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How a CRPF bullet ended the dreams of a Kashmiri youth who wanted to be a teacher

By Raqib Hameed Naik, TwoCircles.net

Baramulla: Over the past few decades, the fight for self-determination in Kashmir has seen thousands of valley residents killed, maimed, and tortured at the hands of security forces. Needless to say, most of the people suffering in the Valley just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, and the story of Sajad Ahmed Bhat is no different. For the past three years, the 22-year-old divides his entire day between his prayers and staring at the bare walls in his parents’ modest house in Baramulla district. The walls are his acquaintances, Bhat says.

The only son of his parents, Sajad had dreams of becoming a teacher to educate the children in his village, but destiny had something else in store for the teenager.

For him, everything changed with a bullet fired by the CRPF troopers, which took out his left eye, washing away his dreams of becoming a teacher.

The fateful day of February 10

The year of 2016 witnessed large-scale protests in the Valley following the encounter of Burhan Wani. However, this was not the first such protest, and it is unlikely to be the last. In February 2013, the Valley erupted in protests following the hanging of parliament attack convict Afzal Guru. As the protests intensified and spread across the valley, Sajad continued his life unperturbed and went to attend his tuitions at a local coaching center. Sajad was a Class 12 student and extremely interested in political science, economy and Islamic studies.

The classes were finished by 2 pm, but Sajad knew he had to rush home when he realized that there was a procession going on, with people raising slogans. But as he came out of the gate, he found himself trapped in between protesters and CRPF troopers. Before he could even think of hiding or get away, CRPF men pulled the trigger and fired at the crowd.

The bullets hit four people that day in Baramullah and Sajad was one of them. The bullet hit his left eye, and he fell on the deserted street.

“When I touched my eye, I could feel blood oozing out of my eye. I thought a stone had hit me. People who were taking me to a hospital wouldn’t let me touch my head,” said Sajad.

He was taken to a nearby hospital from where he was referred to Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) in Srinagar. He was profusely bleeding from his head and some doctors at SKIMS thought that he was dead.

“They told us that he was dead. But suddenly Sajad stood up and doctors were startled to see him alive because they had thought that he was hit in the brain. He was instantly rushed to the operation theater,” says Farooq Ahmed Mir, a local who had taken Sajad to the hospital.

For the next six months, Sajad remained unconscious and bed-ridden in the hospital. But waking up did not make him any happier.

“When I woke up and touched my left eye, I was in shocked to feel just a deep hole and nothing more,” Sajad recollects.

The tragic past of the Bhat family

Sajad getting shot wasn’t the first tragedy that has befallen the Bhat family. 21 years ago Sajad’s uncle, then a student and also named Sajad was shot dead by security forces in the neighbourhood. No wonder, the family has lost belief in the government and the judicial system and they don’t even bother to vote in elections.

Sajad’s father, Zahoor Ahmed Bhat, 55, is a farmer who earns Rs 4,000 a month and experiencing stress and depression seeing the condition of his only son.

“He was the only child I had; they even didn’t let him live a normal life. My heart aches when I see him in this situation. He doesn’t remember things. He stays by himself most of the time and doesn’t feel like talking most of the time,” says Zahoor.

His mother, Meema Begum, works in a local school as a cook, which helps her earn Rs 1,000 a month. The family finds it very difficult to make ends meet as most of their money is spent on their son’s medicines.

“Sajad was born a decade after our marriage and we had been relying on him to take us out from poverty,” says Meema.

“He used to say that I will give you a better life after he starts earning, but see how destiny turned out to be. They killed half of my son and let him live with the other half for rest of his life,” Meema adds in a tearful voice.

Finding hope, and refuge in Islam

Since the tragic turn of events, Sajad has found solace in his religion and he prays five times a day and gives “Azan (Call to prayers)” in the village mosque. After staying away from studies for over four years, he has also submitted his examination form for Class 12th last month.

“I can’t properly read the books or remember things, but I am still trying my best to continue my studies. Besides the financial condition of my home is very bad. How long will my parents earn for me?” he asks.

“I have to look out for a job which can give me decent earning,” he says.

Leaving behind the scars, Sajad besides continuing his studies now wants to become an Imam (the person who leads prayers in a mosque).

“I find peace when I pray,” he adds.