A stray bullet from a para-military firing range near his village in Jammu and Kashmir entered Maroof Hussain’s body 23 years ago and is now inoperable.
“I was only seven years old when a misfired bullet from the Border Security Force (BSF) firing practice entered through my neck,” says Maroof Hussain pointing to the scar on his neck where the bullet hit him. For the past 23 years, his family and he have spent all their money trying to get him treated and appealing to the government for compensation. Today the bullet rests in his ribcage, close to his lungs. “The doctors at AIIMS in New Delhi told me it was in a very difficult area and virtually inoperable. The bullet itself can kill me but so can the surgery to remove it,” adds Hussain.
Thirty-one-year-old Hussain hails from a small village in the Poonch district in Jammu and Kashmir on the Line of Control between India and Pakistan. Crossfires across the border, as well as counter-insurgency operations, often result in loss of civilian lives. Cases of stray bullets and shells from the practice sessions of the armed forces hitting civilians, livestock and houses are so common that recently the government has announced a compensatory package. The compensation ranges from 2.5 lakh rupees for the death of a person due to practise firing to 1 lakh for those with fifty percent disability. As paltry as the sum is, and as ridiculous the gradation of suffering, it is worth bearing in mind that the state government is known for its feet dragging when it comes to compensating victims. As recently as September the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) berated the government for failing to pay the full compensation to a teenage girl rendered paraplegic by a bullet that hit her spine in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district.
But even more ironic is the fact that Maroof Hussain, and others like him, living perpetually in the shadow of Damocles’ sword is not even eligible for compensation as they are not even recognised as disabled. Community Correspondent Sharaz Sikander asks Hussain about any monetary help he might have received from the government. “There was never any question of it: it wasn’t even brought up. All these officials are just turning a blind eye to my plight. If they cannot even compensate me, who will they help? Those who have everything? I voted in the NOTA (none of the above) category this election. When I don’t even have any rights, what’s the point of voting?” asks Hussain.
Today Hussain has a family of his own, with two young children. He runs a small corner store in his village. “I have not even been able to pay my bank loans and they can shut my shop any day. With what little I earn I don’t know whether I should use it for my treatment, to run the household or think about the future of my children,” Hussain laments. Not only is there no compensation scheme available for a civilian who became the victim of firing practice close to civilian areas, there is also no support from the government to help him earn his livelihood.
The Jammu and Kashmir RTI forum and Video Volunteers community Correspondent Sajad Hussain managed to shut down a firing range in Budgam district in 2014. But firing ranges across the state in close proximity of inhabited settlements continue to operate with impunity. Why should civilians across the state continue to suffer? Can we imagine a scenario where the government takes no responsibility for misfire in a practice range injures a civilian in Delhi or Goa? The government has announced compensatory packaged for field firing related death and injuries but no plans to relocate these firing ranges. Meanwhile, scores of young people like Maroof Hussain continue to live in the shadow of death in Jammu and Kashmir.