“The word Hiba translates into ‘gift from God’ in Arabic,” her father smiles as he explains this is what the toddler means to the family. Ten days after 20-month-old Hiba Nisar was hit in the right eye by pellets during a protest in Shopian, she wails in her mother’s arms at Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital, unable to express her pain in words. Only her elder brother, Shahdad, 5, gets her to quieten down, managing to distract her. They share a packet of wafers and he runs after her as they chase birds in the lawns of the hospital.
Hiba’s right eye is opaque and a light shade of crimson. “It is still unclear whether she can see right now or will ever see again through it, but we are not losing hope. She is young and hopefully she will recover,” says mother Marsala Jan, as she moves a finger in front of her eyes to check whether Hiba will follow it. But the toddler is too restless to do as Marsala wants.
Father Nisar works as a farm labourer, helping pack apples for orchard owners in season. The family has received Rs 1 lakh from the state government as monetary assistance and says this is helping them cope with the hospital bills and the cost of travelling between Shopian and Srinagar. Deputy Commissioner Shopian Owais Ahmad says the Divisional Commissioner’s office is monitoring Hiba’s case. “Any other assistance the family needs will also be provided. We are in touch with the doctors.”
Hiba is the youngest pellet victim in the current phase of violence in Kashmir, joining approximately 1,200 others hit in the eyes in the state since 2016.
An X-ray indicates a single pellet lodged firmly in the socket of Hiba’s right eye, with medical records showing the pupil is ‘non reactive to light’. The Ophthalmology Department at SMHS Hospital has scheduled a surgery for December 11 to try and remove the pellet.
Dr Junaid Wani, an ophthamologist at SMHS who attends to Hiba, told The Sunday Express they had already performed one operation to check the corneal perforation. “After the surgery to remove the pellet we will be able to understand the extent of Hiba’s injury.”
Hiba was injured on November 25, after protests broke out at her village in Kapran, Shopian, following an encounter during which six militants were killed by security forces. As teargas filled their two-storey home, Marsala fled with her two children. “Just as I had stepped out with Hiba in my arms, the pellets came at us out of nowhere. She was already crying from the teargas stinging her eyes, so at first I didn’t understand what had happened,” she says. Shahdad was saved as he was behind them, and still inside the house when the pellets struck. Two pellets also hit Marsala’s right hand covering Hiba’s face, but they were only skin deep.
Hiba was first taken to the Kulgam District Hospital, and from there referred to Srinagar. Parents Marsala and Nisar say that unable to understand what was happening, Hiba kept trying to pull away the bandage covering her eye. “She did not know where she was hurting and we did not know how to console her,” says her father, recounting the first three “nightmarish” days.
At the hospital, Hiba keeps biting the broach on her orange poncho even as she chases the birds in the lawns. Stumbling, she raises her arms to try catch the birds in flight. In between, she keeps wailing and calling out for Marsala and Shahdad.
Occasionally, Nisar calls out her name, and Hiba looks up. And her parents hope again.