Shot in the eyes: Kashmiri girl tells her story

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Blinded by pellets fired by Indian soldiers, a teenage Kashmiri girl has become the center of attention for global media for narrating the barbaric treatment meted out to her by the brutal occupying forces.

Ifra Shakour, says there are some things about October 31, 2016, will never forget, and then there are the hours that she was unconscious.

She remembers hunching over school books, cramming for her eighth-grade exams. She recalls hearing bursts of tear gas shells coming from the local market. And she definitely remembers that feeling of dread when she realised that her little brother wasn’t home.

“I asked my mother what was happening outside,” the 14-year-old told Al Jazeera in this 101 East documentary.

Photo Courtesy: Al Jazeera
Photo Courtesy: Al Jazeera

“I didn’t know what was going on. I closed my books and went out.”

Ifra only made it to her front gate. The last thing she saw were two uniformed policemen running towards her.

“When I saw them, I got scared. That’s why I ran,” she told Al Jazeera.

“They caught me by my hair and dragged me. And then they beat me with their baton on my arm. But still they weren’t satisfied so they shot me with a pellet gun.”

This pump action shotgun has been the weapon of choice for security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir for years. It’s classified as “non-lethal”, used to maim rather than kill its victims.

Each cartridge carries lead pellets the size and shape of mustard seeds. With the pull of a trigger, the gun sprays hundreds of these tiny balls indiscriminately into the air.

Photo Courtesy: Al Jazeera
Photo Courtesy: Al Jazeera

Ifra said the policemen shot her at point-blank range.

“After I was hit I couldn’t see anything. Blood was coming out of my eyes,” she said.

“All I could think about was seeing again so I can study, go out with friends, teachers, my family and neighbours. I used to pray to God to make me see again so I can be a doctor.”

Protests triggered by the death of Burhan Wani

The shooting of Ifra came during the worst protests Indian-administered Kashmir has seen in six years. They were triggered by the killing of Burhan Wani, a young rebel commander who had joined an underground network of separatist guerillas.

Wani was an icon and a social media star with thousands of online followers. His death sent shockwaves through India’s only Muslim-majority state. Angry protesters flooded the streets, throwing rocks at security forces and demanding independence.

Photo Courtesy: Al Jazeera
Photo Courtesy: Al Jazeera

The subsequent crackdown by the government was swift and violent. Hospitals struggled to cope with the dead and injured. Some had been severely beaten, others suffered pellet wounds.

Ophthalmologists in Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital said they operated day and night, treating at least 1,000 patients with pellets lodged in their eyes.

Some, like Ifra, were completely blind.

“She was screaming,” said her aunt, Rubeena Banu. “There was blood coming out of her eyes, her ears, her nose. I was so stressed. I couldn’t look at her. I thought she would die.”

Ifra had three pellets in her right eye and two in her left.

“She had gone out to bring her brother home because there was firing and fighting going on,” Banu told Al Jazeera. “What did she do wrong? She didn’t have a rock or a gun in her hand. She had just gone to get her brother.”

Photo Courtesy: Al Jazeera
Photo Courtesy: Al Jazeera

Al Jazeera also requested interviews with the police, the military and the federal government, but none agreed to be interviewed.

Ifra’s family does not hold any hope that her case will be investigated. They have not lodged a complaint with the police.

“If we complain, who knows? Maybe they’ll pick up my little nephew and put him in jail,” said Ifra’s aunt, Rubeena. “That’s why we’re scared and we won’t complain.

“Today, this happened to my niece. Another day, it will happen to someone else, and someone else the day after that. That’s why we say we want an independent Kashmir.”

Ifra has had three surgeries to restore her vision, but her sight is still limited. Her relatives say she has stopped studying and barely eats. She spends most of her days sitting alone in the courtyard outside her home.

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