KARACHI: “When you lose your face, you lose the whole world and what hurts you more when your own child gets terrified by seeing the void in place of your face,” said Kanwal Qayyum, a young woman who survived a lethal acid attack by her husband seven years ago.
“I had dreamt to give a better life to my children and that made me a sinner before my husband to be punished like this,” she said with teary eyes as she shared her agonies and struggles stretched to the past seven years with a select gathering at a hotel on Friday.
The programme was arranged by the Depilex-Smileagain Foundation to underscore the increasing incidents of acid and kerosene attacks on women in the country, which formed a key factor in Pakistan’s position on the top of the nations with worst gender bias.
As Kanwal was audaciously narrating her tragic tale on the dais a multimedia screen showed her real face that brimmed the eyes of many in the audience with tears. Several facial surgeries had certainly given her a face, yet it compared no way with the beauty she actually had. Her eyes were not attractive as they were, yet dreamy as ever. She had much superior confidence that was shown on her earlier face — a quintessential lower middle class housewife.
The daughter of a low-ranked public servant was just 16 when she was married off to a distant cousin who initially employed with some menial jobs and then opted to be jobless and got prone to drugs. She, however, got herself educated and was wary about the future of her children — now a 12-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter.
“Life was too difficult to pass forcing me to apply for jobs here and there,” she said and one day she got offer from an ‘international airlines’ for an airhostess job.
“This did not come off well with him, he got angry,” she said. “Just a day before I was supposed go to the work, someone knocked at the door of my flat in Federal C Area. As I opened the door I glanced at him with anger and could not remember anything but pain as he doused me with the acid-filled container on me.”
“I could not go to work and never did since.”
She said the most heart-breaking moment in her life was at a time when she wanted to hug her little daughter, Malaika, but she got frightened and refused to see her.
“The evil act did not just mutilate my body; it marred my soul and shattered my dreams too,” said Kanwal.
“Fortunately, I found good hands in face of Masarrat Misbah who gave me a new face and taught me how to smile again no matter how picayune glimpses of your real face you have got back,” she added.
She said as she got her face back, she got enough confidence to reunite with her children and her estranged brother and parents.
“My children have got back their mother, not a burnt woman,” she remarked.
Ms Misbah, who runs the organisation, said Kanwal had undergone a number of reconstructive surgeries over a period of seven years, restoring her bare essentials. She was also assisted in taking a number of beautician courses; the psychological treatment also gave her a new will to live and face life once again.
Ms Misbah said a survey in 2012 showed the quantum of domestic violence had increased by 12 per cent to the corresponding year, while her organisation had reported 92 cases of acid and kerosene attacks on women last year alone.
Unfortunately, she said, the issue pertaining to women’s woes — domestic violence in particular — was on the ebb of the priorities of the government.
According to her, a total of 7,560 cases of domestic violence reported in 2013 while 83 cases of acid attacks, excluding 92 cases her organisation reported, were also reported. She said some 60pc of the domestic violence cases were gender specific.
She said her organization had registered 550 victims and performed 5,786 surgeries as a victim needed multiple surgeries to regain her face. She said 70pc out of the acid attacks were intentional and she doubted over the veracity of the remaining 30pc, which were bracketed as accidental.
She said 10 of the victims had married off to normal men and many had got jobs to pass a better and independent life.
Dr Jameel Siddiqui, a dermatologist, and Dr Awais Siraj, a trainer, also spoke on their role in bringing the victims to normal life.
Additional secretaries for health Aslam Pechuho and Masood Solangi, who were present on the occasion, said there were ample job opportunities in the department and they promised their help to offer an independent life to the acid survivors.