Ruined for life

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After losing his eyesight to the pellets, a young man fought odds to come to the terms with enforced disability. Finally, his family encouraged him to work on an idea that helped him to fight the depression and literal penury, reports Aaqib Hyder

Ghulam Hassan Bangi at his shop. - Ruined Life - Kashmir Life - Story

Ghulam Hassan Bangi at his shop.

Around 5 km from the main Anantnag town, one passes through a series of seemingly heritage houses to reach Sarnal. An old wooden kiryana store with disorderly kept items stands out among the other structures and shops around. Small heaps of vegetables with freshly sprinkled water on them dot its front.

It seems the floor of the shop, devoid of any furnishing, hasn’t seen a broom for months. It belongs to Bangi family, whose elder son, Imtiyaz Ahmad Bangi, runs its. This shopkeeper is different, in a way, out of the ordinary.

On June 16, 2016, Imtiyaz, then 34, left his home at Sarnal Payeen for Friday prayers. He wanted to offer his Ramadhan prayers at Jamiat Ahli Hadith Masjid in Sherbagh. He also wanted to visit his aunt who lives in the close proximity of the mosque in Cheeni Chowk.

“As soon as I stepped out of the mosque after prayers, I saw a posse of cops chasing away some youth nearby,” Imtiaz remembers. “Suddenly, I heard a loud bang and everything went dark before my eyes. I lost consciousness and I remember nothing after that.”

Much later, he realized that he was hit by pellets that a cop had shot from his hunter-gun from a close range. He was rushed to the district hospital at Janglat Mandi in Anantnag, and then his father Ghulam Hassan was informed. After initial treatment to stop the bleeding from eyes and other body parts, he was referred to SMHS hospital in Srinagar. There, the doctors said his left eye is totally blind and there is partial damage to the right one.

During his long stay at SMHS, Imtiaz underwent two surgeries, but he showed no promise of recovery. The family wanted to take him to Jalandhar for further treatment but lacked resources. After seeking public donations and help from the relatives that the doctors in Jalandhar opened his left eye, but it turned out it couldn’t be repaired. They later tried their luck to reduce the damage to his right eye by opening it. Doctors suggested the family get him back within a month but the destiny had another tragedy and different plans in store. Rebel Burhan Wani was killed and Kashmir erupted in a crisis.

During the initial days of the post-Burhan protests, Imtiyaz’s younger brother, Mudasir, was arrested by police, booked under Public Safety Act (PSA) and shifted to Kathua jail. He was in jail for 11 months.

All of a sudden, the situation enforced a new priority on the family. Every fortnight, they had to travel to Kathua to meet Mudasir regarding his case. It consumed them a lot of resource and time. Since Imtiaz was not a priority, his treatment stopped halfway.

“As they say, misfortune never comes alone. Tragedy after tragedy befell us,” Hassan said. “The thought of watching both of my sons in such a miserable state still sends shivers down my spine.”

Mudasir moved out of jail, 11 months later. But he has 14 cases against him and he spends four days in the courts, every month.

“When he came home, he recounted stories of torture. Soon, he started complaining of severe back pain and also showing signs of depression,” said Hassan. “The incarceration has afflicted his health considerably.”

The shop, the family’s only source of income, remained shut for more than eight months. For those months, they lived on public donations. With charity dried up, the family reopened the shop. Though clientele came back, Imtiyaz’s literal blindness came in the way. He was unable to attend his customers quickly as a result of which the shop couldn’t be run smoothly.

“We had no choice but to reduce the quantity of the stocks,” Hassan said. “We also lacked money to invest. It seemed a waste anyway.”

Eyes apart, the pellets had hit his legs, shoulders and chest. Several pellets are still inside his various body parts which are causing him pain and numbness sporadically.

“I dread at the thought of taking a bath. A little exposure of my eyes to the soap or shampoo means shooting pain for the whole day,” Imtiyaz said, almost crying. “Sometimes the pain is so excruciating that I wish to smash my head right against the wall.”

Since doctors focused more on his eyes and not other affected parts, Imtiyaz is unable to stand up. After sitting down for a while, he feels excruciating pain in his legs. For the last two months, his right shoulder has also developed occasional pain.

Before being sacked, Mehbooba Mufti government had devised a policy for the rehabilitation of pellet victims. Imtiyaz could not avail any benefit from this though he had submitted his documents in the Deputy Commissioner’s office. Countless visits in the last two years could not get Imtiyaz anything.

“After few months, they told me that the documents have been sent to Chief Minister’s office in Srinagar,” Hassan said. “By the time of my next visit, there was no government.”

But the crisis did not stop life. Imtiyaz was married in 2013 and has a 6-year-old son. The mother takes care of the boy but has her own problems: she has been diabetic for 16 years and needs four insulin shots, a day. With surmounting miseries and expenses far outstripping the income, Imtiyaz felt helpless and subsequently landed into depression.

“With each passing day, he adds to his depression load,” Hassan said. “He would get lost in the middle of conversations and wear a frozen look all the time. He started talking less and spending more time alone.”

It was Imtiyaz’s mental issue that was at the top of his father’s mind. His eyes and the failure of the shop was preying on his mind. So the family decided to send him along with another person to sell vegetables in neighbouring villages.

“We thought roaming around the door to door in different villages will keep him engaged than managing the shop,” Mudasir said. “Now, he leaves early in the morning and works the whole day as I manage the shop.”

Imtiyaz Ahmad Bangi. - Ruined Life - Kashmir Life - Story.

Imtiyaz Ahmad Bangi

The idea is working. It didn’t only help Imtiyaz in recovering from the depression but also added to the economy of the family to some extent. From last three months, Imtiyaz leaves early with a cartload of fresh vegetables and sells them in villages of Pehroo and Mattan. But part of this success is shared by the person who accompanies Imtiyaz.

“I am able to sell vegetables only because I have a helper,” Imtiyaz said. “From pointing out a pothole on the road to helping me recognize a note, he does it all.”

At times, it is difficult for him to recognize even a close acquaintance or figure out what currency note a customer has given him. He doesn’t remember a time in recent years when he walked a few hundred meters without tripping or falling down. With one eye completely blind and another partially damaged, he sees only darkness and nothing else.

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