By: Maha Mussadaq
ISLAMABAD: Wearing a dark pair of sunglasses, with the edges of her veil extending a few inches off her forehead, 39-year-old Shazia Ejaz was trying to mask a lifetime of pain.
Ejaz belong to a middle-class family from Qanchi — a small town nestled in the bustling city of Lahore.
The only girl out of her parents’ four children, she was her father’s favourite child.
“There was a twinkle in his eyes, every time he spoke of me. But my aunts hated me and that landed me in the state I am in today,” said Ejaz.
She lived in a two-marla house with her mentally-challenged mother and 10 other family members including her unmarried aunts, who she said were not appreciative of how her father supported her in family issues.
“It started with small family disagreements which later turned ugly,” she said. My father did not approve of the men my aunts wanted to marry.
Ejaz added that they held that grudge against her father and threatened him on various occasions by saying if they could not find happiness, neither would she.
She was 15 when her mother asked her to collect clothes from a local tailor, an otherwise unremarkable chore that would become the point her decades of suffering began.
While she was talking with the tailor, four armed men kidnapped her, taking her to a school nearby, where she was gang-raped. When she escaped and got home, she shared the story with her family. Her aunts insisted that she be married off. Later, the family forcibly married her to a 40-year-old man. During her marriage, she says she learnt that her aunts were involved in prostitution, and that her husband was one of their clients.
‘It was not the life I wanted’
“I was beaten by my husband almost every day. I went to my father’s house one day with bruises all over me, and at this point, my father asked me to stay with him. Ejaz continued her education and got a bachelors degree. She then worked in the telecom sector and did well enough to get a few promotions and a reasonable salary. “My success further ignited their hate.”
Ejaz claims that her aunts later poisoned her father as well as her grandparents to get her guardians out of the way.
She said her aunts again arranged for her to be picked up, this time by a local goon Qazim. He held Ejaz hostage for six months. “I was drugged each night and raped multiple times by various men,” Ejaz said with tears in her eyes. “It was not the life I wanted,” she said.
Ejaz then managed to escape and tried to lodge a complaint in the local police station against her aunts and Qazim, but the police refused to admit her application. “My aunts would provide the police with girls and alcohol. I was helpless,” she said.
Ejaz was then brought home by her brother, but even he was not able to protect her. “They shaved my head and beat me afterwards,” she said.
In 2008, Ejaz wrote to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif who met her. “I met him with 19 stitches and bruises all over,” she said. Sharif took up her case, gave her Rs100,000 and ordered an inquiry against Qazim, who was arrested.
Around 5am on May 12, 2009, Ejaz woke up with her skin feeling crimped. She walked to the mirror and was stunned by what she saw. “A haunting image of myself, I thought it was a dream,” Ejaz said. She believes she had been sedated before being the attack which has left burns on her face, neck and arms.
Yet again, she was not able to get a case registered against her aunts.
Down to her last Rs5,000 from the assistance granted by CM Sharif, Ejaz decided to turn towards the capital in July this year. Living at the shrine in Golra for days, she once again wrote to the Punjab chief minister to help her get justice.
Ejaz has now shifted to an acid survivors’ shelter, Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) where she has undergone a medical assessment. Apart from the physical wounds, she also needs help dealing with the trauma of the mental scars. ASF is arranging for her medical treatment and providing her with legal aid.