

Adil’s father, since his injury, would cry often and after 4 months of sorrow, in the month of February 2017, he breathed his last. Adil blames himself for the beloved loss.

Now, he was bound to step into the shoes of his mason father to provide for his two sisters and a mother. He had attained around 70 per cent in class 12, even though the pellet injury curtailed his long-routine study. Eventually, the responsibility of his grief-torn family obligated him to drop his dream of cracking JEE and study further.

Struggling for his family, Adil was being eaten up by guilt inside. Waking up to the panic attacks at night, hopelessness grabbed hold of him. Despaired about his future studies, suicidal thoughts overwhelmed him. Everything felt meaningless, even the basic needs of life. “When I ate something, I would think to myself, why am I eating,” says Adil.

The cynicism started when Adil was waiting outside the hospital for Inaam to get home. Meanwhile an unknown man on a bike asked him if the injury was from a pellet as he saw him wearing sunshades. The man told him, “It will never heal completely.” Those words left an imprint on his mind and changed his outlook towards life.

As a gym-goer, Adil is an inspiration for his neighbourhood boys.

Muzammil joins the conversation and speaks about the night when Adil was staying at his home, abruptly his heart started pounding fast.

“I got frightened, trying different techniques to calm his condition. I thought he was going to die, such was his condition. It lasted for about 15 mins,” he recalls.

This was the one time Muzammil had witnessed one of Adil’s terrible nights, his family being oblivious of his condition. “I would wake up to the trembling panic attacks at night and think whether I am dead or alive and if I am alive! What am I doing and why!,” says Adil with a wry smile.

Forced by his deteriorating mental condition, he went to a psychiatrist for consultation and was prescribed medicine which he refused to take.

“They would tell me it is a storm, sit with your arms wrapped around your body, it will pass. I would say, ‘What if it never goes away?’ ” a gust of air followed by a smile as if it was the storm that he had engulfed.

“They would say, it will! It will!” says Adil in a hopeless tone as if they couldn’t understand his suffering.

His family never knew about his mental struggle but the change in his attitude made them realise that he was changing into a pessimist.

“If someone asks me to pay Rs. 50,000 for one minute of my sight being restored, I will not give it a thought,” says Adil stressing on the phrase: “Just One minute!”

Silence followed his words and suddenly the noise from the group of children on the next table veiled the sound of nothingness.

Adil’s fight back attitude has already made him a role model for many.

The next meeting was scheduled at his house in winter where his mother explains the financial problems she had to face with time as she enters the room of her house reserved for guests.

Adil’s sister brings a blanket to shield us from the low temperature. The bare windows covered with thin curtains could hardly stop any gust of cold air.

Gasping for air, Adil’s mother sits beside us, breathless with back pain.

“The thought of my young children and many responsibilities that Adil has to endure keeps me up at night,” says Adil’s sobbing mother.

Financial pressure added to the miseries of broken Adil. His 24-year-old sister is working at a clinic and another sister, 20, goes to ITI centre for fashion designing.

Adil after his father’s death had applied for many jobs, but was rejected as he had no experience. The only job Adil got was as an assistant to a tourist photographer, whose daily abusive behaviour, soon made him quit.

He was expecting his relatives’ support in the harsh time of his life but according to him they turned their back at him. “Maybe they thought that they might have to help me monetarily and therefore backed off. No one supported us in the harshest times,” says Adil.

But after being persuaded by Inaam, he realized the best thing he was good at was math and science. So, one day, he decided to give home tuitions to students in the locality and started pursuing his studies through a distance mode.

Though the tuition didn’t make much difference to the financial condition of his home, he is trying his best to help his family.

After the coronavirus lockdown, he has shifted to online teaching. Somewhere he’s content with his work now, but the void left by the pellets can never be filled. His dreams that could never become a reality, the guilt of his father’s death and the liabilities from his family could never be compensated.

Adil struggles with trauma to this day, the trauma from that one pellet in his eye. One pellet that changed the course of his life!

  • Zaid Bin Shabir contributed to this report

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