Nafiah Ikram
Nafiah Ikram

WASHINGTON: “I am not a victim, I am a survivor. I have the courage to face hostility,” says Nafiah Ikram, a brutality survivor from New York.

She came on the stage at the Miss and Mrs Pakistan, USA contest in Virginia on Sunday evening after Meera, renowned Pakistani TV and film artist, and inspired all, even Meera who clapped vigorously as Nafiah spoke.

Nafiah, now 23, was returning home from a CVS store in Long Island, New York, on March 17 last year when an unidentified man ran up to her and threw acid in her face before running off. He is still at large.

The attack left the Hofstra University student unable to see in one eye and facing an unknown number of surgeries to rebuild burned parts of her face.

The trauma, at times, brought on suicidal thoughts, she once said.

For the last 20 months, Nafiah has been on a “journey she never wanted — of learning to cope with constant pain while undergoing one medical surgery and procedure after another,” commented New York’s Newsday newspaper in a recent report on her.

“For three months, I could not eat. I still cannot turn my neck,” said Nafiah at the beauty pageant.

The dictionary defines pageant as a procession of people in elaborate, colorful costumes at an outdoor performance. And there’s was no dearth of colours at the Sunday night event. But none as bold as that of Nafiah’s courage.

“I was a pharmacy assistant at the CVS store, now I want to be a doctor,” she said. She is studying medicine at a college in New York.

Thanking her family for their love and support during this difficult phase of her life, Nafiah said: “Those who love you, will continue to love you for who you are.”

Apparently, her definition of love did not satisfy Meera. “What’s love (Mohabbat kia hai)?” she asked a contestant, Alina.

“It’s the love and support I get from my parents and from the community and my desire to return their favour,” Alina replied.

Although it has been more than a year since Nafiah had acid hurled in her face in her own driveway, her attacker remains on the loose — and her family says the police should do more to catch the culprit.

“The police department, they never took this case seriously,” said the victim’s father, Sheikh Ikram, 51.

“So, please, help us find that animal.”

“My daughter, she is suffering every single day and we are going through a very tough time,” said her mother Sherina Ikram while urging the police to catch the perpetrator.

Her father thinks the offender must have known her well and knew “when she leaves work for home. It was all pre-planned.”

In an interview to the New York Post, Ms Ikram also blamed the police for not doing enough to catch her attacker.

She said the police even accused her of lying and withholding information.

In a statement one year after the attack, the Nassau County Police said an “intense and comprehensive investigation” into the attack was underway.

“Numerous inter-agency resources have been assigned and continue to collaborate to bring the person responsible to justice,” the statement added.

Nafiah said the incident has changed her perspective on life. “It has strengthened my faith in God. I do not get depressed anymore. I want to be a physician and help others.”

She said she knew there were acid victims in Pakistan too and wants to get in touch with them. “Connecting with other victims will help. We can learn from each other and give hope and courage to all victims.”

The local police and the FBI continue to offer a $40,000 reward for information.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2022

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