Last summer added scores to the already swelled list of conflict induced disables in Kashmir. In order to understand, how the unfortunate individuals are living with similar critical deformaties for years, Saima Bhat visited some of them to report a pathetic state of Kashmir’s under-reported underdogs
On July 30, when SMHS Hospital’s ophthalmology OPD was flooded with pellet injured victims, Parvez Ahmad Dar, 38, who had come for his regular check-up. Unable to bear the scenes of young boys writhing with pain in their eyes, he fell down, unconscious.
To everyone, the black-specs-wearing Dar looks normal. But once he took his specs off, his left eye looked smaller in size, it is visionless. “I could find myself in each one of them,” Dar said. “And that feeling of despair overpowered everything.”
The scenes in OPD took him back to 1991.
On September 15, 1991, Dar, then twelve years old, was a passionate cricketer and had gone to play in Polo Ground. It was a hartal day which meant no school for fourth primary student, a resident of Maisuma in city centre Lal Chowk.
At around 4.15 pm, Dar remembers, he called it a day and decided to return. Once he stepped towards his lane and crossed the bunker outside Akhada building, there was a big bang. “I saw a boy throwing grenade towards the bunker, who later fled from the spot. I even saw it exploding, some shells touched the barbed wires and then bounced back and exploded near my feet,” Dar remembers, insisting it all happened in just fraction of a second and he couldn’t react. He also remembers the dead faces of two girls, carrying a few shopping bags, perhaps their trousseau, and of an elderly man who became casualties for that day.
Before Dar closed his eyes, he could feel there was no life left in his body. The last thing he remembers was his blood spilling over the metalled road, gradually. Then everything went black and he declared himself dead. But Dar did not die.
Somehow, Dar was driven to SMHS hospital, where he opened his ‘eye’ but he remembers writhing in pain. He got 20 stitches on his back, had open wounds on his foot and his left eye was completed damaged. It had come out of its socket, completely.
At SMHS hospital, he remembers Dr Bashir and Dr Mehmooda treating him, who stitched his visionless eye back so that he looks normal.
For next three years, Dar stayed home shuttling between private ophthalmology clinics and SMHS hospital. “Everyday I used to cry in pain,” Dar said. “Dying would have been easier than pain and emotional trauma I am surviving with. I feel I am just a burden.” He talked while wiping out his tears, throughout the brief interview that reopened his old wounds.
Once he found his wounds were better, Dar joined back his school, Government Middle School for Boys, Maisuma.
“Doctor’s had advised me not to stress my right eye so my teachers helped me by highlighting limited chapters to pass my exams,” Dar said in absolute appreciation of his teachers.
In Class 9, he had to join Shri Pratap School where it became difficult for his eye to bear the stress. Ultimately, he dropped out of his school.
Almost 25 years after, Dar may look alright but his financial problems are taking a toll on his health. Residing in three storey ancestral house in congested interiors of Maisuma, Dar is living with his siblings: a brother and a sister. All three of them are unmarried. The house has a kitchen and four rooms. The inhabitants of this house are quite familiar with the interiors but for guests going upstairs without a torch is impossible. One has to bow down head to knee level to climb the stairs.
His father, an SRTC driver had died in 1985. And then, his eldest brother, who was a private driver, took over the family affairs. Meanwhile the pension case of their father was approved only in 2001, 16 years after his death.
In 2005 his eldest brother, unmarried, died when he fell down from the slab of their newly constructed maternal house. A year after, his mother too passed away. In them, Dar lost a great support.
“I have to visit ophthalmologist fortnightly and both of them used to accompany me. They were my emotional support,” says jobless Dar, youngest of all siblings, who finds it difficult to bear his medical expenses. His other brother works with a motor mechanic and his sister stays home.
Over the years, Dar has developed cardiac problems as well, and he says it has been ages since he has laughed. He suffered a minor heart attack in 2010. He has been advised to avoid infections. “Even if I get cold, my eyes catch infection. This time they are treating my right eye so that it doesn’t loose vision. Off late I see things blurred with changing colours,” says Dar. If, he walks for more than 15 minutes he can fall unconscious.
“One of my doctors told me that a vein in my head was also blocked in that accident.” Dar has been advised not to run, preferably walk slowly.
Dar’s monthly medicine expanses range from Rs 3000 to 5000. “One well-wisher gets them for me but I feel like I have become useless entity at home because I cannot contribute.”
Dar, once home, prefers to stay in his room silently. He is not in touch with his friends or relatives. “Everyday I just have one prayer on my lips, why don’t I die. Only that can ease my problems.”
For Dar dying of a bullet is easier than remaining disabled for life. He had applied for various government posts but he didn’t get a job despite the fact he has 50 percent disability certificate.
As per 2011 census, J&K has the highest number of disabled population in comparison to other states. Around 3.60 lakh people, which is nearly three percent of J&K population, is surviving with one or the other disabilities, 2.8 lakh are visually impaired, 0.38 lakh are physically challenged, 0.17 lakh have speech disability and 0.13 lakh have hearing impairment.
The number of registered disabled persons with Social Welfare Department who were directly hit by militancy are 55,549, an official report suggests. Those disabled by accidents are 20,345, by mine explosions are 14,456 and by other reasons are 13,455.
Despite a staggering 3.6 lakh disabled persons in Kashmir alone, only one lakh are presently benefitting from various schemes of Social Welfare department. Most of the beneficiaries registered with the department are of Old age pension scheme (1.5 lakh), widows and women in distress (1 lakh), scholarship schemes (4.5 lakh students in 2015), one time benefit scheme.
