Clipped Wings

In a strife-torn valley, the tale of those whose limbs were devoured by the situation and the state of affairs continue to make air mournful. Syed Asma reports the life of persons living with the manufactured disabilities

Technician shaping up artificial limb of one of the clients.
Technician shaping up the artificial limb of one of the clients.

The place looked so calm that even birds chirping seemed noise to ears. Saira Bano, with her eyes glued at a distance, sat near a window of her modestly designed house made of cob. Seemingly not bothered by anything around her, Saira was lost watching children playing a few yards away from her house. She wasn’t even paying attention to her mother, yelling at her from the kitchen.

After a moment, her mother entered the room and complained to her of being absent-minded!

What made you so busy, asked the mother. Nothing, Saira replied meekly.

Come let’s visit your school, her mother said.

A nineteen-year-old Saira had to submit her Class 10th’s examination form. She quietly picked up her crutches, followed her mother down the alley.

Saira is one of the casualties of the place she dwells. Uma Nambla—her native village, 7km away from Uri—is just half a kilometre from the Indo-Pak border. Unlike cities and towns, her hamlet dotted with small houses made of cob, mud, clay, often resounds with life-threatening bangs.

This hamlet including many other surrounding villages often bears the brunt of its location. Its population frequently falls prey to the cross-border shelling between two neighbouring countries, India and Pakistan.

It was 1998 when Saira, then three-year-old, playing with her friends nearby her house, was found in a pool of her own blood. Just a heavy ball of fire, is what she remembered.

That day Saira was the only causality in their village, said her father, Abdul Gani. Soon the village was evacuated to safeguard the lives. But for Gani, a labourer, it was painful exit—as his daughter had lost a lower limb in that accident.

That was sixteen years ago. And since then, she has undergone prosthesis, but needs continuous family support to walk around. “The accident ruined her childhood,” said her father. “She won’t tell us but she does crave for her childhood.” Perhaps, this is the reason why she spent most of her time at window watching children playing, apparently reliving her own children.

But Saira isn’t alone to have a repenting fate. Her father said their hamlet is packed with such miseries. “The rate is too high,” he said, “but hardly reported, making all of us feel like an abandoned lot.”

Irshad Ahmad Chalkoo
Irshad Ahmad Chalkoo

The same sense of alienation is running deep in other parts of the frontier town, Uri. Far from its bustling bazaar, another shell victim, Irshad A Chalkoo was basking in an afternoon sun in Sillikot village, bordering with Saira’s hamlet.

Fourteen years ago, Chalkoo lost his right limb in a cross-border shelling. Since then this ex-cricket enthusiast has been confined to the four walls of his home. Being the eldest son of the family, Chalkoo had a lot of responsibilities, he said, but could hardly contribute anything from last decade because of his ill health.

In 2001, when Chalkoo, a labourer, was dreaming to join Indian army, he was hit by a mortar shell, decimating his dream along with his body part. He spent next two months in the hospital before finally moved to Jaipur for the specialised treatment. But even after spending Rs 25,000 on his treatment, the doctors declared all damage control methods ineffective, thus pushed his damaged limb under surgical knife. Since then, he is walking with the help of an artificial limb.

Not only did the Indo-Pak shelling devastated his life goals, but also pushed him to penury. Chalkoo now sustains himself and his family consisting of five sisters, father and wife, doing menial jobs. His misery is now coming in the way of his sisters’ lives. Even after attaining marital age, three of his sisters are still making this handicap brother restless.

In his village tucked on Line of Control, the dread runs deep whenever Indo-Pak troops exchange fire, thereby piling up casualties. These villagers—often termed as the “collateral damage”—are mostly into labour sector. Since they dwell spaces miles away from the twin state capitals, they often fail to figure on official focus, thus making them feel alienated.

With signs of governance almost absent in these villages, the locals said, only Indian army is there to take care of them. But the same army when getting in clash with its neighbouring army ends up piling limbless population in the village. The same sense has set off a great dread over the lives of the villagers.

Most of these limbless persons often and only visit Srinagar to avail artificial limbs. Before that they undergo through Prosthesis and Orthotics.

Over the years as tragedies heaped across valley, many responded to the situation. The four Prosthesis and Orthotics centres opening up in J&K—three alone in Kashmir—are also outcome of the situation.

The two are run by government medical colleges in twin capitals while the other two are privately run. At least, records revealed, 50 unique patients visit these centres daily to fix up their limbs.

One of the private artificial limb centres is run by an NGO called Hope disability centre at Ganderbal. Catering to the need of the accidently disabled people since 2001, Sami Wani, the Director of Hope, revealed that the patients affected by the conflict still form the major portion of the patients visiting his Centre. The next big rush, he said, is triggered by the road accidents.

Among the patients losing limbs to road accidents, Wani said, the young generation especially teenagers outnumber all. “These teens meet dreadful accidents on roads while performing stunts or resort to rash driving, thus cripple for rest of their lives,” he said. One among the many crippled youngsters is Showkat A Mir, aspiring to become an aeronautical engineer before the ‘joy ride’ clipped his wings forever.

