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Sunday, January 24, 2021

What is the identity of those in Kashmir blinded or partially blinded by pellets?

How many army men, how many militants, how many dead, how many injured, or how many untraceable define the discourse on Kashmir? The statistics have become a benchmark to underline peace or volatility in Kashmir.

Written by Navneet Sharma | Updated: December 24, 2020 8:33:44 pm
People with pellet injuries at a hospital in Srinagar (File/Express Photo By Shuaib Masoodi)

“It’s just one eye,” this remark by an adolescent is sure to make one wince. He is actually talking about the new normal in Kashmir. Firdous (name changed) lost his left eye to a pellet. From his right eye, this boy is expected to see the right side or be on the right side of the conflict in Kashmir. “Pellet boy”, the sobriquet earned after losing an eye is not something one yearns for. At the age of 15, an adolescent appearing for board exams was on the streets in the protests following Burhan Wani’s death in which three soldiers, two policemen, and more than 4,000 security personnel were injured. More than a 100 protestors were killed and 15,000 were injured.

How many army men, how many militants, how many dead, how many injured, or how many untraceable define the discourse on Kashmir? The statistics have become a benchmark to underline peace or volatility in Kashmir. The silence in the Valley is eerie. The people on the streets are a hurried lot trying to go back to the safe confines of home or are out to protest. One needs “permission” to meet even relatives at odd times. The ongoing DDC elections have generated some heat to dispel the notion of love lost for democracy in Kashmir. People in Kashmir are seen to be alive and kicking probably only when the mainstream media goes out to cover skirmishes.

However, four years after the “accident” in which Firdous lost an eye, he is an exuberant adolescent. He is going to take his Class XI exams. Going back to the school after a long break and a 50 per cent physically challenged certificate is no less than a feat for this boy. He went through three surgeries in an attempt to save the light in the eye but they didn’t help. Reading and writing with a single eye needs a different set of skills, more so when one is learning two languages, English and Urdu, since the former is written from left to right and the latter from right to left. Even looking around needs more movement of the neck. The eye-hand coordination, which a child develops at 14 months of age, has to be learnt anew. Impairment of an eye has a serious impact on one’s motor, sensory, or cognitive abilities. The eye forms an integral part of our identity — losing it can cause more anguish than simply the loss of vision. It affects one’s confidence, mental health, and quality of life. However, in Firdous’s case, his social relationships were affected positively. He became a hero to his peers and teachers, earned him accolades of being no less than a martyr.

Firdous, though, has lost the sense of depth, 3D vision, and love for volleyball of which he was a keen player. Though technically he can apply for a driving licence — if he can produce a certificate that his disability is not dangerous to the public — being a Kashmiri is a trait considered “dangerous” to the public.

Firdous keeps his identity card with a photo when he had both eyes, and grudgingly responds to the question: What exactly happened? He mumbles “Salat-al-Janazah, stone pelting, pellet, hospital, pain, loss, and fear”. These words craft a narrative — one that sounds political yet is social. The crisis brewing in the Valley is not only a political crisis but a social one. It is a crisis in search of an identity in social and political landscapes marred with everyday violence.

In the Eriksonian sense of stages of psycho-social development, in the adolescent phase, one goes through pressures or conflicts (called crisis) identified as identity versus role confusion. Firdous, as an adolescent, must have also negotiated such conflicts, but losing an eye to pellets could probably have ended his confusion and given him an identity which is rigid and fixed — a label which he never desired. The classical understanding of identity, as postulated by Berger and Luckmann, is that it is formed by several social processes, crystallised, maintained, modified, or even reshaped by individual social relations or interactions with relatives. Firdous, with only one eye, is compelled to see relations and relatives operating in Kashmir hailed as firdous (Heaven). Schooling and education could have played a crucial role in shaping his identity but, instead, violence did.

Maria Montessori observed that those who want war prepare young people for war; but those who want peace neglect young children and adolescents so that they are unable to organise for peace. There are about registered 3,800 cases of blindness/ one-eye blindness in Kashmir. Firdous has not registered himself for the fear of getting “targeted”. The state must evolve, if it feels necessary, different methods of crowd control as maimed peace is no peace. Firdous says, “Thank God, the pellet pierced only one eye and spared the other. I still can see my parents, friends, army and the firdous (paradise) called Kashmir.”

The writer is faculty, department of education, Central University of Himachal Pradesh, Dharamsala. Views are personal

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