Dispatch from Srinagar: Our nights are becoming longer and darker

“Things will get more violent if we go now. We will wait for dawn to break.”
Published July 15, 2016

This piece was originally published on July 14, 2016.

"They are shooting above waists, right in the chest and sometimes in the head ... this hospital is a war-zone.”

These were the words spoken to me by a doctor at Soura Hospital in Srinagar where I am currently volunteering. At the time, a boy had been brought in from Qaimoh, a town south of Srinagar. His body had been sprayed with pellets and his right eye was punctured. I barely managed to hold my tears as he lay there writhing in pain.

The doctor said he would not be able to see from one eye anymore: his pupil had been pierced by the pellet shell.

Pellet guns are supposed to be ‘non-lethal’, but in Kashmir, even a jackboot can take away people’s lives.

On the third day of the siege, the Internet is still shut. Phone lines in South Kashmir are barred, 25 people have been brutally killed, and many hundreds injured.

In-Depth: The pursuit of Kashmir

In the midst of all this chaos, Kashmiris have again attested to their steely-will. At the hospital, volunteers from the neighbourhood are running a soup kitchen for the stranded. Started by local mohalla committees, they serve meals three times a day and tea in between.

Localities near the hospital have pitched in their supplies: sacks of rice, pulses and water. Hundreds of people have lined up to donate blood. There are dozens of volunteers around, taking in the injured and comforting the victims’ families.

A woman on a stretcher is brought in and taken straight to the emergency ward. She was injured in Sopore, a town in the Barmulla district. As soon as we take a break from tending to her, another casualty arrives. This one is also from Baramulla — the hospital door seems to be welcoming an endless caravan.

Volunteers at the soup kitchen stay on their toes. “Nobody should stay hungry,” they remind us. “Some of the injured don’t have their families along, so we must stay with them.”

A teenager, 15 years old, has succumbed to his injuries. By now, it is dark, and the bloodletting outside has not stopped. The sound of tear gas shots being fired splits through the eerie silence. The dead boy's friends decide to stay with him for the night; they will take his body home in the morning.

“Things will get more violent if we go now. We will wait for dawn to break.”

Ambulances standing outside have shattered windows. Attendants describe the horrors they’ve seen, passing through the monstrosity of Indian forces. They’ve been heckled, threatened and abused. But they managed to make their way back to the hospital.

A woman breaks down every time the injured are brought in. “They are my own.”

Read next: A Kashmiri's view: Is the Indian soldiers' sentencing a good sign?

At the hospital, doctors work relentlessly, not even stopping for a moment. I ask one medic to speak to journalists. He scolds me, “You can see we are busy! There are firearm injuries, nobody has the time for this.”

I leave the hospital to catch a breath. An old friend from school joins me, telling stories of the dead. It’s getting dark and I want to make it home. My phone shows 15 missed calls from my mother.

Indian paramilitary soldiers stop a Kashmiri woman during curfew in Srinagar. —AP
Indian paramilitary soldiers stop a Kashmiri woman during curfew in Srinagar. —AP

As we get ready to leave, a police van appears out of nowhere. For fear of being detained, people flee the area. The van opens and a man gets inside — perhaps an informer. He had been recording the names of the injured, and noting down their addresses. I fear for them... would they be 'dealt with' later on?

Protests erupt and people jump fences. They hurl stones at a policeman. An old man screams, "Our sons have taken bullets. How dare they enter inside!"

Even the hospitals aren't safe.

As soon as the van leaves, two more ambulances come in. Two more bodies with bullets from the police.

From another corner, the song of freedom resounds at a high pitch. Someone is singing Azaadi, the song we all know. Another ambulance screeches in with the injured.

I wonder when this night will end.

Till yesterday, the death toll has risen to 34. The count of injured people has hit 1,500. I visit another hospital. An injured paramilitary troop is brought in, and everyone is wondering what has happened.

I meet an old man. He tells me he has been beaten with a stick and he cannot walk.

A 24-year-old girl is shot; the pellet piercing her spinal cord has left her paralysed.

In the corner of Ward 16, a 10-year-old boy lays on the bed, watching volunteers swarming the room with food and drink. The pellets are still inside him. There are hundreds like him.

Most of them will carry the pellets inside their bodies for the rest of their lives because the damage is too deep in their organs.

The boy's brother has fallen asleep sitting on a chair nearby. For many, the nights have become longer and darker than ever before.

A Kashmiri youth with an eye injury sits in a hospital after being hit by pellets fired by Indian security forces during a protest in Srinagar. —AFP
A Kashmiri youth with an eye injury sits in a hospital after being hit by pellets fired by Indian security forces during a protest in Srinagar. —AFP

In another ward, a woman runs in swiftly, "Kati tchum theek" [He's not fine].

Her son's agony is unbearable. His father comforts her, saying he will be better. Both parents run to their son.

Will this nightmare end?

In the morning, as I leave my house for the hospital, I ask the young volunteers collect supplies from neighbours for the soup kitchen in Soura. They grab their gunny bags and start going from door to door. Along with the kids is an Indian migrant worker. He holds the gunny bag open as people start pouring rice inside, cup by cup.

Outside the hospital, hundreds of volunteers remain stationed. Young and old reaching hospitals while breaking curfew in their locality. Many of them have donated blood, and some haven't slept in days. Others give out free medicines or volunteer at soup kitchens; they carry the wounded on bloody stretchers and comfort the injured with conversation.

They define what it means to be a Kashmiri.

Small kids walk to the blood bank to donate their blood, but are deemed too young.

Our hearts mourn but we do not give up. We have been there in those cold winter nights when our bodies were made to crawl on the snow. We have been there in those tiring crackdowns. We have been there in those long marches holding out drinks to the people. We have been there giving out tehar to the hungry when their houses were set on fire. We have been there when our youngsters were massacred. We have been there to rescue them from the barbarity of this occupation. We were there when the floods wreaked havoc in our homes. We are here now.

We are the state when the state fails.

In these moments, amid the sounds of screeching pellets and laboured breathing, we witness what it takes to be a free people. A feeling of brotherhood unites us all, in a common dedication to the cause of freedom — a collaboration is sifted from aspirations.

Today, at this hospital, I am a proud Kashmiri, more than I ever was before. This is who we are; this is our spirit, unconquerable.