Acid attacks cast shadow of fear over women in Balochistan

Published July 25, 2014
Noor Jehan, an acid attack survivor, hides her face while sharing details about the attack. -Photo by the writer
Noor Jehan, an acid attack survivor, hides her face while sharing details about the attack. -Photo by the writer
Women and human rights groups have expressed outrage over the acid attack incidents. -Photo by the writer
Women and human rights groups have expressed outrage over the acid attack incidents. -Photo by the writer

QUETTA: 35-year-old Noor Jehan, an acid attack survivor lies on a bed in Quetta’s largest medical facility, the Bolan Medical Complex Hospital. Only a few days ago, her misery made headline news when armed militants sprayed acid on her face in Quetta’s Killi Kamalo area.

Dressed in the traditional Balochi dress, she speaks in measured sentences to narrate her ordeal.

“I was shopping for Eid when suddenly somebody sprayed acid on my face,” Noor Jehan tells Dawn.com as her voice breaks.

At least six women were injured in Balochistan in two separate acid attacks in Quetta and Mastung three days back.

Like Noor Jehan, the other victims, including two teenage girls, are also admitted to BMC’s Burn Ward.

“Thank God my dress saved me from the acid,” she said.

Surrounded by their grief-stricken parents and frightened family members, the acid attack victims had covered their faces.

According to doctors, three per cent of Noor Jehan’s face was damaged in the attack. She had agreed to speak to Dawn.com after covering her face and declined to be photographed.

“Now I pray for immediate recovery,” Noor Jehan said, asking whether “the treatment will bring back my identity”.

The acid had burnt her shawl and clothes.

An eye witness, who requested anonymity, told Dawn.com that the women cried for help in the aftermath of the attack.

“The terrified women were screaming in the market after the acid attack,” he recalled.

He revealed that some other women also suffered acid wounds but they preferred not to make it public and come to the hospital for treatment.

“The shopkeepers selling cosmetics pulled down their shutters,” he said.

The tortured movement still haunts Noor Jehan and other acid victims. Besides, burn injuries, they also suffer from psychological traumas.

“I cannot forget that horrific moment,” she said.

Growing radicalisation and militarisation in society has undermined women's rights in Balochistan, plagued by growing sectarian violence and an on-going insurgency.

Balochistan, Pakistan’s least developed province, has remained under the grip of violence for over a decade and has claimed thousands of lives.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the two acid attacks, while law enforcement appears to be clueless about the identity the assailants.

“This is a barbaric act and the perpetrators must be brought to book,” Home Minister Balochistan Mir Sarfaraz Bugti told Dawn.com.

"Chief Minister Balochistan Dr Malik Baloch has ordered an inquiry into the acid attacks. A team comprising of senior police officers have been tasked to probe into the incidents," said the home minister.

“Such barbarians will not be spared,” he said in a statement issued to the press. Bugti said there was no room for such kinds of incidents in Islam and under Baloch traditions and norms.

The attacks have drawn severe criticism from women and human rights groups who have expressed outrage over the unfolding events in Balochistan.

Visibly, the entire society was shaken in the aftermath of twin attacks at women shopping for fast-approaching Eid in Balochistan.

“Fundamentalists want to intimidate and terrorise us,” said Agha Hassan Baloch, the Central Secretary Information Balochistan National Party.

He expressed these views during a protest demonstration inside the hospital where the women were being treated.

Dozens of Baloch nationalists gathered inside the hospital and chanted full-throated slogans against government and law enforcement agencies for their failure to protect the women in Balochistan.

“We are a secular society, fundamentalism is being imposed on us,” Baloch lamented.

Activists said that during the last three years in Balochistan, there have been seven acid attacks on women.

“It is an alarming situation indeed,” Haroon Dawood, the Resident Director of Aurat Foundation, a non-government organisation said.

In all incidents, the attackers used a syringe to spray acid on the women's faces.

Dawood stated that women were injured in acid attacks in Kalat, Dalbandin and Quetta earlier.

“The assailants are still at large”, he added.

In all cases, the victims’ families have dispelled the impression of any personal dispute or enmity.

“We have no dispute with anyone,” Manzoor Ahmed, the brother of one of the victims told Dawn.com.

Ahmed sits along with other grief-stricken relatives outside the Burn Ward of BMC where their loved ones were admitted.

“My sister is innocent and she had covered her face while shopping,” Ahmed said.

Mercifully it appears that the injuries sustained by those targeted are not of a very severe nature.

But the message is terrifying for women, who are being made fair game if they choose to venture independently into the public domain.

Ahmed stated that unknown militants had distributed pamphlets in Killi Kamalo where the women were attacked, warning the women not to come out of their homes.

“Nobody considered it a serious threat,” he added.

“Their faces are partially injured,” Dr Hidayatullah, a doctor on duty inside Burn Ward of BMC told Dawn.com.

However, the facilities inside the ward were not up to the mark. Poor cleanliness coupled with inefficient staff was further compounding the problems of patients.

Such incidents have spawned horror among the women in Quetta and other restive parts of Balochistan.

Women in Mastung, Kalat and some parts of Quetta were forced to cover their faces or get accompanied by a male family member while walking in markets in the incidents aftermath.

Attacks such as these have now forced women to be confined to their homes in troubled areas of Balochistan.

Opinion

Biden’s world
Updated 27 Jan 2021

Biden’s world

Biden’s America is not going to be one that once again throws open visas so that the world’s brightest can easily immigrate.
The PDM’s predicament
Updated 27 Jan 2021

The PDM’s predicament

The interests and stakes of the parties in the alliance are too diverse for them to maintain unity of action for a longer period.

Editorial

Updated 27 Jan 2021

Pemra’s powers

The right to freedom of expression has been curtailed to such an extent that it invites comparisons with martial law times.
27 Jan 2021

Increasing debt

THE numbers released by the State Bank regarding the government’s domestic debt stock and servicing at the end of...
27 Jan 2021

Women in conflict

“WHEN the guns fall silent, it does not mean the suffering of women and girls stops. The suffering and abuse that...
Pakistan-US ties
Updated 26 Jan 2021

Pakistan-US ties

The US remains the world’s most powerful country, one Pakistan cannot afford to ignore.
26 Jan 2021

NAB not impartial

NAB CHAIRMAN retired justice Javed Iqbal has claimed that his organisation is an unbiased anti white-collar-crime...
26 Jan 2021

Pakistan-South Africa series

IN what is seen as a rare instance, Pakistan start as the underdogs on their home turf when they take on South ...