By Kashmiri standards, the afternoon of 2 October 2016 was sunny and warm. A group of boys from the Kawdara neighbourhood in downtown Srinagar were playing cricket at the Radpora stadium, which is nearby. Among them was 12-year-old Moin Mushtaq, dressed in a white-kurta pyjama, who was fielding at mid-on. “All of a sudden, I heard slogans and screaming coming from the lane adjacent to the ground,” Mushtaq told me when I met him in late October. “As I turned to look, I felt sharp pain in my face, and fell in a heap.” “When I saw him, I couldn’t believe it,” Mushtaq’s mother, Sabina, said. “His kurta-pyjama was no longer white. It was red—only red.”
Sharp lead pellets fired from a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun, better known as a pellet gun, had hit Mushtaq. The pellets entered his eyes, face, neck and chest, destroying his right eye beyond repair. The family, which sells bread from their one-room home and earns about Rs 5,000 a month, had to spend close to Rs 5 lakh on four surgeries for Mushtaq’s eye—three of which were conducted in Hyderabad. He is still unable to see through his right eye. “If I close my left eye, I only have a sense of light, if a source of light is close to me,” he said.
Danish Rajab, a 22-year-old resident of Rainawari in Srinagar, was even less fortunate. On the evening of 17 July 2016, he recalled, the curfew—which had been imposed during the unrest that followed the death of Burhan Wani, a divisional commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, on 8 July—had been lifted for the day. Rajab stepped out of his house to meet his friends at a tea-stall. “I saw eight or nine CRPF [Central Reserve Police Force] jeeps pass us by. Then, as the last jeep was about five metres away, the man stationed on top of it fired at me. I looked up at him when I heard the sound, ducked instinctively and soon fell down after feeling a piercing pain,” he told me. He said that the next thing he remembers was waking up at the hospital, and “the sounds of my sister crying next to me.” “I couldn’t see her,” he said. Pellets had entered both of Rajab’s eyes, his face and parts of his skull, blinding him permanently. “There has only been darkness since,” he added.