Nazir Ahmad Sheikh
Nazir Ahmad Sheikh

Now, Showkat can’t walk without his two artificial limbs. Three years ago, this ardent football player and lone son of his parents was gifted a bike by his father. What was thought to be a gift shortly proved a big curse.

Then, studying in Class 12, Showkat shortly went for the ‘joy ride’ with his friends one day. While returning home during dusk, he was riding with a threatening speed. Suddenly, his bike went out of control, and subsequently rammed into a truck.

In that mishap, along with his gifted bike his limbs also broke beyond repairs. Later the doctors told his father: “The only way to save your son is to cut both his limbs.” Since then, the father regrets over his own gift. With dreams over, the boy is now pursuing Bachelors in Humanities.

At other privately-run artificial limb centre working under Voluntary Medicare Society, the stories are no different. The entire facility funded by International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) offers free treatment to patients. The raw material for artificial limbs is dispatched from Geneva, said Parvaiz Baghdadi, who heads the centre.

Baghdadi after surveying almost entire Kashmir, named these patients as the “cost of the conflict”. He mostly caters to the patients hailing from frontier areas. The Centre also remains buzz with the rush of people attempting to cross-over the border and end up losing their limbs to a stray shell.

One patient present in the centre had lost both his limbs decades ago. “He was crossing the border when his limbs contract frost bites,” said a technician while shaping a mould of POP of the measurement of the mysterious guy.

Inside his office, Baghdadi made certain intriguing revelations. “Some young men crossing the borders, particularly during winters, would often loss their way while trekking snowy peaks,” he said. “As a result, many young men had to spend days there.” The mysterious guy in his office was one of those persons who returned home with severe frost bites after losing his way home. The severity of his frost bites later devoured both his limbs.

But the “cost of the conflict” dwells away from borders, too. Countless persons both in city and countryside are now leading handicapped lives for no fault of theirs. One such story is of Nazir Ahmed Sheikh.

The smiling face of this forty-year-old man seems deceptive sans giving an idea that the man lost both his lower limbs to a torture inflicted on him by 14 Dogra regiment for more than a month. That was decades ago and now he is carrying all the documents substantiating his torture tale.

“It has been many years now,” he said, “and I might not remember events in their proper chronologically but the wounds are still fresh as they were then.”

A native of Kupwara’s Yuhama Mawar, Nazir was picked by 14 Dogra regiments led by one major Maltani in 1994. After interrogating him for a month and nine days, Nazir was “thrown to dogs” on a roadside as “an unidentified body”.

Later he told his family how he was picked up for being a lookalike of a wanted militant of his area, Khandwa.

“I was taken to different army camps in Qalamabad, Langate… I was tortured to a level that both my limbs caught infection,” he recalled.

He still remember that small torture room with a small single window covered with wooden planks, where, Nazir said, half a dozen army men would torture him daily for at least two hours. “They would first whip me up before rolling a six-cm-thick spiky iron rod over my legs with two men sitting atop.”

The roller displaced his knee joints and its spikes left deep wounds on his limbs, Nazir said. “They would then splash hot water over my legs to deny healing of my wounds. Then, they would stretch my wounded legs in opposite direction for hours.” But even passing through this monstrous torture, Nazir said, he would be then forced to crawl on ice at least for two hours and later forced to sit near the coal-fired heating stove. “One day major Maltani pushed my left hand into the Bukhari, burning four of my fingers completely,” he recalled. “It was such a pain!”

After the torture, he was pushed in a trench covered with tin sheets, where it was difficult for him to breathe, stretch legs. Lack of medical attention further deteriorated his wounds that had begun oozing puss.

As his condition worsened, he was shifted to the Army hospital, Badami Bagh, Srinagar. “But I wasn’t treated well there,” he said. “I was only fed painkillers while my fast deteriorated legs were left untouched, untreated.”

Anticipating his death, the army threw him on a road outside their camp in the midnight, from where he was shifted to Police Control Room Srinagar and then subsequently to Bone and Joint Hospital, Barzulla.

Both his legs and four fingers of his left hand were amputated at the hospital where he was admitted for eight months.

Once out of the hospital, he was not the same again. Even then he decided to seek justice by filing a case against major Maltani and Co. To sustain his struggle, he sold his land and divorced his wife.

Decades later, justice continues to elude him, but he said he was only living to fight for it. “It gives me a feeling…mein zinda hoon (I am alive)…”

Previous articleTactically, Lethal
Next articleDeft Danish
Syed Asma completed her masters in journalism from the Islamic University, Awantipore, in 2010. After working with Greater Kashmir and Kashmir Times, she joined Kashmir Life in February 2011. She covered politics, society, gender issues and the environment. In 2016, she left journalism to pursue her M Phil from the University of Kashmir. She is presently pursuing PhD.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here