SRINAGAR — On an October afternoon I drove to Bemina, a middle-class area in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered-Kashmir. An acquaintance led me to a spacious double-storied house to meet Hayat Ashraf Dar, 21, who is one of the numerous young men in Kashmir who have lost their eyesight after being fired at by the Indian troops and police with pellet guns. Most of the injured have lost one eye. Mr. Dar had lost both.
Mr. Dar has a fuzzy beard and blank eyes. The afternoon sun streaming through the large windows fell on his makeshift bed, the pattern on the carpet, a Kindle, a mobile phone, a transparent box stuffed with medicine strips and eye drops.
“Who is it?” he asked, stretched out on the carpet, his aunt putting drops into his eyes from a little plastic bottle. Our arrival had stirred the stillness of his room. “Who has come?” Mr. Dar asked.
I was just another voice in the hazy glow of his blindness.
Mr. Dar stared into an unending night. For three months now, everything has been dark. The world has been wiped out from in front of his eyes. “It is me,” said Faraz Yasin, his friend, who had brought me to meet him. “And the journalist.”
The two men began talking, and the conversation soon drifted to news, to an encounter between militants and Indian soldiers on the border and then to another encounter in the outskirts of the city. “I have someone read to me,” said Mr. Dar. “Three newspapers every morning and then I watch the news and debates on television. I want to keep track of what is happening in Kashmir.”
His eyes wandered beyond the curtains and walls of his room and rested at some far away point. As he spoke to me, his gaze moved right past me, as if I were someplace else.
The last thing Mr. Dar saw was a policeman 50 meters (160 feet) away, with his gun pointed straight at him. That moment bisected his life. Before that moment there were colors and streets, his favorite Wayne Rooney blazing through the TV screen with the ball at his feet, books with their large and small typefaces. Now, there is darkness.
Before that moment, he was an economics student dreaming of joining a business school. Now, he is a young man blinded into sitting inside a room, chilly on a sunny day.
Mr. Dar left Kashmir in fifth grade and has spent the last 10 years in Delhi, where his family has a flourishing handicraft business. As he entered high school, he began to develop a greater consciousness of his identity as a Kashmiri. “I felt that my relationship with India was much more complicated than that of my classmates,” he said.
The feeling of that difficult relationship was strengthened by his visits back home every summer for two months. He rekindled old friendships, made new friends and walked through the labyrinthine lanes of Srinagar’s downtown. In this Nowhatta neighborhood of downtown Srinagar, politics is enmeshed with life. Downtown Srinagar and its labyrinthine lanes are the center of separatist politics in Kashmir.
Mr. Dar was in Srinagar in 2008 when mass protests returned after several years and Indian troops fired upon unarmed protesters. “I saw people getting shot and dying on the streets of Srinagar. People I knew, I saw them bleeding on streets,” he recalled. “Something changed in me.” On his return to Delhi, he felt like a stranger in the amnesic bustle of the metropolis.
On June 14, Mr. Dar was walking back from a religious gathering in Nowhatta. It was Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. He entered a street leading to his uncle’s house and saw a group of policemen coming out of the street, firing teargas shells. “There was smoke all over,” he recalled.
“A policeman, who was also taking video on a Handycam, was shouting the vilest of abuses and making vulgar gestures,” Mr. Dar recalled. “I shouted at him if did he not fear God even in this month of Ramadan.”
Mr. Dar stood on a black manhole cover. All that stood between him and the policeman was the tear gas smoke. “He pointed his gun straight at me, but I thought he was just scaring me,” he said.
The policemen fired the pellet gun.
Mr. Dar had more than 20 pellets in his upper body, seven of them making an arc around his heart, and two in his face: one in each eye.
“It was like one of those scenes from ‘Tom and Jerry,’ where they are hit so impossibly hard that they see stars. I literally saw hundreds of stars in a flash, and then it all went dark and I was stranded,” he said. His eyes bled and a fluid oozed out of them.
The family rushed him to one hospital, from where they were immediately referred to another and then another in Delhi. As his aunt recounted their journeys to multiple hospitals, Mr. Dar looked in the direction of her voice. “Don’t cry,” he requested her. “It is a test from God and nothing will come out of crying. Inshallah, God will restore my sight,” he said.
Mr. Dar sought solace in faith and accepted his blindness as the will of God: “There is no other way. Or I will get depressed. And depression can be fatal, not only for me but for my relatives and friends too.”
His voice was sharp and his shoulders erect. Maybe it was the hope that the doctors will be able to heal him, his firm belief that God will not forsake him.
In these months of darkness, Mr. Dar said, things have actually become clearer, and the world has been stripped of its distractions. “We are in a state of war; I know that now more than ever,” he said. “I have been killed, without leaving my dead body behind.”