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The most beautiful woman in her village, Shama, who was attacked by her husband in her sleep, is determined to start anew. PHOTO: MYRA IQBAL
ISLAMABAD: Covered in bandages, Shama’s wounds are still fresh after surgery to treat acid burns inflicted by her husband of 10 years.
“The habit of covering my face with a pillow when I sleep saved it from burns,” said Shama, who is the mother of four children, two boys and two girls, at the age of 24.
Living at the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF), while she recuperates from surgery performed at the Benazir Bhutto Hospital Rawalpindi, Shama said the horrific incident ruined her life. But she is not ready to give up.
Shama was asleep at her home in Sadiqabad in Multan when her husband, Maqsood Ahmed, poured acid on her in the middle of the night. Shama was burnt from the neck down to her waist. This was seven weeks ago.
“He was jealous of my beauty,” she said. She had recently won a beauty pageant, and was considered to be the most beautiful girl in her village.
“People used to say we look like father and daughter and he couldn’t handle that,” she added. Ahmed is 17 years older than Shama.
Unsure of what to do, Shama lay in pain till sunrise. She then went to the nearest PCO and called Rescue 1122. Although she underwent surgeries in Nishtar Hospital, Multan, her wounds did not heal.
At the time she was working in marketing and sales with a company in Multan. “While all the other girls used makeup, I got compliments for looking beautiful without it.”
But now she won’t be going back to her old job. “Being physically attractive is part of my job and I’ve lost my self-confidence.”
Her family has asked Shama to reconcile with Ahmed for her children’s sake. “He broke my trust,” she said wiping her tears, “I will go back and begin a new life without him.”
Ahmed, meanwhile, continues to roam about freely.
Shama’s case is not alone. There are many instances in which the perpetrators continue to evade the law, while their victims live in agony. The law on acid was amended last December and passed by the Senate, said Muhammad Khan from ASF, but even though acid throwing is now criminalised, with a minimum sentence of 14 years to life imprisonment and a fine of Rs1 million, some concerns need to be addressed.
Khan said investigation into the crime should be completed within a number of days determined by a judge. “In case that does not happen, a board should be set up to look into the delay.”
Surgery is very costly, for which funds should be made available from Baitul Mal, he added. “The sale of acid to farmers is something that needs to be more strictly regulated.”
Khan said the ASF will now set up awareness camps to inform people how to control damage from acid burns. “You should immediately pour as much water as you can on the parts of the body affected by acid to control the damage,” he said.
All healthcare units should be bound by law to care for an acid victim as a priority case without demanding an FIR and help in reporting the crime, he suggested. The number of acid victims has been on the rise with each passing year, despite laws to check the crime. Most acid attacks are reported from southern Punjab and Sindh, he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 11th, 2012.
|Islamabad, 3rd March, 2012|
After the struggle to eradicate acid violence was highlighted globally through the Oscar Award winning documentary, Saving Face,
ASF, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, Rukhsana and EVAWG alliance call for the Acid and Burn Crime Bill 2012 to be passed in the provincial assemblies.
Islamabad: After the announcement of Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s winning an Oscar for best short documentary Saving Face, this week, the whole of Pakistan is jubilant and feels proud to win this distinction for the first time in its history.
The Pakistani nation is proud and thankful to Sharmeen and her team, ASF’s team, its survivors as well as PIMS Burn Center, ASTI and Islamic Help for achieving this historical result and featuring a brave and daring Pakistan. The message is very clear: we have a problem, we face it and address it with the citizens of Pakistan (men and women together), striving to find solutions and stand by the victims. This message is a ray of hope for burn victims against this heinous crime globally and the documentary will help in spreading awareness and will encourage the stakeholders to find solutions all over the world.
