‘Killing me every day’: A woman with ‘uncountable’ pellets in her body

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The Kadoo family often keeps their two-storey residence in Ashajipora village of Anantnag locked from the inside. “Because I’m mostly naked. I can’t tolerate the clothes on my body,” said Masooda Tabassum, belovedly known as Masrat in her neighbourhood. “I feel itchy. My body is home to uncountable metal pellets.”

Masrat can’t count the pellets inside her body; she estimates it to be between 200 to ‘uncountable’. “How will we count this?,” she asked as she held her X-Ray opposite the light.

On 10 July 2016, each drop of blood dripping from the wooden cart took Feroz Ahmad Kadoo closer to his wife’s death.

A few moments ago, he had heard people shouting his wife’s name: “Masrat is dead! Masrat is dead!”

Kadoo and their eldest daughter held onto 35-year-old Masrat’s hands as they tried to move past clashes between the government forces and protestors. “The situation doesn’t look fine,” her daughter told her, and she assured Masrat that it’d be fine.

Barely five meters away, a policeman bent on his knee, aimed and shot metal-pellets, recalled Masrat, towards them. “I shielded my family while we ran for life without looking behind,” she said. “We ran in different directions.”

Masrat’s back was sprayed with metal-pellets as she lay on the street, bleeding.

Then two days back, on 8 July 2016, nearly 200,000 people had gathered 34 kilometers away from Masrat’s home, in south Kashmir’s Tral for the funeral of Burhan Wani, a militant commander of Hizbul Mujahideen. Wani’s killing in a gunfight had triggered a wave of deadly protests across the Valley. In the months-long uprising, at least 100 civilians were killed and 14,000 injured, many due to metal-pellets.

‘I thought I was dead’

“I fell on the ground after I was hit,” Masrat told The Kashmir Walla, sitting at her home in Ashajipora.

“He [policeman] hit my back with his baton,” she recalled, adding that she failed to get up. “I attempted to crawl towards a nearby house.”

“Policeman came after me and blocked the door with the baton before I could close it,” said Masrat. But she fought back. “Then a man living in that house helped me to close the door.”

Bleeding profusely, Masrat too thought it was the end. “I thought the lower portion of my body was torn apart,” she said. As she laid in the lawn of her distant neighbor’s house, she closed her eyes: “I recited Kalima and requested Allah to save my life for my four daughters.”

After the police left, the news of her death spreaded like a wildfire within no time while her family members were scattered across the neighbourhood due to chaos.

Kadoo came out of hiding and followed the drops of blood that he saw on the road right after. “When I opened the door of the house where she was, I saw blood in the lawn everywhere,” he said.

When he saw Masrat, Ahmad recalled, he screamed and begged for help. “I didn’t know what to do. I was begging people to do something,” he said, “until I saw a wooden cart.”

Then he put Masrat on the cart and was rushed in the hope of reaching a hospital on time. “On the way, we all were beaten by the forces but I didn’t lose my grip on the cart handle,” Kadoosaid, who was hit by a few metal-pellets too. “I was shouting that this is my wife and she will die.”

Next fifteen minutes only “felt longer” to Kadoo.

When their children reached hospital with relatives, Kaado was on a bed, under treatment while Masrat lay in an operation theater, lying unconscious, recalled Arfa Feroz, Masrat’s 18-year-old daughter.

The children waited for Masrat to be fine, four days later when she returned home.

But five years have passed, and she has a dent on her lower back but she never saw it. 

Perpetual trauma

Masrat now suffers from backaches and frequent body aches. “I’m not able to do an MRI [on doctor’s recommendation, due to metal-pellets] to know the exact problem because of pellets in my body,” shesaid. “Doctors are not able to treat me now.”

The sunlight is too harsh for her to bear. “It feels like I’m being pricked by multiple needles on my back.”

She said she can’t stand for more than a minute in her kitchen either. “I cut vegetables and my hands started aching,” she said, adding that her health has grown very frail in the last few months. “Health has deteriorated but what can we do now?”

She added in a helpless tone: “It is not fair. I don’t want this to happen with anyone. I was young and I could have moved mountains but I have lost my strength now.”

The metal-pellets in her body have not only impacted her physical well-being but mental-health too. “Nobody will understand what I’m going through but myself,” Masrat said. “It has been very painful.”

On most of the nights, Tabasum would wake up to her racing heart and sweaty palms. “I would weep,” she added.

Before the incident, Masrat kept her daughters out of the kitchen or other house chores. So when Masrat was bed-ridden after injury, her daughters slept hungry for several nights. “Now even if they don’t feel like or are busy studying, they have to work,” she said.

“They [daughters, during the first six months] would clean me, feed me and help me urinate.”

During the first six months of her injury, she had to visit the hospital for wound cleaning and dressing, all amid the continuing street protests. “Situation was tense those days, we would ignore telling the police our actual reason for seeing a doctor,” said Masrat, adding that they would make excuses for different ailments to save themselves from further harassment. “They would abuse us at the checkpoints while going to hospital. We wouldn’t say anything because we were scared of the consequences.”

With darkness at night, comes the haunting memories of the day she was shot at. “I’m not able to forget that,” she said. “I would think about how happy we were and how a pellet injury changed everything for us.”

“You die once but an incident like this kills you everyday,” she said, with a sigh.

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