Srinagar: On a hospital bed in a solitary room, a pink stuffed doll lies next to the pillow on which 17-year-old Iqra’s fractured head, wrapped in gauze, rests while her almond-shaped bruised eyes search for the reason she was hit grievously by a stone.
The answer is hard to come by. In Kashmir, some of the gravest violence happens to those who seek peace.
Last week, Iqra was one of the hundreds of students who came to the streets for a peaceful protest against the police action that led to injuries to dozens of students in Pulwama college in South Kashmir. Like all incidents of violence in Kashmir, what happened in Pulwama on last Wednesday has two versions. Students claimed that Army in Casspir (an armored vehicle) raided their college while the Army said that they had gone to meet the principal of the school to discuss about an art exhibition. Army’s presence on the college campus provoked students into stone pelting, forcing the Casspir to withdraw.
Two days later, according to Pulwama students a security cordon was laid outside the college. Police however said that the security cordon exists there for long but students started pelting stones on it, leading to clashes in which police used teargas and pellet guns. The next day, a banned pro-separatist Kashmir University Students Union called for a protest across all educational institutions in the valley. Besides students, some teachers spread the word too.
Iqra, a first year commerce student of Nawakadal women’s college in Srinagar, “accompanied her friends in a peaceful protest,” says her older sister Saima (21) while attending to her in the hospital.
Saima says she got to know about the Pulwama incident and the call for protests in the local newspapers. “Students came out to protest, peacefully, because we don’t want security forces on our campuses and educational institutions. We go there for studies and expect to do that without fear or intimidation. We don’t want any conflict or clashes in our colleges and schools,” she says.
During the Srinagar protest in which Iqra participated, some of the boys started pelting stones on a CRPF climb-up bunker near a city crossing, Sekidafar chowk.
Iqra, unable to speak due to pain, gestures through her eyes that a stone or a slab came somewhere from above, implying that she was hit by the CRPF that had retaliated to the stone-pelting from students.
“She was helped by locals in the neighborhood and brought to the hospital by her friends in an auto,” says Saima while attending to her. Iqra became Kashmir’s first female victim of the stone-pelting cult.
In the 2016 summer unrest following Hizb commander Burhan Wani’s killing, there were 2,690 incidents of stone pelting and thousands of civilians and security forces were injured, some of them critically.
Neurosurgeon Dr Omar at SMHS hospital says Iqra came with parietal lobe fractures and contusions. The bone was elevated through craniotomy. It would take her three months to recover, he says.
To a nine-member Hawal family whose sole breadwinner is Iqra’s father, a coppersmith, the injury is not just additional financial strain but also an irony of monumental proportions. Seven siblings–five sisters and two brothers–aspire to climb the socio-economic ladder that they were born in and all are diligently focused on education, two of them preparing for Indian civil service exams. Iqra wants to be a chartered account and make money for her family.
“Our father always talks of peace. We don’t believe in violent protests. Whatever our grievances with India and we do have many but we have been taught, to lodge them through lawful channels. India has occupied Kashmir illegally. That is why I want to be an Indian civil servant and change things,” says Saima, a third year law student at Central University.
Iqra, Saima says, “used to be the most coward amongst all siblings but she has finally proven that she is the bravest” given the amount of physical and psychological pain she is enduring. But Iqra shakes her head gently in negative when asked if she would go out again on peaceful protests.