Each year thousands of people are disfigured in Pakistan because of acid attacks. According to the Acid Survivors Foundation, there has been a 50% decrease in acid crimes in Pakistan since 2014. However, such attacks have the ability to persist.
Many crimes remain unreported. The survivors are scarred, emotionally and physically, and are often shunned by their families and friends. The Acid Control and Acid Crimes Prevention Act, 2011 has made it a punishable offence with the attacker being imprisoned for a minimum of 14 years and a fine of Rs1 million. The legislation process is quite slow, however.
Mussarat Misbah, the owner of Depilex, hopes to rebuild the lives of women who suffered acid attacks or burnt themselves accidentally and has been helping them since 2003.
“I officially registered the Smile Again Foundation in 2005,” she said while speaking on SAMAA TV programme Hum Log. “I am able to help because of Allah’s guidance. I was challenged by a young girl who lost her face and body in an acid attack. She told me that I claim to be a big beautician and asked me to make her ‘beautiful’. That is when I realised that I need to help survivors of acid attacks,” she remarked.
Saba Shaheen, who works for Depilex, said that a man threw acid on her when she was only 14 years. “I used to go to a madrassah and once on my way there, a man started bothering me a lot. I came home and complained to my brother,” she said. Her brother then picked a fight with that man. “After the fight, that man threatened me that he will destroy my life.” A few days after, he threw acid on her. Shaheen lost her face, one leg and arm in the acid.
“I was treated at Jinnah hospital for six months, but then they told us to go to CMH instead,” she remarked. Her family couldn’t afford the treatment expenses, that is when she approached the Smile Again Foundation. Since then, her face and arm have been grafted. Misbah even gave her a job at her parlour. Shaheen started out as a trainee and now works as a junior makeup artist.
Her attacker was jailed for three months. “We didn’t have the money to go on with the legal case,” Shaheed said. The man was, however, asked to leave the neighbourhood.
Shaheed said that her siblings were very supportive of her every step of the way. Her neighbours, on the other hand, kept blaming her for the attack. She said that it was quite difficult at first but refused to let that affect her self-esteem.
Ahmar Iqbal, who was attacked by acid three years ago, has the same philosophy. “Many people tell me that my life has been destroyed. I tell them otherwise. I am still breathing and living. My life is far from over,” he said. Iqbal was attacked by a man out of jealousy. “I was getting married to the love of my life, but it bothered that man a lot.”
He used to teach computing to different students.
“I didn’t let the attack break my spirit,” he said. Everyone faces difficulty in their lives but this doesn’t mean that we give up hope, Iqbal added.
Many survivors don’t have the Iqbal’s attitude. “Many people turn suicidal after such an attack,” said Misbah. Some children refuse to leave their house and feel entrapped. Some parent’s don’t have the resources to help their children, she remarked.
“Most painful, however, is the remarks made by the people around them,” she said. “Their remarks are sometimes more painful than the incident itself.”
Misbah hopes the government plays its part in curbing this menace. “We appeal to the government to appreciate our work, make it easier for survivors to get justice and don’t create hurdles in their way.”