Inside ward number 18 at Srinagar’s Sri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS), Mohammad Aslam Sheikh is readying his 8-year old son Arsalan Ahmad for another surgery. Offering him a bowl of soup, Aslam whispers in his right ear that he will regain his vision in a day or two. Soon, a smile flickers on his son’s pale face.
At the Bone and Joint Hospital, Mohammad Aslam Sheikh’s brother Khursheed Ahmad Sheikh shifts his 12-year-old son Tahir Ahmad for another surgery while his wife—putting up in a rented room near SMHS—takes care of their daughter Razia, who was recently discharged from the hospital after going through a string of operations.
Back home, Sheikhs’ father Ab Gani, sitting in the corner of one his uncluttered rooms, mourns the death of his daughter’s son, Saliq Iqbal.
On July 11, around 1.30 pm, the four children, all belonging to the same extended family in Meemender area of Shopian town, were toying with some explosive device in their compound when it went off, killing Saliq on the spot while causing grave injuries to three others: Arsalan, Tahir and Razia.
While the shrapnel went into the eyes of Arsalan, making him blind, Tahir lost his right hand to the blast and he needs another surgery for his fractured leg. The blast tore the flesh of Razia beneath her waistline and smashed her bones.
Saliq’s mother Rukhsana, who was a few meters away from the blast site, also received multiple splinter injuries on her left arm and shoulder.
Recounting the horror, Rukhsana said that as she heard the deafening sound she made a dash for the children and saw all of them lying in a pool of blood. “Saliq was lying motionless while three others were crying in excruciating pain. We rushed them to nearby hospital where doctors pronounced Saliq as brought dead,” said Rukhsana, adding that the other three children were referred to SMHS Srinagar.
Just a day ago, a firefight between militants and government forces had taken place in a neighbouring Kundalan village, where forces blew up two residential houses in which the militants had taken refuge. After the gun battle was over, the children had brought some explosive device, lying in the detritus, home from the site. The device exploded while they were fiddling with it in their courtyard.
Nearly three weeks after the tragedy, there hardly seems any end to the family’s tribulations, with all the three children lying in hospital. Although Razia was discharged a few days ago, she has to visit the hospital for ‘alternate day dressing’. The family has now rented a room in the immediate vicinity of SMSHS hospital.
“She is yet to get on her feet and once her wounds will heal she, according to doctors, has to undergo a series of plastic surgeries ” says her father, Khursheed Ahmad Sheikh.
Although the Sheikh brothers are government employees, the treatment of their children are draining every penny they have saved from their paltry emoluments for the education of their children.
“Whatever we had saved went into the treatment of our children and more money is required as the treatment is still underway,” said Khursheed Ahmad Sheikh.
On July 11, four children were toying with some explosive device in their compound when it went off, killing Saliq on the spot while causing grave injuries to three others. While the shrapnel went into the eyes of Arsalan, making him blind, Tahir lost his right hand to the blast and he needs another surgery for his fractured leg. The blast tore the flesh of Razia beneath her waistline and smashed her bones
Allowing people to visit sites of battle soon after the fire fights are over proving treacherous, as many times the unexploded explosives left behind go off as people approach such sites. Children are particularly more vulnerable as they mistake these explosive devices for toys. According to police sources, 18 people including 12 children were killed in the past seven years when explosives left behind at these encounter sites went off.
“After the gun battles, security forces hardly sift the detritus for the explosives. They do not even restrict people around these sites,” said Mohammad Ashraf, a local resident.
However, a senior police officer, on the condition of anonymity, said that the forces do their best to clear the debris and defuse leftover explosives but sometimes people hamper the process and that later turns out to be a dicey affair.