Aazadi and education: Blinded by pellets, two teen survivours achieve big in Kashmir exams

Pellet survivor Suhail Gul Mir at his home in Pulwom.

They lost their eyesight at a time when they needed it most. But, six months after they were blinded by the government forces, two teenagers from disputed Jammu and Kashmir have scored big in school board examinations.

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18-year-old, Suhail Gul Mir, secured a distinction in the secondary school examinations, results of which were announced earlier this week. But his is no ordinary feat.

Coming from a peasant family, Suhail wanted to become a teacher and was moving steadily towards his goal. However, on July 11, three days after Kashmir’s iconic insurgent commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani died while fighting government forces, Suhail dreams were shattered by pellets. “I was on my way to home from Rajpur village when the forces fired pellets at me. By the time I regained my consciousness, I could only see darkness,” the boy recalls sitting in a colorful room at his home in Pulwom district’s Rahmoo village.

Pellets are loaded with lead and once fired they disperse in huge numbers. They don’t follow a definite path. Pellets penetrate the skin’s soft tissues, and eye being the delicate structure is the most vulnerable to damage. Once the pellet goes inside an eye it shatters tissues and causes multiple damages to all parts of the eye.

The teenage boy was hit — majorly in his left eye — when he ‘was coming back from tuition’. “On my return, there were stone-pelting clashes but I was unaware and suddenly pellets hit me,” he told Kashmir Dispatch.

“Within no time,” he said, “I fell down and the boys nearby lifted him and took him to the hospital where he was operated upon. The teen has been operated four times so far but he hasn’t regain vision completely.

The civil protests triggered after the death of Burhan– whose father was a school headmaster– brought pellet guns into focus even though they were in uses since past many years. To control the protesters, pellets were fired injuring hundreds of protesters.

Doctors have performed four surgeries on Suhail's left eye, but the boy says the operations have made no difference.
Doctors have performed four surgeries on Suhail’s left eye, but the boy says the operations have made no difference.

Despite being hit by pellets, Suhail, a student at a local government school– most of which have dismal results in the exams conducted by the Jammu and Kashmir Board of School Education, didn’t sit back and decided to appear in secondary exams last year in November. Once aspiring to become a teacher, Suhail said, he sought a helper to write the answers as he ‘faced enormous difficulties while reading and writing’. “My aim was to become a teacher. Before being hit by pellets, I was preparing for the exams and I had set a target of 95 per cent marks,” he said.

The young boy got 75 per cent scoring 375 out of 500 marks. “Although I had expected more marks but I am thankful to God for what I have achieved,” he said.

Hoping to regain vision completely, Suhail said that four surgeries performed so far have made ‘very little difference’. He is being treated by doctors and his labourer father, Ghulam Muhammad Mir, is bearing all the expenses. “I am thankful to God despite being hit by pellets, my son did well,” Suhail’s father told Kashmir Dispatch.

The use of pellet guns and the number of fatal eye injuries in the Valley has resulted in a huge outcry and severe criticism. “However, I am very sad because my son has suffered,” he said, adding: parents always try to do their best for their children and I am not an exception. “It is sad that the pellets which have been made for animals are being used on humans in Kashmir,” he remarked.

Though, police claim that a pump action gun is a ‘non-lethal weapon’, doctors treating pellet victims say it maims a person forever- causing partial or complete blindness. Pellet guns have injured hundreds of people, several of whom are being treated for severe eye injuries in Kashmir where an anti-India movement seeking separation has been running since many decades.

Suhaib decided to postpone his surgery and write his papers to save the academic year.

Suhail isn’t the lone one to dream with blinded eyes. Determination in the face of adversity is what helped 16-year-old Suhaib Nazir Parray score an impressive 72 per cent marks in 10th school board exams even after he too sustained pellet injuries in his left eye.

“I lost my eyesight that day but I didn’t stop studying,” he said. The teenager who is also from Pulwom district has undergone a series of surgeries. He is among the over 1,000 people, most of them teenagers, who were hit in the eye by pellets fired by forces during the pro-freedom protests in Kashmir last year.

He says his parents’ support gave him the courage to take the exams conducted in November. “My parents told me, ‘sit for the exams and don’t think of the outcome’,” he said.

After the results were announced, the family, which had been unsure about his future, is confident that teenager will be able to achieve his dreams. The boy’s father, Nazir Ahmad Parray, who is an orchardist, said: “After he was hit by pellets in his eyes and head, he underwent three surgeries. Despite all this, he sat for the exams.”

Such was the determination of the teenager that he decided to postpone his surgery and write his papers to save the academic year despite facing difficulties in November last.

For Suhaib, education is the only means to achieve big in life and that is why he decided to give it a try by appearing for it, despite not been able to concentrate fully, given his vision impairment. He did not opt for a writing assistant and wrote his papers on his own.

Suhaib’s mother admits she and her son were part of a ‘pro-azadi procession’ when the forces opened fire. “The boys who were getting killed and injured were like my own children. So my children and I were also participating in those protests,” said Haseena.