The International Day of Persons with Disabilities is observed as “a day for all” by the World Health Organisation. But the forcibly disabled in Kashmir, the pellet survivors, feel there is no help in sight.
After the pellet enforced darkness engulfed his life on September 7, 2016, Shameem passed through a living ordeal and was preparing for his eighth eye-surgery this early spring.
But then came the further-crippling COVID, delaying his treatment, and thus aggravating his agony.
“We sold our ancestral land, and exhausted every ounce of our father’s earnings in the hope that my brother might regain his vision,” says Shaista, Shameem’s sister and his college classmate.
“Right now we’re trying to arrange money for his next surgery.”
An Urdu buff, Shaista had to shun her dream study for her battered brother. She chose her subjects as per Shameem’s convenience.
“Had I not chosen same subjects for myself as that of Shameem, who would have recorded class lectures for him?” she said.
“I knew this was the only way out for Shameem.”
Valley’s Other Shameems
More than 60% of the pellet survivors registered with the Pellet Victims Welfare Trust – Kashmir, a community trust, prior to abrogation of Article 370 were students, informed Mohammad Ashraf, head of the association.
“We only register those pellet victims that have eye injuries,” Ashraf said. “Prior to August 5, 2019, we had 1,332 such victims registered with our organization.”
After presiding over mass pellet-blinding in Kashmir in 2016, then CM Mehbooba Mufti converted NGO Abhedanandan Home into a government run institution for specially-abled people ‘including the visually-impaired’.
But so far, not even a single pellet survivor has been enrolled in the Social Welfare Department run institution of the government that has enforced these disabilities.
No special trainings or courses have been made available in the institution to rehabilitate them.
“No pellet victims are enrolled in the institution right now, but they are welcome,” said Bashir Ahmad Dar, Director Social Welfare Department.
Mohammad Ashraf Akhoon, District Social Welfare Officer, said the department admits visually-impaired students in its institution irrespective of the cause of the disability, and that ‘the cause of disability didn’t matter’.
But the facts on the ground reveal a stark indifference.
With thousands of young Kashmiris being shot with pellets, a large number of them have been forcibly blinded after being hit in the eyes, mostly youth, leaving them partially or completely blind, and shattering their hopes and aspirations at a very young age.
Only 13 of such survivors have been compensated with jobs so far.
The disparity has already taken a huge mental toll on pellet disabled of Kashmir.
According to a 2019 study, ‘Psychiatric Morbidity in Pellet Injury Victims of Kashmir Valley,’ by Government Medical College, Srinagar, at least 85% of the pellet victims have developed psychiatric disorders, and that the psychological disorders in pellet victims are directly associated with the severity of the injuries.
A number of pellet survivors who are well-qualified say that they’re denied jobs because the institutions, whether government or private, aren’t interested in hiring individuals who do not meet their expectations.
Even if they’re experienced enough to work using computers–a requirement for most of the contemporary jobs, they lack the proper training required by the visually-impaired to be able to operate the system.
As a way out, many believe, a proper policy is required so that these pellet survivors are not forced to grow up as illiterates, or seen as a burden for their families in particular, and society as a whole.
“A Day For All”
In 2020, the United Nation’s theme of International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) was “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World”. WHO supported this theme by underlining the importance of fostering an inclusive culture and responding to the urgent needs of people with disability in all aspects of society, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But during the same plagued year, pellet survivor Shameem found himself grappling with 2G-driven pestering online classes.
Prior to the COVID campus closure, Shaista would try to clear his doubts by consulting their teachers at college.
But for his online classes, Shameem had to register from her sister’s phone to check assignments. The pellet survivor had to discontinue using his smartphone after his eye injury.
“When I tried to focus on the letters or words on screen, my eyes would swell with pain and tears, so I eventually gave up using my smartphone,” Shameem said.
Now he uses one with a keypad.
“I’ve decided that I’ll live a dignified life, where I’m not dependent on others for my personal needs, and therefore I chose to continue my studies despite the hurdles. Of course, it won’t be possible without my sister’s help. Without her support, I would have been forced to leave studies midway like many others who have been hit in eyes with pellets and are hopeless about their future.”