The bazaars filled with the hubbub and excitement of Eid remained in contrast with a dim lit room that oversaw the bazaar from above. The bazaar’s vigour of Eid failed to peep inside the room where a woman sat at the corner sobs quietly to herself and a few men pretend to be elsewhere.
While cautiously pouring a soft drink in a glass placed on the table, Mohammad Ashraf Wani, takes a good few minutes trying not to spill it anywhere around. “Pellets in our bodies have slowed us down,” he says, with a languid smile that fails to hide the wounds he is carrying inside.
Sitting carefully on a black chair with black sunglasses shielding his damaged eyes, Wani narrates his ordeal that changed the course of his life.
“I can never forget the date,” he recalls. “It was 24 August 2016, when pellets crippled my life.”
As per the Jammu and Kashmir Pellet Victims Welfare Trust (JKPVWT), Wani is one of the 1,350 pellet victims whose life turned into fatality after a close brush up with death.
Wani, who hails from South Kashmir’s Pulwama district, recalls the day when the government forces barged into his village and started to vandalize public and private properties. “Till this day I don’t know why they had come to our village. There was neither any shutdown, nor were there any protests going on,” he says.
After being shot by the pellets, Wani was kept in emergency ward for sixteen straight days, where he underwent Pneumotherapy. He got his eyes operated that only left him with partial eyesight.
Six hundred and thirty five pellets are still inside Wani’s body, reminding him of his growing weaknesses and struggles. “It has become impossible to stand under the sun for even ten minutes as these metal pellets start heating up inside,” he says, while a woman was sitting in the corner of the room continues sobbing quietly.
Before the incident, Wani was the sole bread winner of his three sisters and mother. However, Wani is now dependent on his family to take care of him.
Similar to Wani’s is the story of Altaf Seh. He, too, has lost his eyesight partially and any will to live after getting crippled by the pellets.
While re-adjusting his photochromic glasses, he says, “Sometimes I feel that we are nothing but walking dead.”
“I call them all murderers. Nobody will file a case against them but they are all murderer. They have murdered our dreams, hopes and emotions,” he says, with an exasperation that ceases to stay repressed now.
Altaf, 26, who also was the sole bread earner of the family, was hit by twenty five pellets on his face on 21 August 2016. “We have an apple orchard in Shopian. I am unable to work there as long exposure to sun eats up my body,” he says.
Altaf’s adversities are now added on by his financial difficulties as he has to support the education of his two children.
In March 2017, Wani and Altaf met each other at the SMHS hospital along with other pellet survivors when they all were undergoing treatment. There, at the hospital, when they saw the mutual sufferings of each other, the idea of establishing a trust for pellet survivors struck them – Jammu and Kashmir Pellet Victims Welfare Trust (JKPVWT).
They have all found a new meaning to their disheveled lives.
“There was a time when we were all living for ourselves but later that will also died. However, now is the time when we willfully live for others,” says Wani and Altaf with smiles that put light on their latent hopes.
The Trust was established on 25 August 2017, with all its members being victims of pellets. “Our trust keeps a check on pellet victims on weekly basis. We try to provide them with medical, financial and moral support,” adds Wani, the President of the Trust.
The Trust has volunteers in ten districts of Kashmir who keep the record of pellet victims’ well-being, their treatment, education etc. They collect money from mosques, or, at times, receive random donations.
“We don’t get help from any political parties, leaders or any NGO. Our funds majorly rely on collections from masjids every Friday,” says Wani.
As per him, there has been an incident in the past when a local organization had promised to raise funds for the Trust, but, “vanished into the thin air along with their false promises and money.”
On 18 August this year, the members of the Trust staged a silent protest against the use of pellet guns. They demand the withdrawal of false accusation against the pellet survivors for being “anti-nationals.”
“The forces recently attacked a man who did not have hands with pellets, they also accused him of stone pelting. How can a man with who doesn’t have hands throw stones at them? They accuse us for hiding their own misdeeds,” says one of the members.
The members of the Trust believe that the determination to embark on the journey, filled with successes and failures, makes them courageous more than ever.