There has been no laughter in our life. That is true about at least our three generations born after the famous ‘midnight stroke.’ Still, we have been treading on, braving blizzard after blizzard of the batons and bullets; treacheries and tortures and intimidation and terror- talking and writing about our plight but there are awe-striking moments that freeze up our faculties. One, such a terrible moment was on November 25, 2018, when on Sunday evening pictures of the rubicund angelic face of a baby with bandaged eyes became viral on the social media. The pictures melted even the stonehearted fence sitters, often identifying themselves on the social media with the powers that be and acting like the trolls.
Hiba Jan, a Nineteen-month-old baby girl was hit with pellet in her eye, when she was in the lap of her mother in their native village, Kapran in South Kashmir. In wee hours, the village famed for having produced some reputed poets and writers who have enriched the literary landscape of the state, in close vicinity of a beautiful waterfall was filled with tear smoke and pepper gas. The pepper gun, as was mentioned in a PIL filled some years back before the Jammu and Kashmir High Court ‘contains dreadful chemical and is very harmful and dangerous to the human body. It is specially designed to cause blindness or infectious diseases or death”. Its effects by practically as are as deadly as of the chemical weapons.
The clouds of tear smoke and deadly gas had filled the house of the baby. To save her from dying of asphyxia, the mother took her outside, and little knowing what was waiting for her outside. ‘The moment, she tried to open the wire mesh door, to get out, a soldier waiting outside showered them with pellets.’ Impulsively, mother tried to cover baby’s face with her hand, she could not be saved, and one pellet hit her right eye.’ She suffered a ‘corneal perforation which does not have a good prognosis,’ and is likely to lose sight. So far she is the youngest to join the long list of children and youth with ‘dead eyes.’
Since 2010, when the weapon shotgun euphemistically called as nonlethal crowd controlling gun was added to already strong arsenal of firearms of troops, scores of children and youth have lost complete vision, even after many surgeries their sight could not be restored and hundreds even after surgeries ended up with impaired vision, to live a disabled life. New York Times, Ellen Berry, in 2016, had spent days in the ophthalmology ward of the SMHS hospital and seen doctors operating on pellet victims round the clock, he had rightly captioned his story: “An Epidemic of ‘Dead Eyes’ in Kashmir as India Uses Pellet Guns on Protesters.”
The brutal use of the shotgun unlike in the past has not gone unnoticed. In 2017 the Amnesty International issued a detailed report ‘Losing Sight in Kashmir: The Impact of Pellet-Firing Shotguns. It called upon Government of India, to stop the use of the shotgun and initiate prompt, independent and impartial civilian criminal investigations into all incidents where the use of pellet-firing shotguns led to deaths or loss or impaired vision and prosecute those found guilty. In the seventy years of history, since India took Kashmir Dispute to the United Nations Security Council, the UN Human Rights Office in June 2018, published a first-ever comprehensive report on the human rights situation in Kashmir. The well documented 49-page report, ‘calling for an international inquiry in multiple violations in Jammu and Kashmir,’ should have been sufficient for New Delhi to revoke the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. To repeal the “lawless law” Jammu & Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA), pronounced by none but legal luminary Ram Jethmalani as “something we haven’t heard of even in Nazi Germany” and ban the use of pellet gun. But, nothing like that happened instead New Delhi chose to reject it as ‘biased,’ and attributed motives to UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. The controversy raked up on the report by New Delhi was put to rest by new chief Michelle Bachelet. She said, “The people of Kashmir have the same rights to justice and dignity as people all over the world, and we urge the authorities to respect them.”
Notwithstanding, Bachelet having reinforced the OHCHR report, neither the United Nations Human Rights Council nor the Secretary-General has so far done anything substantive for stopping New Delhi from the use of pellet gun. There is a big question writ on the faces of seven thousand boys wounded with pellets over 1100 with permeant eye damage- ( “the first mass blinding in human history”), what debars the UN Secretary-General, to follow further the report of his organization. In as much as bringing the UN human rights report to its logical conclusion and seeing it implemented in letter and spirit the buck stops with Antonio Guterres Secretary-General of the United Nations.
But, it does not answer all the questions that 14-year-old student Insha driven into complete darkness or 16-year cricketer Dar who told Anne Gowen, “My life is over”. As 19-month-old Hiba Jan, who cannot yet speak full sentence grows up and asks me, the name of the real culprit, who fired pellets in her eyes. Instead, of a soldier, I may name my father as her culprit. Had, he questioned, and questioned with courage of conviction the leader for his 26 September 1947 to the Maharaja, had he challenged him for his public announcement from 29 September 1947 to 15 October – had he joined the voices of dissent at Goal Bagh, during those critical and decisive times, perhaps Hiba Jan would not suffer the pelts. I also see my father culprit, for Hiba Jan’s plight, for him being part of the “fatuous crowds,” which thronged banks of the river Jhelum to greet the Russian leaders in 1957, without understanding that the whole game was to change the narrative. Had, he learned the science of resistance and not repeat the past mistakes and send a candid message to the Soviet leaders as his ancestors had when Lord Reading had passed through Jhelum- perhaps the situation had been different, and there would have been no Hiba to suffer.
I am no less a culprit, notwithstanding overflowing with enthusiasm, as a young man after the holy relic movement, I too had not learned nuances of the resistance, that questioning the leader’s decisions is a pathway to the success of the movement. Had, I learned it, not been tricked by jugglery of idioms perhaps the opportunity was thrown up one of the most strong movement would not have to be fritted away – and dissolved in the slogan of so-called “liberalization”.