Destruction or disfigurement of the facial beauty of a woman, the natural gift she is endowed with, is a horrible crime, worse than murder. So, the acts of throwing acid, intended to deface a girl, should be condemned as a worst kind of criminal act and the perpetrators must be dealt with exemplary punishments.
It has been mentioned in the previous article that, in 2002, the Government of Bangladesh enacted new law to deal with the menace of acid attack. The new law calls for death penalty for acid-throwing crimes and strict vigilance on trading as well as use of acids.
According to the “Qisas” law of Islam (eye-for-eye law, often applied in Pakistan), the perpetrator is made to suffer the similar fate as the victim. For the crime of causing blindness of the victim, the culprit may be punished by blinding him pouring drops of acid in his eyes. “But this law is not binding and is rarely enforced”, says a report in the New York Times. Iran also has a similar law.
In Iran, “Qisas” law was applied to a perpetrator, named Majid Movahedi, in 2004. He was sentenced to be blinded for causing blindness to Ameneh Bahrami. At that time, Bahrami became the focus of international controversy after demanding that her attacker be punished by blinding in similar manner.
After Ms. Bahrami rejected the romantic advances of Majid Movahedi, a fellow student at the University of Tehran, he threw a bottle of acid on her face in October 2004. She underwent 17 surgeries in Spain and regained some of her eyesight, thanks to transplanted eyes, but later on lost her sight completely due to an infection. The Iranian government has paid £22,500 towards her treatment.
Regarding the physical and psychological trauma of an acid-attack victim, the Wikipedia says, “There is a high survival rate amongst victims of acid attacks. Consequently the victim is faced with physical challenges, which require long term surgical treatment, as well as psychological challenges, which require in-depth intervention from psychologists and counsellors at each stage of physical recovery.”
“Depression and anxiety are common amongst all patients with large burn injuries; however for victims with acid injuries the physical scarring can lead to feelings of shame and embarrassment, resulting in the survivor living a life in hiding due to fear of prejudice and stigma from their peers and the community. Many survivors continue to have vivid memories of the incident which cause great levels of distress, especially when they know their attackers are free to attack again”, Wikipedia adds.
Non-Muslim victims of acid attacks
Acid attacks by non-Muslims outside South Asia occur on rare occasions. The Wikipedia describes a few such events. One such famous victim was the British model and TV presenter Katie Piper, who was attacked with sulphuric acid on the street near her home in Golders Green, London, by Stefan Sylvestre, an associate of her vengeful ex-boyfriend Daniel Lynch. She suffered severe burns on her upper body and hands. Piper recently launched the Katie Piper Foundation, with Simon Cowell as its patron. Her plan is to set up a special therapy centre to help victim of similar crimes.
A high-profile acid attack on a non-Muslim woman occurred in Delhi in October 2007. Thirty-six-year old Tarveen Suri, a Delhi-based small-time fashion designer, was attacked in her Greater Kailash home by two unidentified men. The men threw acid at her, poured kerosene over her body and attempted to set fire upon her. The attack, it appears, was a crime of passion carried out on the instructions of Rachna, a colleague of Tarveen’s husband Navin. Rachna and Navin were rumoured to be having an affair.
An incident in Kanpur, India
According to a recent report in The Times of India (Jul 8, 2010), a woman was badly injured in an acid attack in the Ompurwa locality under the Chakeri police station in the outskirts of Kanpur on Wednesday, July 7. The police identified the victim as Farzana Begum, who was rushed to the Ursala Horsman hospital, where the doctors stated her condition to be stable.
The police claimed that the incident was the result of a dispute between the victim and the son-in-law of her landlord, identified as Mohammad Arif. Mohd Arif threw acid on Farzana while she was busy doing household chores, and suffered serious burn injuries on her neck and forehead. Her husband was away at work at the time.
Acid attacks on Pakistani wives at all-time high
The incidence of acid attacks in Pakistan is said to be at an all-time high. The attacks are usually carried out by husbands against wives who are judged to have behaved 'dishonourably'. Many are left with horrific injuries and campaign groups say that much tougher punishments are needed to deter the horrible crime.
Story of three sisters Saima, Fatima and Sakina of Balochistan
According to a recent BBC report (April 30, 2010), two unidentified men on Thursday, 29th April, threw acid on the faces of three sisters—Saima Bibi (16), Fatima Bibi (20) and Sakina Bibi (14)—in Kalat, some 200 km southeast of Quetta. The culprits escaped the scene after committing the crime. The injured girls were rushed to Civil Hospital Kalat and one of the victims was in a serious condition.
The sisters were on their way to meet their relatives when two unknown men on a bike intercepted them and threw acid on their faces. No group claimed the responsibility for the brutal act, although Tehrik Rah-e-Nijaat, an unknown group, had distributed a pamphlet in the city a couple of weeks earlier, warning the women to remain indoor and avoid ‘wandering’ the in the shopping centres without the blood relatives. In another incident a few weeks earlier, unidentified people had thrown acid on two girls in Dalbandin town of Balochistan, but no arrests were made as yet.
