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Fakhra case should be reminder to the government

Published Mar 28, 2012 07:11am


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People carry the body of a Pakistani acid attack victim Fakhra Younus, at Karachi airport in Pakistan.—AP Photo

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani acid attack victim Fakhra Younus had endured more than three dozen surgeries over more than a decade to repair her severely damaged face and body when she finally decided life was no longer worth living.

The 33-year-old former dancing girl - who was allegedly attacked by her then-husband, an ex-parliamentarian and son of a political powerhouse - jumped from the sixth floor of a building in Rome, where she had been living and receiving treatment.

Her March 17 suicide and the return of her body to Pakistan on Sunday reignited furor over the case, which received significant international attention at the time of the attack. Her death came less than a month after a Pakistani filmmaker won the country's first Oscar for a documentary about acid attack victims.

Younus' story not only drives home the woeful plight of many women in conservative Muslim Pakistan, it is also a reminder of how the country's rich and powerful operate with impunity. Younus' ex-husband, Bilal Khar, was eventually acquitted, but many believe he used his connections to escape the law's grip - a common occurrence in Pakistan.

More than 8,500 acid attacks, forced marriages and other forms of violence against women were reported in Pakistan in 2011, according to The Aurat Foundation, a women's rights organization. Because the group relied mostly on media reports, the figure is likely an undercount.

''The saddest part is that she realized that the system in Pakistan was never going to provide her with relief or remedy,'' Nayyar Shabana Kiyani, an activist at The Aurat Foundation, said of Younus.

''She was totally disappointed that there was no justice available to her.''

Younus was a teenage dancing girl working in the red light district of the southern city of Karachi when she met her future husband, the son of Ghulam Mustafa Khar, a former governor of Pakistan's largest province, Punjab. The unusual pairing was the younger Khar's third marriage. He was in his mid-30s at the time.

The couple was married for three years, but Younus eventually left him because he allegedly physically and verbally abused her. She claimed that he came to her mother's house while she was sleeping in May 2000 and poured acid all over her in the presence of her five-year-old son from a different man.

Tehmina Durrani, Ghulam Mustafa Khar's ex-wife and his son's stepmother, became an advocate for Younus after the attack, drawing international attention to the case. She said that Younus' injuries were the worst she had ever seen on an acid attack victim.

''So many times we thought she would die in the night because her nose was melted and she couldn't breathe,'' said Durrani, who wrote a book about her own allegedly abusive relationship with the elder Khar.

''We used to put a straw in the little bit of her mouth that was left because the rest was all melted together.''

She said Younus, whose life had always been hard, became a liability to her family, for whom she was once a source of income.

''Her life was a parched stretch of hard rock on which nothing bloomed,'' Durrani wrote in a column in The News after Younus' suicide.

Younus' ex-husband grew up in starkly different circumstances, amid the wealth and power of the country's feudal elite, and counts Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar as a cousin.

Bilal Khar once again denied carrying out the acid attack in a TV interview following her suicide, suggesting a different man with the same name committed the crime. He claimed Younus killed herself because she didn't have enough money, not because of her horrific injuries, and criticized the media for hounding him about the issue.

''You people should be a little considerate,'' said Khar. ''I have three daughters and when they go to school people tease them.''

Younus was energized when the Pakistani government enacted a new set of laws last year that explicitly criminalized acid attacks and mandated that convicted attackers would serve a minimum sentence of 14 years, said Durrani. She hoped to return someday to get justice once her health stabilized.

''She said, 'When I come back, I will reopen the case, and I'll fight myself,' and she was a fighter,'' Durrani said.

Durrani had to battle with both Younus' ex-husband and the government to send her to Italy, where the Italian government paid for her treatment and provided her money to live on and send her child to school. Pakistani officials argued that sending Younus to Italy would give the country a bad name, Durrani said.

Younus was happy when Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won an Oscar for her documentary about acid attack victims in February, but was worried about being forgotten since she wasn't profiled in the film, said Durrani.

Durrani said Younus' case should be a reminder that the Pakistani government needs to do much more to prevent acid attacks and other forms of violence against women, and also help the victims.

"I think this whole country should be extremely embarrassed that a foreign country took responsibility for a Pakistani citizen for 13 years because we could give her nothing, not justice, not security," said Durrani.


