Conflict

Another pair of dead eyes: ‘What he feels is between him and God’

(FPK Photo/Junaid Gulzar)

Shopian boy who lost his left eye to pellets was temporarily trying to fill his father’s void when he came under the fire known to enforce darkness in Kashmir. His orchardist father who had earlier dramatically landed in police custody is now attending to his partially blind son.

In spite of the continual onslaught of pain, anguish and dejection, 60-year-old Zahoor Ahmad Parray sits firm with one question – why was he detained at the local police station for an entire month, even as his household was slowly pushed into one tragedy after another?

The Imamsahib locality of Shopian bears a sombre look – the marketplace seems to lug itself into normalcy, but the roads leading to Zahoor’s home get increasingly telling of the signs of recent times. Once inside the hallway of the modest structure, the packed room – filled with well-wishers of the grief-stricken family – remembers the incidents that rocked the erstwhile peaceful settlement days ago, at the back of their palms.

Zahoor, like most of his fellow residents of the locality works on his apple orchard, which is not more than a kilometre from where he lives. The orchard demands an annual expenditure of close to one lakh rupees or even two, while earning him around 80 thousand rupees, every year. It was a little before April this year, that Zahoor bought a goods carrier vehicle to add to his earnings. The vehicle, which was bought on a bank loan, was by and large vested to the responsibility of his 14-year old son, Asif Ahmad Parray.

On April 24, having completed only three trips so far, Asif and the driver, set out to Delhi from Lassipora with a consignment of 750 carts, laden with apple. “I was in court the entire day sorting the RC and other paperwork for the vehicle,” remembers Zahoor. After having refuelled the car, Asif set out on the delivery around 6 pm.

Asif kept calling him throughout the journey, giving him the minutest of details – where they had reached, whether they had tea or not and so on. “I realised he wouldn’t let me sleep through the night and that’s why I put my mobile on flight mode,” says Zahoor.

Zahoor Ahmed Parray. (FPK Photo/Junaid Gulzar)

At the end of what seemed like just another ordinary day in his life, the 60-year-old hit the bed – up until close to midnight, when he heard his neighbour Khurshid Ahmed Shaikh, call him out.

And he wasn’t alone.

“A large group of armed forces had arrived at my doorsteps at around 11:30 pm asking me to accompany them to other houses down the street,” recollects Khurshid. Though he was asked to enter the house next to Zahoor’s at first, he was made to backtrack. “They had instructed me to go inside the house, turn on the lights, throw open all the windows and ask all the family members to step outside,” he says.

According to Zahoor, he was asked for his identity card and his mobile phone to be handed over, while his house was searched by the armed personnel. “They asked me why my phone was on flight mode and whether I had spoken to anyone in particular before. I told them everything about my son and his consignment delivery,” recalls Zahoor.

After the search was concluded, which according to Zahoor and Khurshid yielded nothing, the latter asked the personnel if he could ask Zahoor to go back to sleep for the night.

“They wanted me to accompany them to other houses, too. So before leaving, I asked Zahoor uncle to go back to sleep,” says Khurshid.

But as soon as they reached Khurshid’s house on the way, he was asked to get back home, his services no longer required. Zahoor was asked to come along instead.

“My eldest daughter was hesitant, but I assured her I would be back soon,” he recollects. His return though, would turn to be anything but soon, the assurance, the first of many dejections.

Zahoor was taken into custody for questioning. According to him, he was charged with carrying RDX in his vehicle, amongst the apple carts. “There are about 14 to 15 checkpoints on the way to Jammu. Why didn’t they catch my son at any checkpoint, if he had RDX in the vehicle?” asks Zahoor.

A couple of days ago, a truck carrying currency worth crores was reported to have been gutted in fire, in Kashmir. The police reportedly claimed that the vehicle belonged to Zahoor.

“I asked them to match the number plates of both the vehicles. I even told them I was willing to even ask my son to come back. But they just asked me to simply sit down,” he says.

Later that night, he was handed over to the Station House Officer and taken to the local police station – which, though unaware then, was to be his home for the next one month.

In spite of repeatedly asking the officials at the station of the reason behind his detainment, the father of four would get nothing but silences and vague answers, at best. In a matter of days, he was informed that he’s been charged with stone-pelting.

