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Acid Violence: From Victims to Survivors

The dissonant alarm clock interrupts a long night of deep dreams. Reluctantly, you slide out of bed, half-asleep, and shut off the wake up call to begin the day . . .

Concrete buildings block your view, but you can still see today’s grey sky. You make your way to the bathroom to wash your face, bending over and using your soft fingers to wipe away the foam. Once your eyes are safe from remnants of cleanser, you lift your head to peer into your dark eyes in the mirror, wiping the brunette strands out of your face. This is you, and who you’ve known for as long as you can remember.

After a quick breakfast, you fly out the door, walking rapidly to the subway and turning a desolate corner, absentmindedly. In moments, you feel an unreal and incredible burning sensation on your face. You screech and scream in pain and it echoes in your mind, a thousand times over.

You are taken away. The next day, not knowing how you got there and certain that this is a nightmare, you stumble out of the white sheets approaching the sterile bathroom in a hospital. Today, you do not wash, you stare. You turn away, you cry, and you bury your face in the same soft fingers.

Half of your face is deeply burned. Your eye is covered with a bandage. There will be no eye there. Irreversible. Is this you?

Acid Violence is not a reality for those in the West, but if it were, it may have been like this. Yet, for those in countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Vietnam, acid violence is a living reality. The vast majority of the victims are female, and reasons for the attacks include refusal of marriage and refusal of sex.

Dhaka, Bangladesh-I walk into a room, to find three women with long and thick black hair, dressed in crisp cottons, lavenders, oranges, sitting alongside a rectangular table. They are diligently cutting material. Two look up and smile delicately; However, I am naturally prone to look not into their eyes but at their skin, dark, patched, burnt, with prominent veins and a glass eye.

Eventually, the third looks up and smiles boldly. Dolly takes me by the hand. She then asks me about my family, my country, and my life. I hear the pride with which she tells me about how her family supported her after the acid attack by a lover she’d refused. She was able to marry and get treatment at the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF). She now works on garments at the Foundation and is engaged at work.

Orlando, Florida-A girl of eighteen is sitting in front of her computer, messaging her friends on Facebook. Only seven or so years back, she had been in rural Bangladesh.

She is another Acid Survivor who had been brought to the US by Healing the Children for treatment and was adopted by a host mother. She also had the opportunity to speak of her experience on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Her face is still deeply scarred and dark, but she is in the process of treatments.

She gets almost all A’s and is looking to go to college. She says that if it were not for the support of the late Nesreen Haq, then with Bangladesh’s Action Aid, who referred her to Healing the Children, she would not have been able to start anew in the US.

Comilla, Bangladesh- An Acid Survivor is brought to me at the local police station. She has been abandoned by most in her family and has no steady job. Her family refuses to support her in seeking treatment in Dhaka. She lives with her father, who tends to speak for her. She does not engage me physically or through eye contact.

Shame, though the attack is no fault of theirs, is one of the main reasons many women do not file cases and the bulk may be going unreported. It is also a reason that many women change their stories and hence, do not win legal cases.

Support is what allows these vulnerable victims to become Survivors. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, ASF is an organization providing legal counsel, medical attention, jobs, and friendships to these women. Without the support of immediate family, many victims are not able to come from the rural areas to Dhaka to seek help. ASF uses BRAC, an NGO with field offices all over the country, to learn about attacks immediately and provide attention.

In Pakistan, Masarrat Misbah, the owner of Depilex (one of the most renowned beauty salons in Lahore) was approached by a victim and decided to take action. She contacted Smile Again, an Italian nonprofit that has provided medical services to burn victims in other countries. She got some treatment and provided them training/jobs in her salon.

Acid Survivors will never get a part of themselves back, but what transforms the victims into Survivors is the support that they receive. This support helps them build internal courage. They are able to focus on their essence, or the strength that lies within them. — Samira Khan

2 thoughts on “Acid Violence: From Victims to Survivors

  1. Hello, I found this by accident while doing some research on a different topic. Keep up the great work.

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