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Fakhra: shunned in life, embraced in death

Saher Baloch

Karachi: She had died from within 12 years ago but refused to accept defeat. She died again on March 17 and finally came home to find peace.

The body of Fakhra Yunus, the acid attack victim and ex-wife of former Punjab MPA Bilal Khar, was laid to rest in the Defence graveyard near the Saudi consulate on Sunday. Yunus, 34, had been living in Italy for the past 12 years, had committed suicide by jumping from a six-storey apartment building on March 17 after going through several painful years undergoing 39 surgeries. The surgeries were performed by Italian doctors to reconstruct her badly mutilated face that was allegedly scarred by Khar, the son of former Punjab governor Mustafa Khar. Her body was brought to Karachi by Tehmina Durrani, the former wife of the Punjab governor, who had stood by her since the beginning of her ordeal and had remained with her to the bitter end.

Not everyone had remembered Fakhra and the terrible ordeal she had undergone 12 years ago. But when her body arrived at the airport on Sunday afternoon and later at her funeral, a large number of people took up cudgels on her behalf. MQM chief Altaf Hussain issued a strong statement calling for justice for Fakhra. The news of her tragic death immediately created a furore and political parties and MPAs also jumped into the fray. Conspicuous by their presence were MQM legislators but there was also a smattering of MPs from the PPP and smaller Sindh opposition parties.

After her funeral prayers at the Edhi Home in Sohrab Goth, her body was taken to the Defence home of her sister who insisted on seeing her for the last time.

Speaking to the press outside Yunus’s sister’s home in Phase 5, DHA, Wasay Jalil of the MQM demanded that the Supreme Court should take notice of the issue so that “it could set an example for other people.” When asked why if nothing had been done to bring her assailant to book 12 years ago one should expect action today, Jalil said that there was a need to build public pressure on issues of this nature.

Syeda Marvi Rashdi, MPA Sindh Assembly, said that she came to the funeral after hearing about the incident on television channels. “The time has come for us to stand united against this evil,” she said before leaving.

However, with the amount of coverage her death garnered within the past one day, there was also a feeling among certain people that this reaction was more a “battle to get political mileage” out of this tragic incident.

Abdul Sattar Edhi was quite critical of the sudden attention given to this particular acid victim and pointed out that the attention would have been far less if it were a poor man’s daughter. No one speaks up for them, he said.

“Where were these people when she was being shunned by every other person and needed protection 12 years ago?” he asked angrily.

A day after Yunus attempted suicide, Edhi’s son Faisal received an email from Yunus’s 16-year-old son Nauman asking him to carry out the last rites of his mother along with Durrani.

In her will, Yunus had asked to be buried beside her mother’s grave in the Mewa Shah graveyard and not let any of her relatives see her face. This was because it was in front of her family that Khar had allegedly thrown acid on her face.

Faisal Edhi says that Yunus faced all kinds of threats to her life bravely and her remarkable rehabilitation and return to some semblance of normality would not have been possible without the help of Durrani.

“What baffles me is the fact that the same people who left no stone unturned to stop and threaten her are now demanding that Khar be prosecuted. He should be. But why the hypocrisy?” he questions.

Durrani, on the other hand, remained non-committal and refused to be drawn into any kind of controversy while speaking about Yunus’s burial and the commotion following it. She, however, added that it made her happy to see so many people coming out to support the cause which should be highlighted. She said that it was now time for the political leadership to get serious about acid attacks.

About Yunus’s suicide, Durrani said that it was a “spur of the moment decision” which was understandable considering the sort of trauma she had gone through. Apart from scarring her face, the acid attack had badly deformed her chest and waist. Though Yunus bravely went through 39 surgeries over several years in Italy, Durrani said her life was not easy considering that such operations could get excruciatingly painful post-surgery.

Even though there was a group of people always at her beck and call, Durrani sensed that she was unhappy. “She started missing home and wanted to speak in Urdu. I convinced her many times that living in Italy is 100 times better than going back home. The only good thing happening for her was that the doctors there gave her a lot of hope that she could get better,” Durrani said.

But that was not enough for her.

A dancer from Napier Road, Yunus became the third wife of Khar after having a tumultuous relationship with him for six months. After going through physical and verbal abuse at his hands, she finally left Khar who allegedly took ‘revenge’ by pouring acid on her face in front of her family.

Khar was acquitted in 2006 and is still a free man. In an interview on Geo’s Lekin programme on Sunday, Khar denied having thrown acid on Fakhra’s face and claimed that she had lived with him for four months even after the attack and had refused to tell him who had thrown acid on her. He claimed that “ she committed suicide because certain people who made promises to her never fulfilled them.”

Shahida Malik, her mother’s sister-in-law, says that Yunus tried working on the relationship even a year after the acid attack. “If the man was accepting her the way she was, what can we say about it?” she asks.

However, Durrani feels that she has not seen anyone like Fakhra Yunus. Any other women in her place could have succumbed a long time ago, but she fought all along, she says. About her son, Nauman, she says that he is happy living in Italy and does not want to come back.

“He has no one left here now. Whom should he come back for—to live on Napier Road? That life is over for him.”

The News