Members of the Baloch National Front (BNF) that organized protest demanding immediate arrest of the culprits informed that nearly 50 incidents of acid-attacks take place every year in Balochistan and 150 incidents every year in Pakistan. The tactic of acid-throwing at women’s faces not wearing hijab is common practice used by Muslim militants, they say. The tradition started during to the Islamic revolution in Iran. Unveiled women were systematically attacked with acid splashed on their faces. This led to women being forced to wear hijab, which gave the appearance that the entire population is Islamist and in support of the Islamic revolution.
The Story of Fakhra
Fakhra’s mother was a sex-worker and resident of Napier Road, a seedy red-light area in Karachi. She took up her mother’s profession when she started menstruating. A customer bought her virginity for US$2,000, a set of gold jewelry and a Rado watch. At 18, she was already the mother of a 3-year-old son. Then she met Bilal Khar, son of a very rich man Ghulam Mustafa Khar, at a party. At the start, Bilal impressed Fakhra by paying US$340 for simply staying with her and chat with her.
Gradually intimacy deepened and Bilal, 36, took her as his second wife. But after the marriage, he started abusing her–beat her mercilessly on a regular basis. After tolerating his violence for 3 years, she went back to her mother’s place.
One day Bilal went there, when Fakhra was asleep. He aroused her, pushed back her head and poured liquid on her face. She thought he was forcing her to drink something. Fakhra wiped her eyes and saw her husband run from the room. Immediately she noticed that her clothes dissolving into her skin. Suddenly she felt burning sensation over her body and started to scream. The acid burned Fakhra’s hair, fused her lips, blinded one eye, obliterated her left ear and melted her breasts.
More than a year after the attack, the once full lipped, large-eyed, long-haired beauty was unrecognizable. She breaths with difficulty. “I don’t look like a human anymore”, she laments. Her son Nauman, when met her in the hospital after the tragedy, he ran away crying: “This is not my mother.”
After the incident, Fakhra’s family lodged a complaint with the Karachi police, but no arrest was ever made. Bilal Khar was trying to bribe Fakhra’s family to withdraw the complaint. Fakhra was then moved to Italy for surgery and was planning to live the rest of her life in that country. (Time, August 27, 2001)
Story of Naziran Bibi
Naziran Bibi knows exactly what she would consider justice for the person who hurled acid in her face, burnt out her sight and disfigured her beyond recognition: an eye for an eye. "If someone burns a face with acid, his face should also be burnt with acid. If someone blinds someone's eyes, his eyes should also be blinded," says Bibi at a charity's office in Pakistani capital.
"Yes, I want it done... my life is over now." Bibi is locked in a complicated legal tussle over the attack and is fighting for custody of her young children, while learning how to live without sight and struggling with surgeries to rebuild her ruined face. She is only 23 years old, but with no upper lip, a barely reconstructed nose, scar tissue where her right eye should be and a raw red socket where her left eye once was, her youth is impossible to discern.
Married off against her will as a second wife to her brother-in-law after her husband died, Bibi says she was treated abysmally. Then one night last year, someone poured acid over her as she slept, causing horrendous burns. Confused, in pain and fearing for the safety of her two daughters, she was coerced by her husband into blaming a man she believes was innocent, and is now trying to retract her initial statement.
Bibi thinks her husband was responsible, but he remains free. "I was in a terrible condition. I had psychological problems. I was not normal mentally... I simply want punishment for him. I want to throw acid on him. Not only on him, but on everybody who throws acid on others," she said. The uneducated woman from Pakistan's cotton belt in rural Punjab province may want brutal justice, but activists are pressing for a change in the law to help prevent such attacks.
Thanks to a struggle in the highest court in the land by another acid attack victim - Naila Farhat - campaigners are hopeful that this devastating form of violence can be curtailed. Pakistan is a conservative Muslim country, where women - especially in poor, rural areas - can be treated like commodities with little protection provided by the police and under pressure not to disgrace their families.
"Their families will say 'it's the wrong thing to go to the courts, what will society think about you?'" said Sana Masood, the legal coordinator with Pakistan's Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF). The nation remains without a domestic violence law. It has been drafted, but lawmakers say it is still under debate because a senator from a hardline Islamic party raised objections and sent the bill back to parliament.
Acid attacks are rising, with ASF recording 48 cases in 2009 and Masood says countless more probably go unreported because of social stigma. That is up from about 30 cases in 2007, a rise that Masood says could be blamed on increased stress in people's lives as the country's economy deteriorates.
Farhat was just 13 years old when a man threw acid in her face in 2003 because her parents refused to let him marry her. The attacker was sentenced to 12 years in prison and ordered to pay 1.2 million rupees (£8,882) in damages, but on appeal a high court reduced the damages and said the man could go free once the money was paid.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry took a personal interest in the case, and recommended that the government pass new legislation to control the sale of acid and increase punishment for acid attacks.
"Because of easy accessibility of acid to the general public, for very stupid domestic issues they will just throw acid on each other," she said. "It does not only destroy a person's face but it destroys a person's life." He would also like the introduction of a law requiring the attacker to pay for their victim's painful and expensive treatment and counselling.
We hope to come with many other tragic incidents acid attack in Pakistan in another article.