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Pakistan: Tale of an acid attack survivor

Tuesday 13 April 2021, by siawi3


Tale of an acid attack survivor

Muhammad Akbar Notezai

Published April 9, 2021

A recent photo of Bagum Baloch.—Dawn

DANNO used to be green, cultivated and dotted with trees. But now it is more like a jungle of concrete as construction frenzy has taken over.

The Ehsaas programme’s office in Dalbandin, the headquarters of Chagai district, is located here. Bagum Baloch, a woman in her 20s and acid attack survivor, is visiting the office for registering her name as a beneficiary so that she could receive a monthly payment of Rs6,000.

Being an acid attack survivor, she is shunned by other women because of her disfigured face as well as for being a “Lori” (belonging to the lower strata of Baloch society). But she has got used to the ostracism by now.

Built in 2007, Karimabad is a new settlement on the outskirts of Dalbandin, and at the foot of mountains in Balochistan’s west.

Loris, considered second-class citizens in Baloch society, inhabit the unfortunate settlement which has neither electricity nor water. Bagum Baloch belongs to the same place.

When I arrive at her thatched house, she takes me to her neighbour’s because she feels it is better than her house. After half an hour, Bagum appears in the room with her siblings and mother Khan Bibi. “We are sorry to have kept you waiting without electricity,” says Khan Bibi apologetically. “That is how we have been living.”

Bagum Baloch’s face is covered with Dupatta and she is attired in traditional Balochi clothes.

Unidentified men on a motorcycle had thrown a bottle filled with acid at Bagum and her younger sister Dur Jamal Baloch in Killi Hashim Khan area of Dalbandin 10 years ago. The sisters were aged 13 and 10 at the time.

“It was the darkest moment of my life when I heard the piercing shrieks of my daughters,” recalls Khan Bibi.

“My husband, his brother, and I ran out of our house; when we arrived at the scene, they were completely burnt by acid. Even their clothes had almost vanished.

“We wrapped them in our chadors and rushed them to the Civil Hospital in Dalbandin.”

As they were poor, they had to approach local notables, politicians and well-to-do people for financial assistance. Finally, the family had enough money to take the sisters to Quetta’s Bolan Medical Complex.

“In the beginning, no one in Quetta came to our help and we went three days without food as we had no money. Thanks to a reporter, former chief minister of Balochistan Nawab Aslam Raisani came to our rescue. He bore all our expenditure on treatment,” Khan Bibi added.

Endless misery

However, the two sisters’ misery did not end there. When they were brought back to Dalbandin, Bagum’s husband quarrelled with Khan Bibi over money given by the Balochistan government for their treatment. He warned her that he would send the daughters to their maternal grandparents’ place if he did not get the money.

Khan Bibi had no option but to hand over the money — a hefty sum of Rs70,000 — to Bagum’s husband.

“After taking the money, he remarried and divorced my daughter as ‘her face stinks due to acid burns’.”

Bagum, whose left cheek and neck were badly burnt, breaks her silence: “When I was at my in-laws, his women relatives would taunt me for my disfigured look. Despite all those odds, I wanted to live with my husband, but he thought otherwise, parting with me forever.”

Unlike Bagum, Dur Jamal still lives with her in-laws in Saleha, a remote village near the border with Afghanistan.

Khan Bibi attributes the difference in attitudes between the two households to the fact that Dur Jamal’s in-laws are rural folk.

Electricity poles and water channels pass by Karimabad, but Bagum cannot benefit from them. “I have to live without electricity. During summer the acid burns start singeing my face. The horrible stench keeps my family away from me. No one comes near me, then,” exclaims Bagum in a faint voice.

“What else will I have to endure? I am already living in a veritable hell. My father died of heart attack as he could no longer take his daughters’ suffering. My husband divorced me and, to add insult to injury, used my money for remarriage.

“The family is getting disillusioned with me. I have already endured much more than anyone can face at this age.”

Mohammad Wali alias Walook, a cobbler, is the sole breadwinner of his family. “I can afford two square meals for my family, but I cannot get them treated. That demands big money,” he says, helplessness writ large on his face.

As I walk out of the room, I am drenched in sweat after hearing the heart-rending ordeal of the two women, robbed of the joys of life in their prime.

But Bagum wouldn’t let me go without, so to say, lacing her narrative with more pathos.

“Winter has gone. Now summer is ready to bring me more torment.”