PULWAMA: It has been eighteen long years of “hell” but justice still eludes him. With each passing day, the thread of hope he has clung to is fading away. From a resolve to “take revenge” to “just passing the days”, his life has come a long way, he says. He lost both his eyes and right ear to an acid attack when he was 22 - the first of its kind in the Kashmir Valley.

Gulzar Ahmad Mir, 40 was a college student when he was attacked with acid on May 30, 2002 in Ratnipora, Pulwama, south Kashmir. The incident not only deformed his face but took away his dreams, and his family’s as well.

“I was smart,” he says, gently running his hand over his face. That day too, he had covered his face with his hands, but the damage was done by the time he was admitted to a local hospital by passers-by. He could feel his face burning all the way, shrieking in pain.

Once he was well, he decided, he would take revenge.

“I thought it would take me a few days in hospital, and then I will see them,” he says. He didn’t understand the extent of damage earlier on. With each passing day he would come to realise the consequences, which were “heartbreaking and life-changing”. Not only the physical damage to his face, but the psychological wounds that also took a heavy toll on members of his family.

These years have tired Mir. Hearing that his attackers are living a normal life, with jobs and marriages, torments him, he says.

“First they straightaway denied that they had done anything. Following a court case, all three of them, who I won’t forget for the rest of my life” were sentenced in 2015 to three years’ imprisonment, and ordered to pay Rs 3 lakh each to the victim for treatment. The J&K Legal Services Authority was directed to release Rs 3 lakh to him as compensation under the J&K Victim Compensation Scheme.

Following a stay order by the Srinagar High Court the case has been dragging on, seeping through whatever little hope he has been clinging to.

“Lately, they acknowledged it and want to pay a penalty” he says, but he no longer wants that. He was motivated to accept a penalty “by the elders” in the days following the attack. Now he wants the “criminal” label to stick to his attackers for the rest of their lives.

“To some extent, I will be happy if I get justice,” says Mir, adding however that the case has been running at a snail’s pace.

He hardly moves from the premises of his home now, which he has got used to navigating with time.

The last stroll he took that fateful evening, through the street that leads to the local market, is still etched in his memory. The attackers had been his classmates in school, and live hardly a mile from his home.

They had threatened him a few days earlier “not to talk to that girl.” He didn't give this much thought, believing that “he wasn't doing anything wrong”. But as fate would have it they did as they had promised, ruining his life.

“There was a misunderstanding, they thought I was wooing that girl, but I wasn’t,” he says, adding that one of his attackers “was in a relationship with that girl.”

Mir has been gaining weight, and suffers from frequent bouts of depression, for which he has been taking medicines continually. Often other ailments follow, draining whatever money his brother manages to earn from his business.

“No one has ever supported me, financially or otherwise, apart from the few hundreds that I get from the government for being disabled,” he says. “With that amount I can’t even buy cigarettes for a month.”

He remains dependent on his elder brother for everything, with whom he lives along with his mother. He spends time with his nieces, whose faces he caresses as we speak with him.

“When they aren’t here it’s difficult to pass time,” he says. Mir couldn’t marry - “Who will give his daughter to me?” - and says his father had tried to search for a girl for him, but died before his efforts bore fruit. From that day on, his son’s worries have only increased.

With proper counseling and rehabilitation, he feels his life could have been a bit better. His visits to shrines and faith-healers have been futile. Barring a few instances of students visiting him for their work, no NGO or volunteers have approached or visited him.

He is oblivious to the story of Laxmi or the making of a film on her. He hasn’t tried to connect with other acid attack victims in the Valley so they can press for their rehabilitation and treatment costs collectively.

Mir was first admitted to the Sher-e Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences in Srinagar following the attack, but in the absence of specialised treatment he was shifted first to AIIMS in Delhi and later to Hyderabad for a coronary transplant.

Following that, in 2004, “I could see something, identify people and offer prayers,” he says. His elder brother helped him set up a small shop in the locality. But that didn't last long, as after only a year he lost his eyesight again.

With that he was restricted to his home, which continues till today, nearly 18 years after the unfortunate incident.