Overtaken

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In 1994, an auto driver was beaten by cops. More than two decades later, he is literally paralysed and even lacks control over his urinary bladder. His wife has already deserted him, reports Zubair Sofi

Let this auto driver be Hilal, not his real name. In 1994, then 27, he had overtaken an SOG gypsy while he was on his way to Haft Chinar in Srinagar. But the armoured vehicle overtook him within seconds.

As he stopped, the SOG personnel jumped out of the gypsy, dragged him out, tore his clothes open and beat him ruthlessly. Then, the unwritten road value system, dictated by situation, was to follow the police or an army vehicle.

 “They hit me with gun butts, “Hilal recalls. “One of the blows hit the back of my head and that single blow changed my life forever.” They even took away his earnings.

A resident of Maharaja Bazar, Hilal’s modest background led him to give up his schooling when he was in seventh class. He started working as a labourer to support his mother, Zeba. She used to do menial jobs in her locality to manage the daily expenses. She had four children, sons Hilal and Mushtaq, daughters Haleema and Shameema.

Hilal’s father had married twice. But he eventually went to live with his first wife and their son, Mushtaq. This put lot of pressure on Hilal to emerge as the family head while he was literally a minor. As the main bread-winner of the family, Hilal remembers earning not more than Rs 150, a day. For five years, he worked as a labourer. When it failed to fetch him enough, he switched over to auto driving.  Hilal would drive somebody’s auto and take his cut.  “I worked hard to feed my family, I used to work late hours” says Hilal.

All was going well, before the onset of militancy in 1989. “But everything started turning worse,” Hilal said. “Srinagar streets were resounding with gunshots incessantly.” He remembers 1994, the year that was consumed by strikes and curfews.

But certain decisions do not wait. During peak turmoil, Haleema got married. But it led to a tragedy. Within a year, Haleema was paralysed and got divorced, with six-month-old baby boy in her lap.

One of Hilal’s neighbours, Bashir Ahmad Hajam, 26 then, who was also his good friend, was park his auto-rickshaw in the premises of Naaz Cinema. With the screening of cinema’s banned since 1989, most of the cinema halls were converted into garrisons. One day, when he went to the parking area, the CRPF picked him up and he vanished like smoke. “After three days of his disappearance, his dead body was fished out from River Jehlum, near the Amira Kadal Bridge by the boatmen,” Hilal remembers. “People knew him so they brought him home.”

Incidents like this put more pressure on the families to keep their men folk restricted to their homes. “I had to report home by 5 pm, come what may. It did impact the earnings,” Hilal said. “After this incident, my mother was really scared. She used to go out and ask for me in the rickshaw stand, if I couldn’t go home on time.”

Hilal would work hard and managed paying the debts of Shameema’s marriage, while paying for her medical bill as she laid motionless on the bed.

In 2001, Hilal’s mother asked him to marry. “I agreed to marriage just to give some relief to my mother who had worked whole of her life,” Hilal said. “I thought it was my time to serve her back.” For the next five years, it was a peaceful married life. He became proud father of Abid. Then situation started changing for him.

In 2005, Hilal lost his sister Haleema after remaining bedridden for 14 years. In 2007, he lost his mother, the Himalaya of his courage. “They were backbones of my confidence and willpower,” Hilal said. In 2009, his younger sister Shameema also died, thus taking the last blood cushion ot of him.

Well before Shameema’s death, Hilal had noticed health problems. Initially, there were minor issues but soon they started getting major problems. “After the injury of my head, my body was becoming week day by day, I took it as some old injury,” Hilal said. Soon, Wani started noticing that he couldn’t move his legs properly. His arms were also losing the power. Then, he could see that his legs are not capable of walking properly. Then it reached a stage when it would take lot of hard work to even put a morsel in his mouth.

“In 2012 I went to a doctor and he advised me to undergo few test especially Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI),” said Hilal. It took him almost three months to collect that amount. “When the doctor saw the report, he said I had a fracture in my neck which is causing pressure on my spinal cord. He asked me if I had ever fallen down or any incident which caused the injury on the back of my head or neck.”

Then Hilal told him the story of the SOG. He remembers how they beat him with rifle butts and how he fled and rushed to the hospital. “It happened near my locality and the news spread quickly and all my neighbours came to the hospital along with my mother and siblings,” Hilal recalls. Doctors had directed him to take rest for one month, a promise he could not keep because of family pressures.

“Then, there was no such facility in hospitals where I could have done medical tests to know the severity of the problem,” Hilal said. “People breathing and walking were seen all right because people were dying like anything.”

It was this problem that literally paralysed him. His wife deserted him and he started living with his son. Due to this injury Hilal is unable to control the pressure on his urinary bladder.

Now the doctors have suggested him to go through an operation. A failed operation can lead his body to a permanent paralysis. Gradually, in case of failure, he will lose the senses in his limbs and body below his neck, doctors tell him. But it can cure him as well. The operation would cost him Rs 4 to 5 lakh.

Hilal’s struggle to get half a million is the newest struggle in his life. It starts at the age of 49.

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