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With their covered eyes and sullen faces, the young men admitted to various hospitals in Srinagar for various kind of injuries, offer a distinctly different detail of the events in and around Shopian, reports Saima Bhat

Just outside the intensive care unit (ICU) of SMHS hospital, Abdul Majeed Wani, a resident of Gopalpora (Kulgam), is sitting like a lost guard. Visibly in despair, he is looking at every person getting in or coming out. The only movement that brings him to life was that of a nurse attending his teenage son, Muneeb Ahmad.

A ninth class student, Muneeb, 16, lay lifeless on bed number 6, on ventilator support. His attending nurse said he has a firearm injury; a bullet has pierced through his liver and damaged his diaphragm. “He continues to be critical but this time he is sedated and stable,” she said. “We received him after massive blood loss. We have given him 5 pints of blood and 9 pints of FFP. He continues to be critical because after 24 hours his output drain still has blood. He had around 2 litres of blood internally around the wound.”

“We have to explore his wound again and it is going to be a major surgery,” Muneeb’s attending doctor said. “So far, we are trying to resuscitate him. He has an injury on the right side of the diaphragm but his liver is really damaged.”

Outside ICU, his father said it was the final match of a local cricket tournament. Muneeb was sure his team would win but now he lays unconscious on life support.

“It was April 01, Sunday when every kid had planned his holiday. Mine was excited about the cricket match. He had kept his bag ready with a white shirt and a bat with his name inscribed on it,” says Wani, a labourer. “I had left at 8 am in search of work and Muneeb had left at around 9 am for Batbagh, Kapran, almost 3.5 km away from home.”

Wani knows what eye-witnesses have told him. “They had just started their match and SOG came chasing away local youth,” Wani said. “As they were fleeing, the cops fired bullets on these kids.”

Trying to be strong enough, Wani is accompanied by his brother-in-law. His wife and his other children: son, two daughters studying in class 11th and 12th, are home.

One of the injured boy taken to SMHS hospital.

Muneeb had received a bullet at around 10 am but Wani somehow knew at 1.45 pm. “You can’t even imagine what my condition was till I reached SMHS hospital at 3.15pm,” Wani said. “My minor son was alone and battling for his life. Thinking about the situation I missed many beats.”

Wani doesn’t know who is helping his son. “All the blood has been given by unknown people and most of the medicines are provided by the hospital administration.” He has been left alone so that he could pray for his son’s safety.

Inside the ophthalmology ward, doctors are already drawing parallels with 2016. On the first tiring night, they carried out at least 35 primary surgeries on the pellet hit patients, and most of them are teenagers. They are fearful that at least three of them might lose the vision of their both eyes.

The right eye of Hilal Ahmad, 22, a school dropout, is all red. Apparently, he looks normal but doctors say he has lost 70 percent of the vision in his injured eye.

Son of a farmer from Chak-i-Trisil (Shopian), Hilal is accompanied by his friends and cousins at the hospital. It was March 31, when Hilal heard a few bullet shots at around 11 pm. At around 4 am the internet was suspended in the area so he had no information about the happenings in his district.

On April 1, at around 7 am, Hilal came out of his house and saw all locals were on the roads and were rushing towards an encounter site in Draggad in Sugan. “When we got to know that two encounters are going on in our area and CASO was also taking place at two more places, we started moving towards Draggad. Tens of thousands of people were on roads, there was no space left for any vehicle to move.”

Once the encounter was over, people who were on the roads started moving towards safer places till the forces left the area. Hilal was hiding behind a house and after some time he moved out his head to see if the forces had left. But as soon as he got out a part of his eye to check, they fired pellets.

“It felt like I was shot with a bullet. But then my eye started bleeding and when I tried to leave that place, my foot got stuck with another boy, who also had got pellets. We got hold of each other and tried to move out of that place.”

With the help of some locals, Hilal and another injured were taken to the district hospital Pulwama. “But forces were already stationed inside the hospital so we were suggested not to go inside. After 30 minutes when the forces left, only then we moved inside and got ourselves treated. We were then referred to SMHS for specialised treatment.”

Friends accompanying Hilal are very angry. “The state is in the war against Shopian,” one of them shouted. “Count the killings this year alone. Tragically, they don’t even allow us to attend the funerals of our brothers.”

A 15-year-old Muneeb, battles for life, as bullet damaged his vital organs.

“We feel humiliated when they check our I-cards and if they detect us as residents of Shopian, they take us along. Even our vehicles are not allowed to move freely,” Another of Hilal’s friend’s said. “We are not allowed to have an iPhone or a Casio watch. Neither long hair nor a long beard.”

