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Survivor determined to rebuild life

By: Maha Mussadaq

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.

The Express Tribune

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