It was in bottles and it was in syringes. It was flung and it was squirted.
The acid that was used in the nearly 10 attacks that took place in Balochistan last week was probably cheaply and easily purchased without invoking any suspicion.
It was used without the threat of blame or fear of prosecution. Those who sold it, those who used it to maim and injure were all men. Those who bore the attacks were all women.
The cost to the criminals was so small; the price to the victims tremendously large. In this one sense, it represented a central truth of contemporary Pakistan; men commit crimes and women bear them.
The first set of attacks, took place in Pishin in the Tang District of Balochistan. Even while the burnt tissue still festered on the bodies of the victims; the case was sentenced into the silence of “family enmity”.
The infinite depths of that label, Pakistanis know, signal a case that merits no investigation and no resolution. “Family Enmity” stands for private parameters, endless whorls of vengeance, circuitous routes of causation and the complete and certain impossibility of justice. Family enmity cannot be touched by the state, by the courts, or the duties of citizenship.
After its appearance in the news story, we must wipe away the facts. As the Deputy Commissioner of Pishin optimistically concluded,
"Fortunately the faces of the women were saved; but their feet were injured in the attack."
Women with only acid maimed feet are the lucky ones in Pakistan.
The whole thing was instructive to the adherents of Balochistan’s myriad extremist groups; whose eager operatives are perpetually engaged in the search for cheap mixings of fear and control.
Acid kills everything and when nothing is left everything is pure. With this as their guiding principle, they drew up the mixture into syringes and set out for the markets of Sariab Road in Quetta. The shopping center was crowded with shoppers, naïve in their desires for celebration and adornment for the upcoming Eid celebration.
The men dove deep into the crowd, into parts that sold cosmetics, where only women should venture. In their pockets were the syringes of acid; in their minds the cruelties of purification through annihilation. Their victims were randomly selected; the unfortunate ones whose simple desires for face cream and rouge were enough to condemn them.
In Pakistan, the bodies of women do not belong to themselves; and their faces are the canvas of the countries cursed conscience. When they were close enough; the men removed their weapons, attacked the faces; destroyed the women. Then, they retreated and disappeared, never to be caught, blamed or punished.
Then, in Mastung, the acid attackers struck again, giddy at the ease with which they could disperse such terror with such ease. Riding motorcycles, they sprayed two teenage girls walking home from the market. The girls were already covered but not covered enough to have been spared the caustic burns from the corrosive liquid searing their skin.
The markets of Sariab Road in Quetta were quiet in the days following. Women, already all covered, realised now that they could never be covered enough; hidden enough or safe enough.
Guns are cheaply available in Pakistan, but acid and a bag of cheap plastic syringes is even cheaper. In the womanless worlds of hate, they can be mixed together and stuffed away in male pockets; available and ready for the elimination of the feminine enemy of their fantasies. The threat of disfigurement is large and looming; but the distortion that allows the perpetrators to believe that they are doing divine work, is so much more grotesque.
The catastrophe of acid attacks is much discussed in the global sphere; much tweeted and hash tagged in the easy activism of social media. Its visual horror lends itself to the moral binaries on which the West erects its eastward condescensions.
In the end, it is only those in whose milieu the crime exists that can affect any real change. In Pakistan, these are the women and the men, all participants in the public sphere who can be soldiers on this battleground.
The confrontation between those who believe that a womanless public sphere is a pure one; and those that wish it to be shared by men and women is taking place every day on the streets and markets of Pakistan.
In this fight, all must select a side; and all must understand that silence means a nod and a shrug; tacit permission granted for syringes full of acid, pointed now and forever at the faces of Pakistani women.