Every year, masses of Pakistani women are disfigured in acid attacks. The perpetrators are none other but their husbands or relatives. These brutal attacks are largely ignored and are rarely prosecuted. When acid is thrown on a person, the results can be horrifying. Nitric, hydrochloric, or sulfuric acids all have a catastrophic effect on human flesh. It causes the skin tissue to melt, often exposing the bones below the flesh, sometimes even dissolving the bone. When acid attacks the eyes, it damages these vital organs permanently. Many acid attack survivors have lost the use of one or both eyes. The victim is traumatized physically and psychologically. The scars left by acid are not just skin deep, victims are most often faced with social isolation and ostracization that further damages their self esteem, self-confidence and seriously undermines their professional and personal future. Women who have survived acid attacks have great difficulty in finding work and if unmarried, as many victims tend to be, they have very little chance of ever getting married.
Carsten Stormer, a German journalist & photographer said, “Acid attacks deprive people of more than their looks and sight. Families are torn apart. Husbands leave their wives. Children are separated from their parents. Jobs vanish overnight, turning professionals into beggars. Many victims cannot get through a day without constant assistance, becoming burdens on their families. All bear the mark of the pariah.
“What remains is a traumatized society in which domestic disputes, unhappy love affairs, and professional rivalries are nearly always resolved through violence. Hardly a family without its members lost to the ideological battles of the Khmer Rouge – a curse that is passed on from parents to children. Battery acid is known to be most uncomplicated way of causing lifelong suffering. A dollar will buy you a quart of acid on any street corner. The perpetrators are seldom punished. Their targets become outcasts.”
The million dollar question is what triggers an acid attack? The awful truth is there isn’t just one reason and at times this unforgiveable crime is committed without one. Acid attacks are most prevalent in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India and Pakistan. They have also been widely reported in Afghanistan and in parts of Africa and Europe.
Through their attacks men seem to be saying, “If I can’t have her, no one will.” By throwing acid men not only destroy women’s faces, but also their hopes, dreams and identity. In South Asia alone, acid throwing attacks have been used as a form of revenge for refusal of sexual advances, proposals of marriage and demands for dowry. These men appear to have too much ego and can’t let their “honour” be tarnished. Dominance is what they crave and dominating is how they behave. Their aggressive and possessive nature drives them to resort to such unbelievable portrayal of hatred. An overly suspicious husband who can’t endure the thought of anyone to lay their eyes upon his wife or for her to even look at another man results in him doing the unthinkable.
Reasons for acid attacks during the years, the highest rate of occurrence took place over land and family dispute, the next highest rate of these brutal incidents are due to refusal of relationship/sex throughout the country. It has taken misogyny to an alarming new level.
Domestic violence is yet another trigger. The only way of settling the argument or dispute in their eyes is by either beating the resolute woman to a pulp or by splashing her with his final answer – acid. The most horrifying aspect to all this is it takes an easily available bottle of acid worth Rs50 (or more), a very angry man and a woman whose life is about to change forever within minutes.
Marriage issues are mostly the root cause to domestic violence. One leading issue is the age old backward thought of giving birth to a girl instead of a boy. The women are blamed for bringing shame upon the family as girls are still seen as heavy burdens on a family and society at large. A boy is the key to a bright future and pride. A girl is nothing but a burden and another mouth to feed. Instead of welcoming the child into the world, these sick men either bury them alive or find no other means to vent but dousing their wives in the burning liquid. It’s the patriarchal society we live in that avidly promotes this gender inequality.
These heinous acts appear to soothe the vile conscience of the perpetrators. It is a crime which they never acknowledge and defend themselves with the ridiculous statement of being provoked by the “flirtatious” and “dishonourable” women. U.M. Habibunnesa Habiba of Naripokkho, a women’s rights organization, points out: “These crimes can never be spontaneous acts of passion because the offender has to arrange for the acid and to carry it in a safe container.” She says the attacks are a favored means of retaliation because they can totally break a woman’s spirit. That becomes their ultimate goal – to shatter the woman from deep inside until she’s nothing but a disfigured vessel.
One wonders when the time will come when this atrocity will be wiped off the face of the earth and the government will step up and enforce the acid throwing and burn crime bill in the National Assembly which had been sketched out last year. Through the passing of this bill the victims will be protected, enable them to obtain justice, free medical treatment and psychological as well as social rehabilitation services.