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Comments (22) Closed

Sahil Mar 28, 2012 06:06pm
There is no doubt Tehmina did a commendable job. What about our NGOs. One area which goes neglected is the way the victims get exploited by unscruplous NGOs. Masarrat Misbah's NGO which championed the cause for Acid and kerosene victims, launched a project worth Rs 380 million for building a hospital and rehab centre in Multan. We have today a boundary wall and a Pride of performance for Masarrat. SECP launched an inquiry after receiving complaints. Depilex smileagain got their accountant arrested for stealing the record (note not the money). Accountant got acquitted but inquiry is halted as there is nobody following it up. Umar Cheema of The News and Badar Alam of Herald exposed the whole scandal, but Masarrat carries on her fundraising with a few hired victims. She has the right contacts in the media. Fakhra's photos were on all of Masarrat's brochures when the truth is, not a single penny was spent by her organisation on Fakhra. Overheads of Depilex Smileagain foundation's are a 80% of the money spent on victims. The point is that Fakhra should not have been left neglected after using her for fundraising (in Pakistan and abroad). She could hv been with us today.
Navaid Mar 28, 2012 08:21pm
I am ashamed of being a Pakistani/Muslim and wish curse on these vaderas.
salarmaiwand Mar 28, 2012 09:33pm
I shudder with horror when I think of what Ms. Younus went through. It was a mental and physical pain that is beyond human endurance. Ms. Yonus was a brave woman who fought against the severe burn injuries, underwent numerous surgeries, and faced the callousness of judicial and political set up. I am disappointed that she was not part of "Saving Face". her story is one of the most heroic stories. Her suicide was a slap on the face of patriarchy and feudalism. She lives and her ghost would haunt the wretched cruel beast who poured battery acid on her once beautiful face. May she rest in peace.
mzhassan Mar 28, 2012 09:42pm
excellent article
Hasaan Imam Mar 28, 2012 09:58pm
Excellent Article
Atika Mar 28, 2012 11:42pm
”You people should be a little considerate,” said Khar. ”I have three daughters and when they go to school people tease them.” and again, it is the women that suffer because of the actions of a man who just never learnt to respect women. I hope his daughters have the strength to stand up for themselves and against the actions of their father.
Nasser Ali Khan Mar 29, 2012 04:41am
I am ashamed to be a Pakistani. Not because a Pakistani Bilal Khar did so wrong. But because those Pakistanis who are the majority are SILENT. Why has there been no suicide bombing to kill Khar? There are plenty everyday to kill innocent people.
Cyrus Howell Mar 29, 2012 09:39am
" The saddest part is that she realised that the system in Pakistan was never going to provide her with relief or remedy." Very Well Spoken.
Imran Mar 29, 2012 10:30am
She died the day of the attack, Rest in peace!!!
sadia khan Mar 29, 2012 02:56pm
people should gather and they should do social boycott.I have seen this prectise around.When they hate that person this would becom a great lesson not for him or her but also their coming generation.
Ameeds Mar 29, 2012 03:21pm
In Pakistan, we all have the easy way out for everything. Blame it on someone else. :-) I grew up in then called NWFP with 4 sisters. I still remember hitting my sister one time on which I got a good punishment from my mother and then father. There reasoning was simple. Being only boy didn't mean that I was special. My sisters were as smart as me. Strangely, I have also noticed that it is women in Pakistan who are the main culprits in creating the gender divide (men are better than women). If you don't believe it, just check with your mother/sister/grandmother if a birth of a boy or a girl in a house hold is the same. On the surface, the answer might be a glaring yes, but honestly, who are we kidding. :-) If women really need or want to be treated better than this has to be transferred to their kids. Most of the men are raised mainly by their mothers. If a mother is teaching a clear divide and telling that a boy is better than a girl than who should be blamed. I wonder if women ever realize how much power they hold within their house holds. But I doubt if even after realization, women use the power in right context.
AHA Mar 29, 2012 05:23pm
Well said. This is really the problem with a vast majority of Pakistani women. I vividly remember an incident at the time our daughter was born. I was standing outside the ops room waiting to see my daughter. A middle-aged women was distributing sweets – her daughter-in-law had given birth to a boy. She asked me whether we had a boy or a girl. I said a girl. She looked at me with a sad face and said she hoped I have a son next time (well, there was no next time). Fortunately for us, my mother does not share the views of the majority of our women. But I know many people who have a different to tell (if they are willing to admit the truth).
AHA Mar 29, 2012 05:38pm
We are silent because we are powerless and scared. We are powerless because we are deeply divided. We are deeply divided because of what we are taught every week. I too am deeply ashamed of what has become of us.
Armagan Mar 29, 2012 06:15pm
There is only one way to stop these acid attacks, that is to have the culprit receive the same treatment himself. an eye for an eye literally. Parliament should pursue this or we are giving a licence to men to assault our own sisters, mothers and daughters. Culprits should have battery acid poured in the same way and have them disfigured for life. Only then will these type of men understand that they cannot get away with it.
kanti purohit Mar 29, 2012 11:04pm
You can pay this brave woman highest respect and other Acid attack women by keeping this issue alive and to highlight this at every opportune time.God blees her soul.
aysha Mar 29, 2012 11:18pm
AHA, I dont understand one thing, We are NOT silent when a quran is burnt anywhere in the world; hundredes of thousands of people will gather in streets and will demand for culprit to be punished; but when a human being like fakhra is burnt, no one cares. The issue is only mind set of our people (Nothing to do with being powerless, scared or devided)
narvinnie Mar 30, 2012 12:58am
Bilal's daughters not only need to stand up against their fathers action but also become a strong pillar for the betterment of women in Pakistan. Those mother who become sad because their daughter in law gave birth to a daughter should be ashamed of them selves because they are alos the daughters of their parents. Rest in Peace Yunusand may Alla hbless your soul.
Mustafa Razavi Mar 30, 2012 01:34am
It is the feudal system that gave the Khars the power they have. The feudal system is at the root of all our problems. If USA and UK are sincere about human rights, they should put sanctions on Wadera children attending their universities like Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard. These graduates are certainly not learning any humanity.
P. Joseph Raju Mar 30, 2012 01:49am
This is one of the most saddest stories I have ever read in the Dawn. There are so many atrocities against women, especially against minority women reported every day around the world. Women are the true blessings of any society. They suffer to give birth to man. Then the man torture her for his pleasure and ego. Any man who torture woman for any reason cannot claim he is a human being. He is worse than animal. It is more sad when the government close its eyes and pretend nothing happening. Every government in the world should protect their women. Hope this tragedy will open eyes of many in the authority in Pakistan and stop this curse from the land. P. Joseph Raju
Joe USA Mar 31, 2012 03:57am
Oh this is a good point !
Sami Bokhari Mar 31, 2012 07:02pm
It is very very shameful upon the part of our government and then upon us. Islam is the only answer to all this. Quran and Sunnah have all the answers to this. May Allah forgive her and give strength to her familiy to bear this loss.
farid Apr 01, 2012 03:09am