Firdous, a 25-year-old auto-rickshaw driver, is among the five Kashmiris currently undergoing treatment at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi for severe eye injuries. He remains in constant prayer, hands raised up to his eyes. When someone enters the room, Firdous raises his head struggling to see who it is. He relies on his cousin, who patiently identifies the person every time there is a visitor.
Firdous was injured in a protest at Mazbugh, Sopore on July 15. The 25-year-old was the sole bread winner of a family of five and earned his living driving an auto-rickshaw in Sopore town. He was airlifted to AIIMS based on the recommendation of a three-member team of eye specialists from the institute, who had reached Srinagar on July 14 to look at the high number of pellet injuries in the recent violence in the Valley.
“He is still a little restless. He wants to talk,” Firdous cousin says. He adds that Firdous understands that this is a last effort, if he does not recover his eye-sight here, he will never get it back. Firdous interrupts him to say, “I have been driving an auto for five years. I can’t do that when I can’t see.” His medical reports mention severe injuries from metallic pellets in both eyes.
A few paces down, in another room of the Rajendra Prasad Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences at AIIMS, two more youngsters, Junaid from Qazi Gund and Zahid from Sopore lie opposite each other in a darkened room. Junaid is a class 9 student and since there was no way of taking him to Srinagar to treatment amidst continuing protests, the family brought him to Delhi. Zahid, also, a school student in Sopore was injured due to pellets in a protest on July 19.
Attendants, who refuse to be identified, say that after spending some time at the state’s SMHS hospital, they were referred to Delhi on priority.
Junaid sits up in his bed attentive, but does not join the conversation around him. “The HoD at the hospital came and told us that we were being referred to Delhi and they arranged the flight. We came here on 23rd and since then they have been under observation and treatment,” said one.
Another patient, 15-year-old Insha is under going treatment at the AIIMS Trauma Centre and is scheduled for a surgery in the next two days. “She
doing well. We plan to conduct the surgery tomorrow or day after. We need to repair the wound and it will be reconstructive surgery. Otherwise, she is stable,” Dr Deepak Aggarwal, Professor, Neurosurgery, AIIMS said.
Insha has a pellet injury on her forehead and has developed an infection as her family, allegedly tried to remove the pellet by hand before she was brought to a hospital.
Regarding the others, AIIMS maintains that “they have been under investigation and minor procedures have been done. They will be admitted for a week more to study their progress. They are doing well,” Dr Amit Gupta, AIIMS spokesperson.
The youngest, Asif, 14 from Khanabal, Anantnag, was in surgery on Tuesday. His father came to check up on the others while doctors removed pellets from his son’s body. “Asif has several pellets in his upper body and one eye. Please pray for him,” he said.
As politicians urge security forces in J&K to exercise “maximum restraint”, patients and their families pin their hopes on doctors at AIIMS but also rue the circumstances which landed them here. “Is this the face of democracy?” one of them asks.