Face of Kashmir’s pellet woes, Insha Mushtaq gives her Class 10 board exams
It is the last day of Class 10 board examinations in Kashmir and clots of anxious students are gathered outside a school in Shopian district, breathlessly revising minutes before the tests begin. But one student stands out.
Dressed in a maroon pheran (traditional Kashmiri overcoat) and an orange scarf, Insha Mushtaq is chatting with her friends and is confident about her last paper, Music. Her eyes are covered by thick black glasses, a reminder of the struggles of a brutal past year.
The 15-year-old girl was peering out of the window of her home in Shopian’s Sedow village last year in July when a hail of pellets fired by security personnel hit her, plunging her world into darkness.
She became the face of the plight of 2,500-odd victims of the pellet gun and photos of her in black glasses sparked an international debate, triggering questions about the allegedly reckless use of the weapon to control Kashmiri crowds during protests. The chief minister offered to donate an eye to her, and a top separatist leader claimed to have adopted her.
But away from the media spotlight, Mushtaq doggedly pursued her studies. And her efforts paid off on Tuesday as she completed her Class 10 board exams under the state board.
“My papers have gone well, all thanks to my tuition teachers and my ‘writer’,” she tells Hindustan Times.
Insha credits her two tuition teachers – Muzaffar Bhat and Naveed Mir – who have over the last year tutored her at her home. Bhat is an employee with an NGO called the National Association for the Blind whose vision is to empower and well-inform the visually challenged while Mir is a medical representative by profession, who took to teach Insha without any remuneration, since December last year.
“They used to read out to me and I repeated after them. Even in the examination, my helper reads out to me the questions and I tell her my answers which she pens down,” Insha adds. Insha’s teacher fixed a class 9 student to “write” her paper and got it cleared by the authorities to allow the procedure.
The “helper”, who spoke to HT at the exam centre – Mohammidya Institution in Shopian town – asked not to be named. She said there was no monetary compensation but she did it out of care for the blinded girl. “I get immense happiness by being able to help Insha,” she said.
Insha took up music instead of mathematics because her visual impairment made arithmetic sums difficult. “It’s a new subject for me and I just hope it goes down well. The written part is only for 25 marks and then there is practical exam for 75 marks,” adds Insha. She has already appeared for Urdu, Science, Social Science and English papers.
Insha’s inability to study Maths made her realise the harsh realities of visual impairment. “For Class 12, I will take up arts. It will be easy to study with my visual impairment,” she says.
In March, HT was the first to report how Insha had overcome her obstacles and resumed studies. “I want to study. I can’t see now, but I am continuing with it in whichever way I can,” she had said, expressing a strong desire to appear for her board exams.
Insha, before her injury, had wanted to be a doctor. In the initial days before the realisation had dawned upon her, she had told HT that she still would be able to purse medical education.
“After class 10, Insha has to get admitted in a regular high school or college and continue her studies with the help of a home tutor who will read out the subject to her,” said Bhat.
When asked about how she felt about her daughter taking her exams, Insha’s mother Afroza Bano broke down. Looking at Insha’s dark goggles and wiping her own tears, she said, “What’s there to feel?”
It’s not the first time that a pellet victim has taken the board exams. Several partially blinded pellet victims wrote their Class 10 and 12 board exams in November last year and passed with flying colours. The exams are held earlier in the Valley than in the rest of the country owing to snowing and harsh conditions during the winter.