Schools across the Kashmir Valley sprang back to life last week to the gaggle of laughter and unshackled mirth of hundreds of children. But the happiest to be back in the classroom after a gap of eight months, marked by unprecedented protests and turmoil, was perhaps Insha Mushtaq.
Dressed in the traditional Kashmiri pheran and sporting dark goggles, the 15-year-old was the quietest of all the students in her New Green Land Educational Institute, Shopian, some 70 km from Srinagar.
But she also had the widest smile, and hugged her classmates the tightest.
“Classroom among friends is where I belong,” chattered Insha, the teenager blinded by pellets fired by security forces in Kashmir’s recent bout of violence, hours after returning from school. “I want to study. I can’t see now, but I am continuing with it in whichever way I can,” she said, sitting amid the warmth of her two-storey family home in Sedow surrounded by mounds of snow. The weather is still cold and bleak in Kashmir, but Insha’s mood has considerably brightened following the school visit after months of despair.
She is determined to take her class 10 exams next year, though the lines she writes on her notebooks are unsteady and no more stick to the lines. “I can’t see what I write, but it does not matter. My teachers can,” she said. Photographs of her heavily bandaged eyes had made Insha the global face of Kashmir’s pellet woes a few months ago.
It was three days after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in an encounter in July that her world turned suddenly black. As protests raged outside, she had opened a window to take a peek when a pellet hit. It exploded hitting her forehead and instantly blinded her.
After several rounds of surgeries in Srinagar, Delhi and Mumbai, Insha’s vision has not returned.
“Doctors have asked me to keep faith in Allah,” she said, as she tip-toed around her home clutching the hands of her mother Afroza Bano.
Increasingly frustrated by the long wait, she jumped with joy when the authorities announced the reopening of all schools last week. Given her frail health and the inclement weather, her parents initially said no. But they relented and brought Insha to the school the next day. Insha attended four classes - Mathematics, Biology, English and Physics - before returning home tired, but exuberant. Her father Mushtaq Ahmad Lone is delighted that the daughter is feeling happy, but has doubts whether she can attend school regularly. “I think she will go to school once a week or twice,” he said.
Her mother is confident that Insha’s love for studies will help her stand on her feet all by herself someday.
Insha is too young to ponder over her future. But she studies since it makes her happy. She likes science and biology and two private home tutors have been reading out lessons to her over the past few months.
Her school, however, finds itself in a bind over the blind student. “It is the first time I have come across such a student who was blinded and wants to go ahead with her studies at the school. So only time will say what can be the best way to provide her the best education,” said Ashiq Hussain, the school administrator.