13-year-old battles for life: Kashmir’s ‘sanitised’ Tosa Maidan still a deathtrap
Srinagar: Mohammad Asif Wani’s family is not sure if he will live to see his 14th birthday this August 15. For the last 10 days, the boy, who was wounded in an explosion, is battling for his life at SK Institute of Medical Sciences, in Soura, where he was operated upon, and a metal object wedged deep in his brain removed during a five-hour-long surgery.
On May 26, Asif, a resident of Dachan village in Budgam district, was grievously injured when a leftover shell went off in Tosa Maidan, a chain of meadows in the district, about 45 kilometres away from Srinagar.
Spread over an area of 69 square kilometres, Tosa Maidan used to be artillery firing range for army where unexploded shells have killed at least 65 civilians and maimed many more for years now even as authorities declared the place safe in 2016.
The fresh victim of this deathtrap is Asif, who now lies wired to a ventilator, motionless, and almost lifeless, in the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital.
The second-youngest among his seven siblings, Asif had visited the scenic spot with his friends on the third day of Eid-ul-Fitr, hardly aware of what was awaiting him.
By 2 pm, the family received a call informing them that Asif had been injured.
His elder brother Huzaif Wani, 16, called his brother-in-law Mohammad Maqbool, and the two rushed to the spot.
Asif was first taken to the nearby hospital in Khag Tehsil, where doctors seeing his condition immediately referred him to SKIMS, Soura.
The family reached the hospital by around 8 pm, and by midnight doctors finally decided to operate him.
Vividly tired of shuttling in and out of the ICU, Maqsooda, Asif’s 23-year-old sister, said the doctors seemed to have exhausted all their options.
“His situation is aggravating day by day. We don’t know what is going on? Each day we have to spend thousands on medicines, yet doctors are unsure about his condition,” she said.
Asif’s father, Ghulam Hassan Wani is a poor farmer who has to support a family of eight.
At the hospital, Maqsooda is accompanied by her younger brother Huzaif.
“We asked our father to stay at home as my mother is unwell and she too needs to be taken care of,” said Maqsooda.
The family wants to give Asif all the fighting chance to make it through, however, they don’t have the resources for it.
“We are a poor family. I am a needle worker who earned a few hundred rupees to ensure my brothers study in a school. With great difficulty, we have managed the expenses of the medicines in the last 10 days,” she said.
Maqsooda requested that the authorities should help them airlift Asif out of J&K for advanced treatment.
Maqbool, Asif’s brother-in-law, said doctors should be clear to the family about his condition and whether he should be airlifted out for advanced treatment.
“The government’s does not own that it was because of them that Asif is in this condition. Neither the concerned DC nor any other official have visited the hospital,” he said.
“The Sarpanch had visited Asif’s home with Rs 10,000. We didn’t accept the money, what will it do? We just need government’s assistance in providing the best treatment to Asif,” he said.
Medical Superintendent, SKIMS, Dr Farooq Jan told The Kashmir Monitor that Asif’s condition was “bad”.
“He (Asif) is not well. He is on a ventilator after a foreign body (shell) in his brain was removed surgically. He has a number of contusions, besides his chest is involved too,” he said.
Asked about shifting him out of J&K for advanced treatment, the doctor said: “We have to speak to the consultant and check whether he is in a condition to be shifted out.”
THE BEAUTIFUL DEATHTRAP
The government had leased over 3000 acres of land at Tosa Maidan to Indian army in 1964. The army used the meadow as Field Firing Range (FFR) for practicing artillery fire until 2014 when the area was de-notified.
Same year, the army said it had sanitised the entire area in an 83-day-long operation.
In May 2016, the then Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti officially threw open the picturesque place to people during a 3-day ‘Tosa Maidan Festival’.
Two years later, however, a youth was killed and two other wounded when yet again an old shell exploded at the meadow questioning the entire exercise of sanitising the area and then throwing it open for public.
And now Asif’s case is another example of how the place is fraught with dangers.