“I thought to myself,” recalls Zahoor, “which stone pelting was I ever involved in?”

The modest residence of Parrys. (FPK Photo/Lesley Amol Simeon)

At the police station, however, Zahoor would call his daughter every evening, from borrowed mobile phones, to check on his family. The call he made to his eldest daughter on the evening of May 16 after the evening Azaan, is a conversation he remembers word by word.

“I froze when she told me that her brother is dead,” recollects a tearful Zahoor. “She told me Asif was hit by pellets.”

On the afternoon of May 12, Shopian’s Hendew village witnessed a gunfight between militants and the armed forces. It resulted in the death of two militants and a civilian. Some 5 kilometres away, in the neighbouring locality of Imamsahib, Zahoor’s teenaged son, Asif was caught in the pellet firing by armed forces in the evening. Asif was headed to his paternal uncle, Manzoor Ahmad Parray’s house, not very far from his house.

After being referred to one hospital after another, Manzoor managed to finally reach the hospital at Srinagar, close to midnight.

“We were told on arrival that his left eye is damaged beyond repair. But we were asked to wait for the doctor until next morning,” he says. By this time, Manzoor had even arranged for the blood the hospital had said might be required for Asif’s treatment.

Meanwhile, at the time of the incident, Asif’s household was completely unaware of the tragedy that had unfolded. “We did hear shots in the neighbourhood, but we just retracted inside our homes,” says Khurshid. Later that evening, Khurshid headed to Hendew on hearing news of the civilian death there. Upon reaching, he was told that a boy from his own neighbourhood was injured as well.

“I begged to officials to let me go, assuring them that I’ll be back in 2 days,” says Zahoor. After constant badgering, days after the incident, Zahoor was apparently shown a text message that the station incharge had received from his senior. “It read, ‘What’s your concern here? Whose son is it? Aapko pareshaani kyun hai?’ I just left hope after this,” he says.

Nevertheless, the evening telephonic calls now changed to video calls Zahoor would make home. Two days after the incident, he asked to see his son – who now lay on the hospital bed with a bandaged face. “I couldn’t see my son in that state, I just cut the call,” recalls the father. He was shortly released.

While doctors removed three pellets before removing Asif’s left eye, they recovered one pellet from his right eye, which as of now has about three to five percent light sensitivity. Pellets still lodged in his skull don’t even have a definite count as of now. The boy has a total of six stitches on his face.

Asif’s father and uncle tending to his wounds. (FPK Photo/Lesley Amol Simeon)

Midway our conversation, Zahoor gets up to tend to Asif. It’s time for him to put in eye drops, his twice-daily prescription. Throughout our time spent at his home, Asif has been tossing and turning in his corner, trying out a variety of sleeping positions, hunting for the comfort that long evades him. He’s made to get up every now and then, to greet a visitor or narrate his tale of horror – by now another tragic tale of Kashmir.

“This boy always minded his own business, tending to his orchard, helping out with the household chores. When news of him being hit and blinded by pellets reached us, the entire neighbourhood was shattered,” says Khurshid.

Asif was the only hope to lift the family out of it’s financial trough. Zahoor has now even sold the vehicle which Asif used to operate. Selling the orchard is next in line, given the expenses of Asif’s treatment including an upcoming surgery.

“People get busy with their own lives, their own problems,” says Khurshid when asked if the family received any help to bear the costs of Asif’s treatment.

All this while, Asif’s mother has been a mute spectator, making occasional trips to other rooms in the house, greeting visiting guests, tending to her younger son, shedding the regular tear.

Soon, she gets busy with making lunch for Asif promptly served by his eldest sister. With lunch in his hands, Asif lets out a brief chuckle, that lightens the otherwise overburdened mood of the room. Eating, thankfully, isn’t one of his many lifestyle impediments.

“This village was peaceful for the past couple of years. But incidents like these change things,” says a visitor at the Parray household. Sometime back, during another gunfight, the village community as a whole had even engaged the youth in social activities.

Interrupting our conversation, Asif’s youngest sibling hops in, says something to the visitors, giggles and hops back outside. Has he even understood the gravity of the situation?

“What will he understand, when we ourselves haven’t understood things properly?” remarks the visitor. “We feel Asif himself doesn’t understand the situation well. What he feels is between him and the God above.”

 

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