Covid Ending ‘Trust’ of Dark Eyes in Kashmir

 Mohammad Ashraf Wani (in white shirt) with a pellet victim.

To counter suicidal thoughts, financial distress and societal indifference, a pellet survivor had started a welfare trust for his sightless tribe which is now on the verge of closure due to Covid crisis.

BEFORE Covid changed the pulse of life in the valley, Mohammad Ashraf Wani was busy organizing psychiatric counseling sessions for pellet survivors of Kashmir grappling with the post-traumatic stress disorder.

These sessions helped these survivors to readjust among the normal working class without calling themselves “victims”.

“To organise these sessions, our Pellet Victims Welfare Trust (PVWT) would collect funds from public during Friday congregational prayers,” Wani, himself a pellet survivor, said.

“But after Covid, neither we could collect funds nor organise counselling sessions for our distressed pellet brethren.”

Beginning of the Trust  

It was five months after he suffered a pellet barrage on his body including in his eyes that Wani was provoked to change his tribe’s traumatic lives.

“I remember it was March 2017,” the 24-year-old pellet survivor from Rahmoo Pulwama said. “Before walking inside the SMHS Hospital’s Patient-Centred Care Room that day, I saw familiar and friendly faces of six pellet survivors waiting for their turn.”

They were anxious, their bodies were shaking, Wani, wearing black glasses, face mask, and mint green Khan dress, recalled.

“Their plight set me thinking,” he continued. “We were strangers, yet a family sharing the same torment.”

After his fifteen-minute-long consultation, Wani stepped out of the room and saw all the six obscure-looking faces gone. He couldn’t make sense of their sudden disappearance.

“Later that evening,” Wani recounted, “I received a call. And what I learned shook me. Those six pellet survivors were planning a mass suicide in Srinagar that day!”

Wani was told that the financial crisis, societal indifference, family pressure, and the mental constraints had coerced those six eldest sons of their families towards that extreme step.

On his part, Wani had nothing to offer except his consoling words.

After a four-hour-long motivational conversation, his words did the trick.

“Those six survivors,” he said, “gave up the idea of suicide forever.”

However, Wani said, they were not the only ones in desperate need of support. Many ‘silent types’, like Adil Hussain Dar of Shopian, needed the same treatment.

The 22-year-old was called the “Tendulkar of welding” for his monumental work. But during the 2016 protests, Dar lost his eyesight to pellet assault. There was no end to his miseries, as he was forced to halt work, which created family crisis for him.

“The medical expenses put the pellet victims’ family in such deep debt that it forces them to give up on their own children,” Dar lamented over his fate.

As the majority of the pellet survivors in Kashmir belong to humble families, they often gave up on their medical treatment as the sense of failure in fulfilling their family obligation takes a mental toll on them.

A Ray of Hope

These crisis-ridden cases eventually motivated Wani to institutionalize Pellet Victims Welfare Trust (PVWT) on August 25, 2017. And since its inception, the trust has already helped the survivors in overcoming their traumatic behaviours.

“I established the trust with the support of five other survivors,” Wani said. “I was hit by a bullet in the back which pierced my liver and came out through the chest and then after 2 months I was fired 635 pellets. My conscience wasn’t allowing me to let anybody else experience the same mental stress that I did after all these injuries.”

Currently, some 1200 pellet survivors, including Shabroza from Rahmoo Pulwama, are registered with Wani’s PVWT.

A Disarrayed Dream

The 18-year-old class topper was preparing for her board exams when the deadly pellets pierced her left eye during 2016 protests.

“Before injury, my financially-weak family was dreaming to see me a KAS officer one day,” Shabroza said. “But that dream will only stay a dream now.”

It was Wani’s Trust, which became a much-needed moral support for Shabroza during her distress.

“Pellet survivors aren’t always in dire need of financial assistance,” she said. “They mostly need some moral support to cope up with injury.”

And this is where Wani’s Trust was chipping in with aid and assistance until pandemic came as a spoiler.

Showing receipt of the last received fund of Rs 200 on February 2020, Wani said, his Trust has not received any penny since March.

As the crippling covid has seized all the financial support and mental supervision for these pellet victims, Wani and his team are on the verge of shutting down the Trust that once visioned to provide a peaceful life to thousands of dark eyes in Kashmir.

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Zaid Bin Shabir

Zaid Bin Shabir is a special correspondent at Kashmir Observer. He tweets @Zaidbinshabir

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