When her ailing father couldn’t afford to run his home, young Parveena Bano decided to quit studies and learn tailoring to feed the family of 10. And then came the Indian paramilitary CRPF in her village only to leave her petrified with a dim vision and devastate her family.
Slouched like a comatose creature in a poorly lit corner of a dank room, the teenage girl is in the middle of a haunting monologue. Since last summer when the duck-hunting guns aka pellet guns were let loose on her simpleton tribe in Kupwara down in northern Kashmir, life has become sightlessly sullen for Parveena Bano.
“I had gone out, for half an hour, and returned back home after about six months … I was hit with pellets, lost my eyesight. I was hit in parts I cannot show to anyone. I am too shy, too scared to do that. I would prefer dying like this. I had to take care of my family. It’s devastating to feel that they’re all taking care of me now. I am a liability which I never wanted to be,” this is how the 19-year-old Bano of Aawora village describes her inflicted doom.
Bano became one of the thousands of pellet victims of summer 2016 when Kashmir erupted in spontaneous protests against the killing of the popular Hizb commander Burhan Wani. Amid the mounting pellet assault on the defiant population, Bano–the ‘ordinary’ girl with a generous nature–became one of the highlights of the summer brutalities. She figures in the list of those whose family setup collapsed after their grave injuries.
One among the five daughters, and a son, of her parents, Bano was always the family’s hope–especially when they needed her the most.
During recurring phases of despondency at her home, she would light up the mood by volunteering for the tasks, which traditionally would be the supposed domain of men.
Her father Ghulam Mohidin Mir’s health woes had seen her abandoning her studies soon after completing her Class 8 from Aawora’s Govt Girls Upper Primary School. After that Bano had learnt tailoring from a local tailor and started earning for her family.
“I had dreams,” says Bano, faltering her way to speak. “Among all the siblings, I knew I had to be the responsible one. Someone had to sacrifice. I did it for them. I chose to be a tailor. I had thought my brother and sisters would be able to fulfill their dreams. But then…”
The dank room inside resounds with silence, again. She has turned taciturn in the moment’s musing. Perhaps reliving the nightmare has its own mental toll for the pellet victims–rendered non-operational by the government forces in a bid to restore the street calm last summer. The unprecedented state response has given several Parveena Banos to Kashmir, suffering in silence in some faraway hamlets, and in bustling towns alike.
At Bano’s place, the haunting monologue resumes after every resounding silence ends.
“The ten mouths that I was feeding are now talking about me all the time,” says Bano. “I lost my sight. And it’s not only my life that got crippled. My family is no better.”
On that fateful day, Bano was all set to hit her routine. The father’s deteriorating health had made her the apparent matriarch of the family.
“It happened on 10th August 2016,” she vividly recalls the day of her doom. “I was stitching Wardan (bridal clothes).” After lunch, at around 2.45pm, Reshma Begum, Bano’s mother had asked her to do the dishes.
“We don’t get water in summers,” she says. “So, we wash the utensils and clothes on the stream flowing near our place.” She was doing the dishes when some irate paramilitary troopers–the Central Reserved Police Forces–came ransacking everything, beating everyone in the village.
She got scared hearing the screams and the sound of beating. A local told her to go home. “It was on my way home when the CRPF intercepted me,” she says. “They asked me, if anyone ran away from that site? I answered, ‘No.’ With that, they started beating me. I threw the utensils on them and ran away to my uncle’s place.”
After that, everyone came out to protest without having any idea that the troopers were waiting with cocked pellet guns. When things got out of her hands, she joined the crowd.
“But that was a terrible mistake,” she realizes and reclines on the wall. “They used pellets and 8 members of our family got injured. I and my 36-year-old cousin, Nazir Ahmad got seriously injured. Another cousin was also hit. Her Hijab was pulled off. Even my mother got pellets in her abdomen and back.”
Though the pellets could have been shot below the waist, as some officials claim the ‘order’ was, they were mercilessly shot above the waist hitting the victims directly in their heads, eyes and other parts of the body.
Once hit by pellets, Bano could not see anything. “All I remember was seeing my blood,” she says. “I didn’t feel anything. Blood was spilling out. I fell down to a spot where people couldn’t see me.”
While the rest of the injured were rushed to hospital that day, Bano who had fallen off-sight, suffered considerable amount of blood loss. An hour later when she regained her consciousness, she heard her cousin screaming for help while taking her to Kupwara hospital from where she would be referred to Srinagar’s SMHS Hospital.
Throughout the journey, Bano — whose head, hands, ear and other parts of the body were perforated by pellets — panicked because she couldn’t see anything.
Bano had suffered retinal detachment in her right eye and the chances of her regaining the vision were depressing. She was operated upon in the injured right eye later that night at SMHS Hospital. Her left eye had miraculously escaped the assault.
To raise funds for her treatment, her family sold off some land and paid for her treatment. A foundation by the name of ‘Uzma’ also helped them financially.
“But all pellets in my head couldn’t be removed,” she says. “My hand was hit with four pellets. It developed pus later on. I’m unable to wash my head or sleep properly. The pellets that were on the surface at that time have gone deep inside now. I did an X-ray where they show them all. My head was operated upon at 5 places to remove pellets. But then, I couldn’t tell the doctors that I have pellets in my chest, too.”
Even after 30 surgeries were performed on her different pellet-bored body parts within 6 days at SMHS, her head and chest are still embedded with 35 and 8 pellets respectively.
Removing the pellets from the chest is not necessary for Bano, believes Dr Natrajan, the surgeon who operated upon Insha Mushtaq, one of the worst hit pellet victim of 2016 uprising in Kashmir. “But if someone can help me with my head,” she says, “I would be more than happy.”
Recalling her traumatic journey makes her sad. Equally sorrowing is the fact how she has been reduced to a pity victim from a proud supporter.
“While growing up,” says Bano, controlling her sudden spurt of sobs, “we had debts and father would be worried. Then, he suffered from a head fracture, forcing me to step in his shoes. Just when we had started doing better in life, I faced this tragedy. Now, I’m unable to do anything. My sisters look older than me now. I look at them and it pierces me within.”
Before the tragedy struck her, she would get up at around 6 in the morning, offer prayers, help at home, resume her tailoring and help neighbours.
“But today,” she says, “they don’t wake me up. They think I might have been in pain throughout the night. Tears keep flowing. It’s very uneasy.”
Ever since she returned home after her six-month long treatment, she has been feeling overburdened. As she tries to tie cloth pieces, she feels like her head would explode, anytime.
“I still have responsibilities,” Bano breaks into another spell of a disturbing monologue. “I don’t want to be a burden. I was feeding these 10 people and today the same 10 people are taking care of me all day long. What will become of us? How are we going to survive now?”
Note: Monetory contributions can be made to Parveena Bano in her bank Account Number: 0175040800011461