“His voice weakened by pain, Hilal Ahmed says in a near whisper that he is lucky to be alive.
The 22-year-old student of zoology says he was participating in a peaceful protest march demanding “freedom from India” in his hometown, Anantnag, in Indian-administered Kashmir on 2 August when he was hit by bullets – on his stomach and arm – allegedly fired by security forces.
“I felt a burning, hot feeling in my stomach as I fell down. I looked down to see some blood oozing out of my stomach. I didn’t feel any pain. I began to walk, and then I collapsed,” says Mr Ahmed, lying on a hospital bed in the capital, Srinagar.”
“I don’t know what I did to deserve this,” says Hilal, softly. “I did not pelt stones. I knew that if we pelted stones we could be shot at. But I still got a bullet in my stomach. I don’t understand.”
What he does know that he is fortunate to come out alive in a conflict between pro-freedom protesters and security forces that has already claimed the lives of nearly 60 people in the past two months.”
“Mr Ahmed, who wants to be become a researcher in zoology one day, says he will return to the streets to participate in “peaceful” protests once he recovers fully from his injuries.
“I don’t feel any anger. We are fighting for our rights. I am sure peaceful protests will bring results. I am sure the sacrifices of the martyrs, the boys who died this time, will not go in vain. Azadi (freedom) is a very important cause,” he says.”
“Mr Ahmed brings out his small diary with a brown plastic cover from under his pillow and asks me to read a little poem he has written from his hospital bed.
It is a staccato, heart-felt piece of spontaneous verse peppered with a question that most people in the valley are asking these days. It also hints at the turmoil among Kashmir’s youth.”
“Most of the bullet injuries are in the abdominal area, chest, eyes and neck. They are single and multiple bullet wounds. They are all young men, in their late teens or early 20s,” says hospital chief, Dr Waseem Qureshi.
They have also treated young men critically injured or blinded by rubber bullets, a doctor says.”
Back at the ward, doctors worry about an infection on Owais Ahmed’s wounds. But the boy says he wants to return to the streets and protest peacefully because he “cannot let down the cause.”
“I know what it is all about. I know it’s about our freedom. The protests are justified. I will protest peacefully. My parents wont mind,” he says, with a wan smile spreading on his long face.
“I have no fear now. I have been baptised by fire,” says Owais, who wants to study to become a business management graduate.”