Waiting outside SMHS’ ophthalmology ward pellet hit Shabroza Akhtar blames herself for turning her sister’s upcoming wedding into mourning, reports Jibran Nazir
Shabroza Akhtar, 16, the Pulwama girl whose pellet ridden face broke almost every Kashmiri’s heart, is literally on her toes outside SMHS’ overcrowded ophthalmology Ward, in Srinagar.
The reason behind that self-pitying look, and on-the- toes expression, is her sister’s upcoming marriage. “She is getting married in two weeks,” tells Akhtar, without bothering to look at the reporter. “And it is no longer a celebration because of me.”
Clutching tightly at her brother’s arm Akhtar, a Class 10th student, had planned an elaborate and colourful wedding for her sister. “Without eyesight all of it is meaningless now,” said Akhtar, while waiting for her turn to see the doctor. This is her third visit since she was hit by pellets in Ruhmoo, Pulwama on October 31, 2016.
Shabroza looks angry and lost. She doesn’t speak much. Ask her about the chain of events that led to her injuries and she gets irritated. “It is painful for her to recall that day,” interrupts her brother Khursheed.
“My life is devastated,” adds Akhtar, before putting on her oversized black glasses.
Sitting next to Akhtar are two other teenage girls from her village, who too were hit by pellets on the same day. “We are friends and classmates,” said Akhtar.
As the wait outside ophthalmology ward got longer, Akhtar’s elder brother Khursheed, sensing his sister’s uneasiness, held her in his arms, trying to comfort her.
“Usually every family member would accompany Akhtar to the hospital for checkups,” said Khursheed. “But today they are busy with the marriage preparations or my other sister.”
But, admits Khursheed, the marriage will no longer be a celebration for the family. “How can we celebrate when one member of our family is in pain?”
Akhtar, who was listening patiently to her brother, said in a low tone, “My family is suffering because of me. I feel bad. I am adding to their miseries.”
Khursheed recalls how Akhtar used to talk at length about her sister’s marriage and plan things. She wanted to invite all her friends and sing songs for her would-be-bride sister.
“Now, because of me, the wedding will be simple. No songs, no celebrations,” said Akhtar.
The day Akhtar and her two friends were hit by pellets, Khursheed recalls, there were clashes going on in Ruhmoo village since morning.
Akhtar, who was preparing for her upcoming Class 10 exams, stayed inside her room, trying to concentrate on her studies. However, Akhtar could hear loud bangs, probably of teargas shells exploding nearby, after every five minutes pause.
When the noise neared her house, Akhtar panicked. Within minutes, she heard glasses of her living room widows’ shatter one after another. “I rushed out and saw around half-a-dozen CRPF men smashing windowpanes of our house,” said Akhtar in a barely audible voice.
“As soon as I came out of my house, they (police and CRPF men) began running after me. I ran harder towards women who were on the opposite side of the street,” said Akhtar.
“I saw one of them point his gun at me. I tried to run but suddenly something hit me in the eye,” said Akhtar, now almost struggling for words. “And everything went black.”
The youngest among the five siblings, Akhtar is closer to her elder sister, who is scheduled to get married in first week of December.
“She was excited about her marriage. They used to sit together and plan things till late hours,” said Khursheed.
Till the time doctors at SMHS hospital did two retinal surgeries in Akhtar’s left eye, she was hopeful of getting her vision back.
“There is little hope of regaining her eyesight,” said Dr Tariq Qureshi, who operated Akhtar. “Her retina is partially damaged. She might have to undergo more surgeries. But chances are less.”
A topper in her school, Akhtar stayed up all night before Class 10 exams begin, and cried. “She missed her exams,” said Khursheed. “It pains her a lot.”