My Dear Insha,
I was there when they carried you in with a bloodied face. Surgeons who cleaned your terrible wounds at Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital said, “her face was like a sieve that had been used to filter blood”. Earlier that July morning, you had sat terrified, huddled with other relatives in a first-floor room in your father’s modest, two-storied home in Shopian’s Sewdow village. Your parents believed you’d be safe from the fury on the street down below where police and paramilitary soldiers battled a mob of angry youngsters-some among them as young as 11, some of them your own classmates-protesting the killing of the Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on July 8. But clearly, there was no place safe from the violence outside, the gunshots, the exploding canisters of teargas and fiery slogans. Suddenly, a window close to where you sat shattered. “I heard Insha wail and saw blood flowing from her face?her eyes. She fell down on the floor,” Afroza Malik, your mother, said recalling her worst nightmare-become-real. Your eyes, face and torso were riddled with pellets from a pump-action shotgun fired, inexplicably, at the first-floor window. The good doctors, first at the SMHS Hospital in Srinagar and later at the nation’s best, Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences, kept you alive, helping you battle a series of complications including a brief brain infection from the lead pellets embedded inside your skull. The physical pain you still suffer will ebb with time. But the doctors have said they can do nothing that would help return your eyesight: “Nothing short of a miracle from God himself can give Insha Malik her beautiful eyes back,” they said, evidently burdened by the pain of the terrible truth-that you will never again be able to see the beautiful Valley that is your home.
“It’s a fate worse than death. Worse than an AK-47 bullet through the skull,” said a surgeon responsible for admitting young and older victims of this latest cycle of strife, one that completely changed life as we had known it until July 8 in the Kashmir Valley. Seventy-five people, many of them teenagers like you, have been killed (local media reports claim 97 dead). Thousands more have sustained injuries, including scores, who like you, have been wholly or partially blinded by pellet guns. The doctors at the SMHS Hospital talk of Omar Nazir, a diminutive 12-year-old school-going son of a daily wage worker of Pulwama called Nazir Ahmad. Unmoving on his hospital bed, he too had lost both his eyes. Tamanna Ashiq, just eight years old, was perhaps more fortunate. Struck similarly in the face by a deadly volley of shotgun pellets when she peered out the window of her village home to watch a protest demonstration on July 9, a day after Burhan’s killing. A pellet lodged deep inside her right eye destroyed the retina but the schoolgirl still has one good eye.
Nudged equally by the curfew ordered by the Mehbooba Mufti government and an unremitting calendar of hartals called by Syed Ali Shah Geelani as well as the Hurriyat hardliners, trouble persisted right until the Durbar (state government) packed its bags and shifted shop to Jammu for the winter in early November. In October, 12-year-old Junaid Akhoon of Saidpora in downtown Srinagar died. He fell to a hail of pellets fired by security personnel intent on dispersing a small crowd of protesters. Young Junaid’s killing; the four-year-old girl with her legs and abdomen riddled by what she believes were “firecrackers”; the loss of Omar Nazir and Tamanna Ashiq’s young eyes; and your own completely undeserved fate, Insha, are a distressing reminder of how children have fallen victim to the cycle of violent strife that simply won’t leave the Kashmir Valley.
Strife that is driven by a dangerously swelling sense of alienation and resentment that rankles every Kashmiri today-a feeling engendered by the mainstream Kashmiri political leadership and Delhi’s collective failure to resolve the Kashmir issue. An anger that is preyed upon and fanned by obdurate Hurriyat hardliners like Geelani, who give little thought to the people they profess to speak for; who think little of paralysing the lives and livelihoods of an entire population; men who, for close to six long months, condemned Kashmir to a life of unending darkness; men who think nothing of shutting down schools and denying children the simple pleasure of stepping out of their homes to play.
Children like you, Insha, and in fact close to 40 per cent of all Kashmiris-born after 1989-have no notion of what it is to live in peace. You have no experience of life without the discomforting presence of khaki uniforms, camouflaged fatigues, jackboots and Kalashnikovs.
You cannot see it, but this is the greatest wound.
Yours in empathy,
(To all the children of Kashmir who lost their innocence, blinded and bruised in the summer of 2016)