By Zofeen T. Ebrahim
KARACHI, Feb 15: Looking at Urooj Akbar and Saira Liaquat (you cannot help but flinch), one feels Maria Shah is better off dead. Unlike Maria, all three are survivors of acid/kerosene attacks. None of them have received even an iota of justice, while maybe Saira has received a little consolation Â— her attacker has been put behind bars.
Aslam Sanjrani, a rickshaw driver, threw acid on the 25-year old Maria Shah, who was a lady health worker from Shikarpur, for spurning his marriage proposal.
Shahnaz Bokhari of the Islamabad-based Progressive Women’s Association, who began working for acid and burn victims in 1994, calls this “plain murder”. Dr Waqar Ansari, head of the intensive care unit (ICU) of the burns ward at the Civil Hospital, supports the opinion: “These are never accidental.” He is looking after three such cases of acid attacks.
Anila Ansari, a legal expert with the Karachi Women Prisoners’ Welfare Society, has no doubt that Ms Shah’s attacker can be tried for attempted murder under Section 324 of the Pakistan Penal Code, where the punishment is 10 years, and also Section 302 of the PPC since Maria died. The maximum punishment is life imprisonment.
The Sindh health minister had stressed the need for more burns centres.
“Nobody says they want to halt this barbarism. Instead they want more such centres,” says Dr Waqar Ansari laconically.
Currently, there is only one public sector burns centre in Pakistan at the Civil Hospital, Karachi. The country still does not have a law that criminalises acid attacks. In August 2003, the Punjab Assembly passed legislation that termed an acid attack tantamount to attempted murder.
Perhaps with the Sindh chief minister’s announcement of the paltry sum of Rs100,000 as compensation to the victim’s family, the conscience of many will be cleansed and guilt-free. For others, another file of an acid attack victim has been conveniently closed.