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Woman’s dream shattered after acid attack

Karachi:Kanwal Qayyum aspired to be an air hostess and was going to join Shaheen Air International from November 1, 2007. But on the morning of October 26 (just a day after her birthday) she received the most unexpected present – a stranger splashed acid on her face and upper torso when she answered her doorbell.

The 22-year-old lies in Civil Hospital’s Burns Centre with disfiguring scars on her face due to the acid attack. She says her dreams are shattered now. Kanwal, a resident of Federal Capital Area (which falls under the jurisdiction of Liaquatabad Town), in her statement to the police and during her interview with The News, said she suspects a family friend, Rashid, is behind the attack.

Although unable to talk properly, Kanwal informed that Rashid had been harassing her for almost a year, especially since she got a job in a private school in Gulistan-e-Johar some seven months back. “My daughter is separated from her husband and is the mother of two children for whom she is working. She had recently applied for the job of an air hostess and would have assumed her duties in November,” disclosed Kanwal’s father Abdul Wahid Qayyum. He said that Rashid had expressed his fondness for Kanwal and was very possessive of her, despite her reluctance to accept his offer.

“He raised objections on the way I dressed and on my long working hours too and had threatened that I would have to face dire consequences if I did not listen to him but I paid no attention nor was I interested in him. However, I cannot say anything for sure. The stranger could have been an accomplice of Rashid or my husband who often threatened me as well,” revealed Kanwal.

Abdul Wahid said that Rashid is a Labour Councilor in UC 7, Liaquatabad Town, and is affiliated with an influential political party. Hence, he is not hopeful of his arrest. The Sharifabad Police, however, is investigating the case. Abdul Wahid has been Kanwal’s attendant for the past three days now because his wife’s face accidentally came under attack as well and got partially burnt. “It is not a deep burn so she is resting at home,” he pointed out.

Wahid is a retired government servant and a member of a part-time staff on night duty at a private organization. He was not at home at the time of the incident. Elaborating further, he said that “It was 5.00 a.m. on Friday when the doorbell rang and my wife went to answer. Before opening the door she asked who it was, when a man informed that there was a parcel for Kanwal. It was Kanwal’s birthday on October 25 and she had been receiving surprise birthday gifts and bouquets all day on Thursday from her colleagues. My wife thought it was yet another gift and woke Kanwal up so she could sign the receipt.”

“I knew at once something was wrong when my mother came to wake me up because no body would send a parcel at such an odd hour. I feared it could be dacoits trying to break into our house so I just opened the wooden door not the grill one. The minute I opened the first door I saw the man holding a glass (which was filled with acid) and within seconds he splashed it on my face through a narrow opening in the grill door and ran downstairs,” said Kanwal.

Kanwal’s mother who was standing behind her came under attack as well. Within minutes, Kanwal’s elder sister contacted the father and the family rushed her to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital where they refused to provide her with medical aid claiming that they do not deal with “burns victims” and that they should take her to Civil Hospital instead.

“The least they could have done is washed the acid from her face to prevent the acid from penetrating deep into her skin. We were too traumatised to act sensible at that point, but the doctors could have helped at least,” lamented the father adding that Kanwal was brought to Civil Hospital two hours after the incident.

Kanwal is just one of the hundreds of victims who are treated at the Burns Centre every year. According to Dr Shariq Ali, head of the centre, the place has dealt with more than 658 burnt victims between June-July 2006. “In most cases [more than 50 per cent of the patients] more than 40 per cent of the body’s surface area was burnt. Due to extensive burns, it is often difficult for the patient to recover and, hence, the morality rate of such victims is higher,” he said.

He also said that in the case of non-accidental burns, 10-12 per cent of the cases are suspicious as the victims refuse to disclose the actual cause since they face pressure from either the offender (who in most cases is the husband) or their own family — in case the attempt was suicidal or homicidal.

Apart from illiteracy and ignorance in the low-income neighbourhoods of Karachi (where these cases are common), Dr Shariq holds the shopkeepers responsible as well who sell acid to anyone without verifying the purpose from the customer. “Acid is readily available in the market and is often used as a cleaning agent in homes but one needs to check its usage. Shopkeepers must at least ask customers for their NIC number before selling this dangerous chemical so that the police can locate the offender,” he suggested.

However, the agony Kanwal is experiencing is beyond any explanation. Although the doctors are hopeful of her recovery soon, Kanwal will never have her face back even after plastic surgery, said Dr Shariq. For Kanwal, this is the “end of her life”, she says, as she will never be an air hostess now.

Source: The News

Date:10/31/2007

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