“Whenever I hold him in my lap I cannot see his face however hard I try. I can hear his sounds, can feel him but cannot see him,” Arshid Ahmed, 23, says of his eight-month-old baby boy.
Arshid lost his eyesight when pellets fired by government forces fired pellets into a protest demonstration in Shopian on July 29 last year perforated both his eyes.
“For me this is the worst fate for a father,” Ahmed says.
Ahmed hails from Shopian. Like 11 other people, who too had been blinded in a similar fashion, he had come to Srinagar to attend a training workshop that will help them cope with their newly-acquired disability.
Most of the victims were either in their teens or early twenties.
At the workshop, which is being organised by an NGO, the participants share their stories, of life after the pellet injury, each a tale of devastated lives, dependence and shattered aspirations.
“I wanted to be a teacher and a cricketer too. Now I just feel sorry for myself when I hear kids playing around,” says Adil Reyaz, a 21-year-old student from Karimabad, Pulwama.
“Pellets shattered all my dreams,” he says and lowers his head.
Riyaz was in the first year of the Bachelor of Computer Applications course when he pellets blinded him last year. He not only dropped out of the studies but hardly moves out of his house.
“How many times will I ask my brother to hold my arm so that I can go out of the house,” he asks, his voice full of anger and frustration.
Another 21-year-old and his namesake Adil Rashid from Dialgam, Anantnag, says, “When I completed my diploma in electronics from Jammu, I was perhaps the happiest man with hopes of a bright future.”
Rashid had opened a mobile repair shop at Achabal just before Kashmir erupted over Burhan’s killing.
“Being the eldest of siblings and a disabled person now is killing me every day,” he says.
The training workshop aims at helping pellet victims towards “autonomy, independence, quality life and social inclusion”.
It has been organised by HELP foundation, a Srinagar-based NGO and is part of a “humanitarian aid project for rehabilitation of persons with eyesight loss by pellets” funded by Kashmir Development Foundation, a UK-based NGO.
During the training, one by one, the blinded youths are handed a white stick called ‘smart cane’. With both hands, they survey the object for its length, grip.
With the ‘smart cane’ in hand, they try to navigate the artificial hurdles laid out for training purposes. They fail at times.
“My home is in a terrain that is not even, there are bumps and elevations and depressions everywhere,” said Abdul Ahad, 30, the oldest in the group, from Dardsun in Kupwara.
The trainers assure him that the cane will warn him of the hurdles and elevations along the path.
“You just have to get used to using it,” a trainer tells him.
The victims also try their hands at android phones loaded with screen reading software and other applications for the blind.
“We are just trying to help them be functional again. Pellets have destroyed their lives comprehensively,” said a trainer, requesting anonymity.
More than a 1000 people, mostly youths, suffered pellet injuries in their eyes last year during protests and clashes triggered by the killing of Hizb commander Burhan Wani on July 8.