Hashmat Ali Yatoo, director Social Welfare department, Kashmir, says that the problem lies in ‘society’ as up to 20 percent of the beneficiaries do not deserve but they still receive the amount happily. Now, the ministry has decided to go digital, bio metric verification, where Aadhar cards will be linked to their accounts and beneficiaries will receive the amount in their bank accounts.
As on date Yatoo says his department has an overall pendency of around one lakh people, which they are trying to adjust through the quarterly ‘weed-out’ plans.
The director says that presently all beneficiaries receive Rs 1000 at par under all schemes, which earlier was Rs 400. But when it comes to the reservations for government jobs, the beneficiaries alleges they don’t get any relaxation. According to Disability Act 1995 which was adopted by J&K in 1998 as (Equal opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act clearly says that there should be 3% percent reservation in jobs, free transport, health benefits, and free education with special instructors. But it is on statute books and is not being implemented.
Almost 30 kms away in Palhallan Pattan, Mushtaq Ahmad Hajam, 40, a private school teacher, met an accident on May 13, 2011 when he was on his way to school, 5 kms away from his home.
Mushtaq used to travel this distance in a bus but that day one of his neighbours gave him lift on a bike. But he recalls once they were on the Baramulla highway, near an army camp, one army truck from ‘Tapper Pattan camp’ suddenly had a right turn without showing any signal.
“We both fell down from the bike but it got stopped by my knee, which in turn compressed my femur bone, and it came out from hip, and it cut across my pants,” says Mushtaq in excited voice.
As he talked his eyes remained glued to his knee, which he is unable to bend. While talking, he repeats sentences, the problem he has developed after that accident.
For a moment, he felt he was dead. As he was loosing blood, nobody dared to come closer to help as army was involved. Finally, after 30 minutes, somebody dared to take him to hospital.
On reaching sub-district hospital, Pattan, he was referred to Bone and Joint hospital in Srinagar, after giving him minimum first aid. He was operated upon same day and doctors fixed screws to his fractured bone and fixed it to its original position.
Next week he was scheduled for another surgery. His father, a labourer, couldn’t afford to collect Rs 70,000 so he sold his two cows to bear the expenses of the equipments for Mushtaq’s scheduled two surgeries. Then, doctors told him that he will recover in next eight months. Now, six years later, he is unable to walk without support.
After 17 months of his surgery, the plate was removed from his leg but he developed infection. Doctors could not explain it. At the same time he visited a doctor from Delhi in a local private hospital, who asked him to go for MRI, which showed “the infection had involved his bone and if it would not had been diagnosed for one more month then amputation was the only option left,” says Mushtaq, who calls himself lucky and he was put on antibiotics for at least nine months which saved his leg but he lost the chances of recovery in his knee bone.
“The money for my medicines came from the donations collected in Masjids, and from neighbours and relatives,” says Mushtaq, who later visited social welfare department for the aid but they told him that department will be in a position to provide him Rs 500 monthly.
Later one more plate was installed in Mushtaq’s leg which cost him Rs 2 lakhs and that amount was collected when his father sold off his land. Bone grafting was also done and then he was scheduled for one more surgery, joint replacement but he couldn’t afford that. He was prescribed for physiotherapy too but that was not possible for him. But one day, an international NGO came to his single storey house, provided him physiotherapy and stretchers, which helped him a lot.
Mushtaq says for any disabled person, English toilet and bed are must. But he has an Indian toilet, where he has to sit flat like he is sitting on floor. His washroom is outside his home, at least 20 steps away.
After five years of that accident, Mushtaq has rented a shop near his house, which he turned into a provisional shop from spring 2016. “I cannot afford to be dependant on my father any more. We have monthly expanses for medicines Rs 2000 and incase I visit a doctor that means an additional amount of Rs 2500. Besides that I have a bank loan of Rs 2 lakhs as well,” says Mushtaq who can not walk without a crutch.
One hope was that the court will get him some relief as it was a road accident. But he had to withdraw his accident case from Pattan court because the biker who had given him lift was without any registration papers. Instead of relief, he had to pay a fine of Rs 50,000. “His family is not financially sound so I had to take the case back.” Mushtaq, who has become pessimist since that accident says, “It was my destiny. I don’t blame that biker neither that Army man, who most probably was drunk.”
Back in Srinagar’s city centre, in Abi Guzar, Muneer, an aspiring sportsperson, was left paralysed in 2005 when a stray bullet hit him, apparently from a nearby encounter.
Then a sixth class student, he was playing cricket near his house. This bullet hit him on his back, injuring his spinal cord, leading to paralysis of his legs and hips.
Twelve years later, Muneer is unable to walk on his own, he needs at least one person to accompany him to washroom. He gave up his studies and does not want to study any further. And over these years he doesn’t want to talk about that incident. When Kashmir Life contacted him for an appointment, he was reluctant to meet. “I don’t want to talk about that incident. You can write about that incident from what has been already reported,” Muneer said. “To remain busy I have started a travel agency and I operate from my room.”
Interestingly, the government recently told the state assembly that they have constituted a committee that will offer an idea about the people who have survived with disabilities in 2016 unrest. On January 27, 2017, government announced a compensation package that will fetch Rs 75000 to a person with permanent disability and Rs 50000 whose disability in partial.