We would also like to avail this opportunity to thank Dr. Jawad and his team from UK, who contributed to improve the lives of the survivors. There are also many other heroes in this country, and we would like to pause and celebrate them: doctors, nurses, lawyers, journalists, government representatives, parliamentarians who are fighting for the cause in a permanent and dedicated manner. To mention only a few of them: Pr. Hamid Hassan, BBH, Rawalpindi, Dr. Tariq Iqbal, PIMS, Islamabad, Dr. Charles VIVA, Interplast, UK, Dr Naheeed Chaudry from Nishtar Hospital in Multan, Dr Mazhar Hussain, staff of Civil Hospital Karachi and Friend of Burns, Marvi Memon, Anusha Rehman, Bushra Gohar, Atiya Inayat Ullah, Nilofar Bakhtyar, Raza Rabbani, Jan Mohammad Jamali, Haji Adeel…
However, the work has just started, we need to do more to show the world that Pakistan can and will eradicate acid violence: Acid Survivors Foundation along with Sharmen Obaid Chinoy and Working Group on Acid and Burn Violence (Acid Survivors Foundation, Mehergarh, PODA, SPARC, Aurat Foundation, Sisters Trust) call upon the legislators to pass Acid and Burn Crime Bill 2012 in all provincial assemblies of Pakistan.
While the recently passed criminal law amendment related to HURT has officially made acid throwing a crime against the state, much more now needs to be done to address the challenges of investigation, fair trial, free medical and rehabilitation services, funding and monitoring mechanism: this is precisely what the Acid and Burn Crime Bill 2012 is proposing.
Consequently, today, Rukhsana and the other agents of change will raise their voice again, to build the Pakistan we have all been dreaming of…
Washington, DC – I sat with my eyes glued to the screen for the 84th Academy Awards, anxiously awaiting the announcement of the best documentary short film. On the edge of my seat, I jumped up in excitement when Saving Face, directed by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, was announced as the winner. The documentary follows two survivors of acid attacks in Pakistan, covering their incredible journey toward recovery and their fight for justice. The film features the work of GFC grantee partner Acid Survivors Foundation, Pakistan (ASF), based in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Early last year, I met with Valerie Khan, the director of ASF, at a dinner in Islamabad hosted by Sameena Nazir, the director of GFC grantee partner Potohar Organization for Development Advocacy. I had arrived in Islamabad after a near crash on my plane ride from Delhi to Lahore. Shaken by the experience, I almost didn’t attend the dinner, but I am glad I did. Valerie’s commitment and passion for the mission of ASF were infectious and inspiring. The next day, we discussed ASF’s programs in detail and discovered that GFC and ASF were a very good match. ASF is one of the few organizations in Pakistan providing care and rehabilitation to survivors of acid attacks. The causes of acid attacks include refusal of sexual advances or marriage proposals, land disputes, religious fanaticism, and family revenge, among others.
The organization’s programs include a nursing care and rehabilitation unit that provides rehabilitation services to burn victims, a child protection program that promotes child rights, an awareness campaign called Burning Truth that utilizes art as a tool to bring public awareness and sustainable change to acid violence, and a capacity-building program that works to train other organizations on the rehabilitation of survivors of acid attacks. Additionally, ASF advocates for policy reforms within Pakistan to demand stricter laws for perpetrators and state-sponsored rehabilitation mechanisms for survivors. ASF’s beneficiaries are an excellent example of the vulnerable populations that GFC reaches through its many innovative community-based grantee partners all over the world.
Following devolution to provinces, progress made for the cause appears to have been reset. ILLUSTRATION: SAMAD SIDDIQUI
LAHORE: In a country as politically unstable as Pakistan, women’s rights activists and experts say, adoption of legislation to protect women is only a first step towards the long struggle that lies ahead for empowering women.
“Passage of the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill 2010 is just the first step and should be taken as just that, because devolution [under the 18th amendment] has left much to be desired in terms of implementation,” Valerie Khan, chairperson of the Acid Survivors Foundation, told a seminar on gender-sensitive legislation held in Lahore on Thursday.
Khan was a panellist at the seminar organised by NGOs Mumkin Alliance, an umbrella organisation of 16 member groups working against violence against women, in collaboration with South Asia Partnership – Pakistan. Representatives from across Punjab participated in the event.
Participants agreed that determining a mechanism to effectively implement a law’s provisions, particularly at the grassroots, is the biggest challenge in the fight against gender-based violence. Police behaviour and indifference of society towards violence against women were termed as other obstacles by grass roots activists and political workers.
