Crime Policy/Legislation

Acid-Attack Survivor Heals Inner Scars of Others

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A survivor of an acid attack recalls the slow, painful stages of recovery it took to turn her into a counselor for others. Acid attacks are punishable by death now in Bangladesh, but new victims continue needing her help.

DHAKA, Bangladesh (WOMENSENEWS)--She is a keeper of healing secrets. Every now and then Nurun Nahar would gently squeeze a woman's hand and whisper, "It will hurt; you might not recognize your face, but if I can get through, so will you."

A survivor of an acid attack in 1995, Nahar, 32, now counsels other victims of acid attacks.

She says some victims are virtually catatonic, some wail, some deny, almost all are in pain and feel helpless. She tells them her story, how a spurned lover hurled acid when she was 16. She listens to their stories.

Nahar spoke with Women's eNews in an office in Gulshan, a part of Dhaka that is a hub for nongovernmental organizations.

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Acid attacks continue in Bangladesh despite a 2002 law making them punishable by death and imposing a no-bail policy on perpetrators.

Between 1999 and 2009, 2,978 people were attacked, according to the Dhaka-based Acid Survivors Foundation, out of which about 68 percent were women and girls.

The numbers have waned, falling from 367 incidents in 2002 to 116 in 2009.

But even now property disputes, jealousy, rejected love, eve teasing, dowry, a fight over a bucket of water and family feuds can spur an attack.

"The damage is irreversible and healing ongoing," said Nahar, her hair loosely tied in a bun covering her charred left ear.

Nahar and her attacker, Jasim Sikdar, then 21, lived in the same Patuakhali village.

But he belonged to the landowning class and she lived with her widowed mother and sister in a mud hut. He stalked her, harassing her on her way to school. He proposed to her; she firmly rebuffed him. His wooing then gave way to threats to destroy her beauty.

"I chose to ignore him, didn't take him seriously," she said.

Acid Attack

One balmy July night, a gang of eight young men broke into her house. They tried to pull her out. But mother and daughter held each other tightly-- scuffling, howling and refusing to let go. Sikdar and his friends pinned Nahar down and squirted acid over her face.

"Water," she recalled screaming. "I am burning." But the water stung, she pushed away, writhing in pain and shock.

The acid ate into her skin. When she touched her face it felt gooey and bloody like melted wax. "Everyone thought the boys had sliced my face with a dagger."

The doctors in the nearby town and the district hospital were clueless. She was moved to the government-run Dhaka Medical College.

Lying in bed, she was often quiet, visiting her past. The school pranks, walks, giggles, exam notes, teenage dreams.

"The injury would heal, everything will be same," she remembered thinking.

For five months her tight-knit family guarded her, kept her away from her own reflection. One day she stole a pocket-sized mirror from the cleaning lady's handbag. She fainted.

"Then I realized the damage. I looked like a monster," she said.

Pills and creams blunted her pain, but her face was mangled with jarred and discolored scars. Her spirit battered.

After nine months Nahar returned to the support of her villagers. But nothing could stop her anxieties.

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