injured in riyaz naikoo gunfight
Zahid was hit by pellets in the aftermath of Pulwama gunfight on Wednesday. Photograph by Yashraj Sharma for The Kashmir Walla

Nobody knew his name. His bandaged face was soaked in blood; he couldn’t speak either—the blood had dried up and sealed his lips. A young boy, who pushed his stretcher out of the elevator on the third floor, where surgeries are performed in Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital, Srinagar, had to run back quickly. 

“There are more boys on the ground floor,” he said, panicking. 

A team of healthcare staff, wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), dragged the stretcher inside the surgery ward in a rush. And shut the door. Ghulam Qadir Wani, an elderly man wearing a pheran and a mask, sat despondently next to the gate. His son, too, was inside the ward.

Two hours earlier, he was at his home in Koil village of Pulwama district, south Kashmir, when a man came running towards him. “Your son has been hit with pellets,” he was told. His 23-year-old son, Shahid Wani, was among the hundreds of protestors who reached Beighpora village in the wee hours of Wednesday.

The phones were buzzing with rumours: Riyaz Naikoo, the operational commander-in-chief of Hizbul Mujahideen, a militant outfit, was trapped in a gunfight with government forces in his native village.

During the gunfight, the protestors threw stones at the government forces—attempting to help trapped militants escape. The forces retaliated with live ammunition and metal pellets. In the clashes, over two dozen protestors were injured. Medical Superintendent of District Hospital Pulwama, Dr. Mir Mushtaq told a news agency that sixteen injured were received at the hospital. “Four of them had bullet wounds while the rest had pellet injuries.”

Within an hour, young boys sat tucked-in in the waiting area in Srinagar’s hospital. Some had friends, others had brothers. 

The gates opened and a doctor walked out. “Who is with Shahid?” he asked. Wani stood in a jerk and walked up to him, worried. “He is fine. He got pellets on his chest and abdomen,” the doctor said. Wani broke down. “His face is almost untouched.”

It was a moment of relief for Wani. He had feared worse; from July 2016 to February 2019, metal pellets—which the Ministry of Home Affairs calls “non-lethal”—have killed eighteen, blinded 139, injured 2,942, and caused eye injuries to 1,459.

Soon after, the healthcare staff dragged out two stretchers; one’s elder brother surrounded him, the other lay unattended and unmoved. Two boys stood up quickly and held onto two drips of the boy-with-no-name, as the medicine flowed into his veins through needles. 

“Get his CT [Computed Tomography] scan done and move him to ward-eight on the ground floor, quickly,” a nurse ordered and wrote on an unnamed ticket. The boys nodded and rushed towards the elevator—only to be halted.

The elevator’s door opened and another boy on a stretcher, wearing a black-strip t-shirt, was pushed out; the blood on his clothes had mixed with mud, and one couldn’t differentiate anymore. 

After he was taken inside the ward—his injury unknown to me—the boy-with-no-name got into the elevator. The doors slid-closed and one of the boys pushed G-button for the ground-floor of the hospital, heading towards the CT scan room. 

Struggling to continue, Zahid told a phone number slowly—requesting to inform his family of his whereabouts. But it didn’t work.

His joggers were wet and his face had metal pellets. The silence inside the elevator was deafening. One of the attendants tapped on his shoulders as he lay unmoved: “You’ll be just fine. Don’t worry.” He moved one of his fingers. 

I leaned and asked, “Do you have anyone with you?” He didn’t respond. “What is your age?” I asked. He ripped open his lips slowly—the blood still there—and mumbled, “Twenty.”

“Your name?” I asked, tapping his shoulder to keep him conscious. “Zahid.”

Struggling to continue, Zahid told a phone number slowly—requesting to inform his family of his whereabouts. But it didn’t work. The authorities had snapped phone lines in Kashmir in the afternoon, as the rumors of Naikoo’s killing became headlines. 

One of the longest surviving militants in the Valley, a joint party of the government forces had zeroed in Naikoo’s native village on Tuesday night. He was shot dead by the forces during the gunfight on Wednesday. He was 35. 

In a statement, the police held him accountable for about a dozen crimes, including attacks on government forces and the police in his 8-year long survival.

At the hospital, the boy, who was holding onto Zahid’s drips, asked him to rest and not worry. 

injured, riyaz naikoo, gunfight,
Zahid being taken to the ward in elevator at the SMHS hospital of Srinagar on Wednesday. Photographs by Yashraj Sharma for The Kashmir Walla

The ground floor was deserted. It has been weeks since the hospital shut its Outdoor Patient Department; a global pandemic, COVID-19, didn’t spare Kashmir. On this day, thirty-four more cases were detected of the coronavirus, and the tally in Jammu and Kashmir rose to 775.

In the empty corridor, as the sun began to set, two boys, also residents of Pulwama district—unacquainted with Zahid—held on to his stretcher tight; one of the wheels won’t revolve in the rhythm. If Zahid’s foot wasn’t bumping onto a wall, then one of the boys would stumble. 

Outside the CT scan room, two corridors down from the elevator, a boy in a grey t-shirt, his hair dry and long, sat with a bandage on his left eye. He sat next to a wall with his face ducked. But the stretcher’s wheels were loud; he stood and ran down to help.

While Zahid lay inside for his scan, Wani came with his son on another stretcher. But he will have to wait a little longer. Before Wani’s son, two more boys with pellet injuries were in line.

However, Zahid’s reports would take an hour or so. Meanwhile, he was rushed to Ward-8 of the Department of Ophthalmology, where he would need to rest as his treatment would continue. 

At the ward’s entrance, a few meters long narrow-corridor, a male nurse stopped Zahid. He checked his ticket, and asked for details. The boys replied with the first name and denied for more. 

A boy frisked him for an identity card; he pulled out a bullet shell from his left pocket of the joggers. And he looked at it briefly before throwing it away in a dustbin nearby. Registering the admission, the nurse told me, “We’ve received at least fourteen cases so far from Pulwama.”

After the registration, Zahid was moved inside the ward and the nurse walked back in his room. But there was no time to relax. He quickly picked up his torch and flashed it at another boy sitting on a bench. The nurse held up two fingers in front of the face—bandaged on the left eye, asking him to nod if he can see.

The boy nodded yes as tears rolled down his right eye. A few hours later, his bandage would be removed and a doctor would check on his left eye. Only then would he know if he is half-blinded or not.

Yashraj Sharma is an Assistant Editor at The Kashmir Walla.

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