“An implementation mechanism is not clearly determined when legislation is prepared and that is the one link which can help bridge the gap between law and its implementation,” said Salman Abid, regional director of the Strengthening Participatory Organisation. He said legislation on the issue had been regularly taking place but attitudes had remained entrenched. “The ‘woman question’ needs to be internalised and the matter needs to be taken up as a national cause rather than as a question of gender only.”
Greater female representation in parliament was termed a positive development, but absence of support at the grassroots level was identified as a hurdle.
“The presence of women parliamentarians has been a driving force behind gender-sensitive legislation,” said Mumtaz Mughal of the Aurat Foundation, citing research conducted by her organisation. “However, following devolution [of the subject of women’s rights] to provinces, delays have occurred in creating gender-sensitivity among relevant departments.”
Mughal used Punjab as an example where constant shuffled in bureaucracy have led to inordinate delays in the passage of a bill on domestic violence, which has been drafted and tabled in the Punjab Assembly. “The bill will protect vulnerable individuals, regardless of gender.”
“The Punjab government is committed to passing bills on violence against women, primary of these being the bill on domestic violence against women,” said Begum Zakia Shahnawaz, an adviser to the Punjab chief minister, who was the chief guest.
A consensus appeared among all participants on the significance of local bodies to ensuring implementation at the grassroots level.
“The Punjab government should appoint a woman provincial ombudsman who is authorised to receive complaints on violence against women,” suggested Justice (retd) Nasira Iqbal.
“Men have to help create a space where the debate for accepting women can be generated,” said Bushra Khaliq of the Wise. “A girl, from the moment she steps out of her house to acquire an education and throughout her career, struggles against obstacles put up by society.”
Violence appears to be acceptable behaviour in Pakistan, said executive director of SAP-Pakistan Muhammad Tehseen Shah.
Grassroots activists raised the question of a lack of awareness about legislation among the activists themselves. Workers from women wings of various political parties, namely Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, participated in the seminar as well and criticised the ineffective implementation of laws.
An FIR will be registered against the accused but under the existing law, says SSP.
Thirty-year-old Mumtaz Dal, mother of four, had acid thrown at her, outside her residence in Junejo quarters, by a man she identified as Sabir Punjabi. Dal alleged that Punjabi attacked her when she rejected his suggestion that the two engage in a physical relationship.
“He came armed with a gun,” Dal told her doctors, the police and media at the Civil Hospital in Mirpurkhas where she was shifted immediately after the incident. The hospital, however, does not have a burns unit.
An FIR will be registered against the accused, but under the existing law, Mirpurkhas SSP Muhammad Riaz Soomro said, adding, “We have not been notified about the new law yet.”
On December 12, the Senate approved the historic bill along with the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill, seven months after it was passed by the National Assembly in May. The bill in question penalises a convict with at least fourteen years of imprisonment and a minimum fine of Rs1 million.
The existing laws, however, impose a less severe punishment. A gender-crime of this nature will barely sentence one anywhere between seven and eight years of imprisonment under Section 337 of the Pakistan Penal Code, according to Hamad Ali Shah, a legal aid of the Women’s Crisis Centre.
“The jail term will be lesser if the victim’s face and vital body parts survive the attack,” he said while speaking to The Express Tribune. Shah said the lacunae in the applicable law also gives leverage to a medico legal officer to tamper with the medical report in order to make the offence less punishable.
The victim’s face was not damaged in the attack, SSP Soomro said, adding that the police were conducting raids to arrest the culprit. “Once the FIR is lodged, we will investigate the case on merit,” he said. Soomro said that the police were also looking into the alleged relationship between Punjabi and Dal.
The medico legal officer’s report is yet to be released.
(With additional reporting by Afaque Ahmed in Mirpurkhas)
Published in The Express Tribune, December 18th, 2011.
It was a moving moment: acid survivors reaching their final rehabilitation stage, turned into agents of change, more ready than ever to raise their voices to say STOP VAW and TAKE ACTION ! They did it and came from far way to support the move to work on pending legislation with special focus on acid and burn legislation, well done all, we are so proud of you, so admiring!