By Bijoyeta Das
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.
Nasreen Huq, a volunteer activist for Naripokkho, a Dhaka-based women's rights group, publicized her case. Nahar's medical bills were waived and she moved to Dhaka. Within a year Sikdar and four of his friends were given life sentences.
"No punishment is enough. If I see him maybe I will beat him up," Nahar said with an indignant edge in her voice.
Over the years she has gone through dozens of operations, skin grafts and medicines to restore some sense of normalcy to her scarred face.
She shunned mirrors, dressed in dark-colored enveloping cloaks. She brushed her teeth under the veil and ate alone. She wanted to be invisible and move like smoke.
"I never thought of suicide, but did not know how to live" she said.
But Huq persisted in helping Nahar handle the trauma.
"Everyone said the society should be ashamed and not me," Nahar said.
She was being swallowed by a very specific, very focused anger that asked, why me?
One day she began to accept that her life was inside out, upside down. She began picking up the bits and pieces. Grief and fury ebbed and she began to focus on restoring her life.
Gradually she shed the shroud, joined college and made friends. She is scorched but wiser with a new sense of dignity.
"Before the attack I thought dark people were ugly; I never drank from the same glass as them," she said. Now she said she knows beauty is all about the heart and gaily looks at the mirror.
Nahar has worked with Naripokkho, Action Aid and other nongovernmental organizations. She counsels other survivors and has become a vocal activist against acid violence.
"But tragedy is written on my face, even when I moved on, there are always those jabs reminding me of what I have lost," she said.
She is aware of people on the streets often angling for a glimpse. Children stare, sometimes turning around craning their necks. There are also jeers and jokes.
Mostly she ignores them. But sometimes she is provoked when a rickshaw puller asks, "What happened sister?"
Her voice was clipped and angry as she related that. "They know exactly what happened. But they want to hear it." Her lips tightened. "This is plain sadism."
That attack robbed her of her looks, fleetingly crushed her soul and perpetually erased her faith in God.
"My mother prays five times and tells me 'if you pray before sleeping you are safe,'" she said.
But Nahar smiled ruefully. "That night also I prayed."
She asks if Allah is omnipotent why didn't he stop what happened. It was monsoon season; snakes were scuttling across flooded fields and mucky backyards.
"Why didn't Jasim and his friends' slip and fall? Why didn't a snake bite them?" she asked.
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Bijoyeta Das is a multimedia journalist currently covering South Asia. Her work is available at http://www.bijoyetadas.com
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