Danish Rajab, 24, used to work as a marketing executive for a company selling dairy products in the city of Srinagar in India-administered Kashmir. That was until the day his life changed forever.
The Kashmir valley has seen violent protests break out, triggered by the death of popular rebel militant commander, Burhan Wani on July 9. A curfew was imposed in most parts of the valley, almost immediately after his death, to contain the protests. Defying this curfew, people took to the streets in large numbers to protest against the killing.
On the evening of July 17, 2016, after the curfew had been lifted, Danish was hit by pellets in his face and eyes from a distance of about 10 metres, as he sat chatting with his friends at a tea stall near his house. He felt sharp pain and fell down with the shock. His friend, Aashiq, tried to lift him up. This was the last image that Danish saw.
The current unrest in the valley – which continues to this day even as the intensity has dwindled – has seen a new kind of injury inflicted by a new kind of non-lethal weapon, the pellet gun. Thousands have suffered damage to their eyesight as a result of pellet gun use by security forces to quell protests.
The pellet gun fires more than 500 sharp lead pellets at high velocity. Doctors say that even a single pellet entering the eye at that speed can cause grievous and irreversible damage.
Danish only came to terms with what he had lost at the hospital. A two-inch metal ring containing hundreds of pellets had entered through his left eye, damaging everything in its path. It then proceeded to burst inside and the pellets dispersed in various directions, also damaging his right eye. The extent of damage to his left eye was so severe that it had to be removed entirely. He can only see faint shadows from his right eye. [Zacharie Rabehi/Agence Le Journal/Al Jazeera]
Danish sits quietly listening to India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, speak. He tries to distract himself from the horrific tragedy facing him. His family says he doesn’t talk a lot any more. ‘What do I say? You can see what has become of my life,’ he says. [Zacharie Rabehi/Agence Le Journal/Al Jazeera]
Danish has not been able to come to terms with his disability. His family tries desperately to keep his morale high, but they themselves are shattered. Most of the time, Danish prefers to sit alone. [Zacharie Rabehi/Agence Le Journal/Al Jazeera]
An X-ray image shows the 100-or-so pellets that are still lodged in his eyes, face and head. Doctors say that the procedure to remove the pellets will put Danish’s life at grave risk. On touching his head, one can feel the metallic objects. His nemesis will be a part of his body for the rest of his life. [Zacharie Rabehi/Agence Le Journal/Al Jazeera]
His father performs his own check on Danish’s vision, hoping that it has improved. He used to work as a labourer until health issues forced him to stop a few years ago. Since then, Danish had been the sole breadwinner for this family of seven, with a wage of about $100 a month. [Zacharie Rabehi/Agence Le Journal/Al Jazeera]
Danish’s friends often drop by to spend some time with him. They sit in the sun, as the winter chill begins to set in. Conversation, though, is minimal. [Zacharie Rabehi/Agence Le Journal/Al Jazeera]
Danish’s younger sister carefully opens his eyes with her fingers and applies eye drops with the help of ear buds. He shares a close bond with her. ‘It is very difficult to see him sit at home and suffer mentally. He had so many dreams. All have been shattered,’ she says. [Zacharie Rabehi/Agence Le Journal/Al Jazeera]
Danish’s father sits with one of his granddaughters. She has not gone to school since July 8, as schools remain closed in the valley because of the ongoing unrest. [Zacharie Rabehi/Agence Le Journal/Al Jazeera]
Danish walks back cautiously to his room after a trip to the bathroom, touching the walls with his hands to guide himself. ‘I hate it that I have to rely on my family members for every small thing. I can’t do anything on my own any more,’ he says. [Zacharie Rabehi/Agence Le Journal/Al Jazeera]
His father keeps a close eye whenever Danish is walking on his own. ‘I feel helpless. It is very traumatic to see him like this and I can’t do anything,’ he says. ‘We were a poor but happy family before this. Now we are poor and also miserable,’ he adds.[Zacharie Rabehi/Agence Le Journal/Al Jazeera]
As his father and niece play in the small garden in their house, Danish is pensive. ‘A lot of negative thoughts enter my mind. I try to keep them away. Otherwise, it will be impossible to survive. But how long can I keep doing that?’, he says. ‘When my mother passed away a few years ago, I used to cry a lot. Now, I feel relieved that she is not alive to see her blind son.’ [Zacharie Rabehi/Agence Le Journal/Al Jazeera]
He loves his Kashmiri tea, served with biscuits. His sister often has to often help him to eat as he misjudges the precise location of his mouth and drops food on himself. [Zacharie Rabehi/Agence Le Journal/Al Jazeera]
His friends take him out for a walk in the evening. They try to cheer him up. He doesn’t walk for more than five minutes and comes back to the relative safety of his house. ‘He never liked sitting in the house and loved to be out and about. Look at him now. He has given up the will to live,’ says his sister with a tear in her eye. [Zacharie Rabehi/Agence Le Journal/Al Jazeera]
Danish likes to sit in the sun. He likes the perception of light. He smiles quietly, and with a shake of the head says he is not angry. He then moves his head as if to look upwards, takes a deep breath and says: ‘What will I do even if I do feel angry? I am helpless. Yes, I do feel angry … very angry. But I control it. It will hurt me only, no one else.’ [Zacharie Rabehi/Agence Le Journal/Al Jazeera]