Even Hilal is enraged. Reason: two of his cousins were “frisked outside SMHS hospital for being residents of Shopian.”

On bed 13, Shabir Ahmad Paul’s bandaged right eye is in pain. A student of BA 1st year, Paul, a resident of Bonbazaar Shopian, was home till the twin encounters in Dragad, and Kachdoora were over. Kachdoora is not far from his residence.

Once the encounter was over, word spread in the town that people must go to the encounter site and collect the body of Zubair Ahmad Turray, a local militant.

“Once we reached there, we saw forces were still there so we preferred to stay away. We sat in an orchard, which was 2.5 km away from the encounter site,” Paul said. But when forces left the site, they showered pellets over all of us which continued for at least 20 minutes. Around 40 youth got hit by pellets in different parts of their bodies and two of us got in eyes.”

Paul did not talk after that. One of his uncles, who was accompanying him in the hospital asked this reporter to leave as it has been just 25 days since they lost one of Paul’s cousin, Shahid Ahmad Khan, 18, in Shopian shootout on March 5, 2018.

“He was a civilian but still he was killed. He had even shouted at forces not to shoot as he is a civilian but they still did. What is a difference between a civilian and a militant now? Everybody in Shopian is treated as a militant,” the man said. “Our son was neither a militant nor anything else. He had no FIR’s in any police station. Then why was he killed.”

In ward 8, is Jehangir Ahmad, 18, a class 11th student. He was hit with a pellet on his left eye on April 2.

“We were preparing for funerals of almost seven militants who were killed on Sunday,” Ahmad said. “Before going for funerals we went to Kachdoora where militants were killed by burning the house directly. It is just at a 5-minute walk from my house in Wangam, Sodershanpora Shopian.”

There, the police and paramilitary men opened their guns. Dozens were injured. Jehangir and two other boys were hit by pellets in their eyes.

One of Jehangir’s cousins was part of one of the funeral prayers. He was witness to a local boy, who led the funeral prayers of slain militant Zubair Turray, and then announced his entry into militancy. “Turray’s funeral was attacked by forces,” the young man said. “We are more pained when militants are killed. Each one of them is equivalent to 100 civilians. If they would not have been there for us then there might have been many cases of Asiya and Neelofar, who were first raped and then killed by the government forces in 2009.”

Since protests were everywhere, the police action was reported from all places. PHC Herman received more than 50 patients including 15 with bullets and 35 pellet injuries.

PHC Mohammadpora had 24 patients, 12 each with bullet and pellets. At least 45 patients were received by District Hospital Kulgam including 35 pellet injuries. Of them, 14 critical cases were referred to Srinagar. They also included four patients who were hit by bullets: two in abdomens and two in legs.

A key reason for taking the injured to the PHC’s was that access to Srinagar from Herman and Kachdoora side was difficult during tensions because one has to pass through a road dotted with garrisons: Choudhary Gund and Nagi Sharan.

In Bone and Joint Hospital, Danish, 17, feels lucky in comparison to the other youth. He was hit by two bullets. One hit his phone and other his right thigh that just crossed through his muscle, leaving his bone safe.

A class 11 student, Danish says it was around 5.30 pm when he came out of his house in Wangan Shopian, the area located on the main road. “The army was coming back from the encounter site and till the moment they entered their camp in Nillow, they showered bullets on everybody they saw, be it the people who were around encounter sites or the ones who were in their houses like me. While returning alone, they must have injured around 40 youth.”

But Tanveer, 19, was hit by a bullet that crossed through his right arm. “It was a target fire,” Tanveer said, talking about the incident at Kachdoora that took place at 3 pm. “They fired at my chest but I kept my arm in front and hid away my body. I don’t have any FIR in any police station but I don’t know why they targeted me.”

Abdul Majeed Wani, father of injured Muneeb.

His cousin, who is attending Tanveer, was also present near Kachdoora encounter site. “We were not pelting any stones but we were waiting in an orchard for the encounter to conclude. We were sitting 20 meters away from the site and taking selfies.”

Showing his selfie, he showed the face of Iqbal Manzoor Bhat, who was shot with two bullets just after 10 seconds of this selfie.

“First I went to drink water and once I returned, Iqbal left to quench his thirst but he said he’ll leave for his home now. While having water, he helped another boy with water and at the same time he was shot with two bullets in the abdomen.”

Tanveer’s cousin and some more boys were quick to shift him to Kulgam hospital from where he was referred to SKIMS, where he breathed his last.

(Hikmatyar and Shuaib contributed information from Kulgam, Hermain and Mohammadpora.)

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