‘Life is such a blessing’: The incredible bravery of Pakistani women who suffered horrific acid attacks in the name of ‘family honour’


By Associated Press

PUBLISHED: 11:12 EST, 2 June 2012 | UPDATED: 11:20 EST, 2 June 2012

After six years of abuse, Allah Rakhi was walking out of her marriage when her husband struck again. Snatching a knife, he sliced off her nose. ‘You’re no longer beautiful!’ he shouted.

He then slashed at her foot – brutal punishment for leaving the house without his permission.

‘A woman is only a woman inside the home, outside she’s a whore!’ he yelled at Rakhi as she lay bleeding on the dusty street just outside her home.

That was 32 years ago.



Years of abuse: Pakistani Allah Rakhi, 51, whose husband sliced off her nose and slashed her right foot with a razor in 1980, when she was 19. After marrying at 13, Rakhi suffered six years of abuse at the hands of her husband, right, she holds a photo of them before the attack

asdfSurvivor: Acid attack survivor, Shamma Maqsood, 24, holds a picture of herself before the vicious assault. Shamma was attacked by her husband on March 20, 2012, following an argument about him being jobless

All that time, Rakhi hid her disfigured face under a veil. Then in March, a surgeon took up her case. He cut flesh from her ribs and fashioned it into a new nose, transforming her life.

While the details of every case of violence against Pakistani woman differ, many are based on a concept of ‘family honor.’

Women can be targeted for suspicion of an affair, wishing to divorce or dressing inappropriately. Hundreds women are murdered each year because of mere suspicions.

asdfVictim: Pakistani acid attack survivor, Naila Farhat, 22, was attacked in 2003 by her teacher’s friend, after her parents refused his marriage proposal. She holds a photo of herself before the attack


asdfAcid attack survivor: Naziran Bibi, 25, shows a picture of herself before the attack, at the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF), in Islamabad, Pakistan. Naziran, who was treated badly by her second husband and his first wife, was attacked in 2008, by an unknown person while she was sleeping


asdfComing together: Rakhi, 51, fourth left, stands with acid attack survivors, outside Benazir Bhutto hospital in Rawalpindi, Pakistan

The nose is considered the symbol of family honor in Pakistan – explaining why a woman’s nose is often the target of spousal abuse. A popular plea from parents to children is ‘Please take care of our nose,’ which means, ‘don’t do anything that tarnishes the reputation of the family.’

Rooted in tribal ideas that a woman’s chastity is the property of the man, honor killings are practiced in much of the Arab world and South Asia. They have also been carried out by immigrants from those regions to the West.

Pakistani courts have a history of letting off offenders or giving them only light punishment, assuming the cases get to trial at all.

asdfTerrifying: Sajda Ansar, 26, was set on fire by by her husband last April, following an argument regarding his drug addiction


asdfBrutal revenge: Acid attack survivor Parveen Aslam, 42, is examined by Dr Hamid Hasan, left, at Benazir Bhutto Hospital in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Parveen and her daughter Zaiba were attacked last December by a man after the parents refused his marriage proposal of their elder daughter


sdfgChilling crimes: Akhtar Yar, 9, holds the hand of his brother Rukhan, 23, left, standing next to eunuch and acid attack survivor, Zafar Iqbal, 23. Akhtar and his father were attacked in 2004 by a man who the father had had an argument with earlier in the day. Zafar was attacked in 2003, by a man he refused to have a relationship with

Rakhi’s husband, for example, served just 10 months in jail before being released in exchange for a commitment to pay her medical bills. He never did.

Accurate statistics on the extent of honor crimes are hard to come by, because many cases go unreported or are settled out of court under pressure from the families of the victim and the attacker.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said that in 2011, at least 943 women were murdered, nine had their noses cut off, 98 were tortured, 47 set on fire and 38 attacked with acid.

Efforts to introduce stronger laws to increase punishments for violence against women have been blocked by an Islamist political party which publicly supports the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. The party, Jamiat Ulema Islam, is a member of the ruling coalition.


Child victims: Zaiba Aslam, 10, is helped by her mother Parveen, who also an acid attack survivor, to adjust her scarf as they arrive at the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF), in Islamabad, Pakistan.  Right, Sedra Javeed, 14, is examined by Dr Hamid Hasan. Sedra was attacked last June by a man she refused to have a relationship with

asdfBenazir Bhutto hospital: Pakistani acid attack survivor, Saeda Kouser, 24, lies in bed after having surgery on her neck. Saeda was attacked in 2008, by her husband while she was sleeping


The lower houses of parliament passed the bill, but the JUI is preventing its passage through the upper house.

‘We will never let it happen,’ said JUI senator Maulana Ghafoor Haideri, who said the bill was an attempt to ‘Westernize’ Pakistan. ‘It will ruin our family institutions,’ he said.

Shad Begum, a Pakistani right activists who received the U.S. International Woman of Courage award from first lady Michelle Obama this year, said firmer laws and better enforcement are the only solution to violence against woman.

‘Our leaders need to take a firm stand,’ she said. ‘If a man makes a woman a victim, or makes an ‘example out of her’ as he believes, our courts should also make an example out of him.’

Rakhi was attacked when she was 19, after being married at 13. Despite being illegal, child marriages remain common in parts of Pakistan.

asdfSupport: A board showing pictures of acid attack survivors is placed on a wall inside the Acid Survivors Foundation, in Islamabad, Pakistan


asdfBrave: Pakistani acid Attack survivor Akhtar Yar, 9, center, recites verses of the holy Quran, while attending his daily classes at his school in Peshawar, Pakistan

Following the attack, she worked to support herself and her daughter, painting flowers on pots in a factory and buying and selling clothes in markets across the country, all the time hidden behind a veil.

‘I died every moment,’ Rakhi said in her three-room mud and brick house in a village hidden among the wheat fields of Pakistan’s Punjab province.

Rakhi’s husband divorced her soon after he was released from prison, she said.

In a bizarre twist, the 51-year-old woman now lives again under the same roof as him – something she claims as a ‘victory,’ but also perhaps points to her poverty and lack of alternatives.

Rakhi’s son persuaded her to return home, anxious for her to have a more comfortable life.

On a recent visit, the husband scooted out of the house as Rakhi welcomed a reporter, and he did not made himself available for comment.

She said she never stopped hoping for a new nose, but doctors were unwilling to operate because she suffers from hepatitis C, a liver condition that can complicate surgery.

It was her daughter who gave her the chance. She was working in the capital, Islamabad, at an institute that provides training for woman recovering from having acid thrown on their faces.

She introduced Rakhi to the Acid Survivors Foundation, which put her in touch with a surgeon.

Dr. Hamid Hasan took her case for free. Asked why he would take the chance, he answered, ‘Her pleas. Her tears.’

At a follow up appointment last month, Hasan touched the scars where the stitches once were on her nose and forehead.

Rakhi winced slightly, and smiled as the surgeon took his hands away.

Hasan said her positive attitude was important for the other operations she must undergo in the coming months.

‘Thank God I did not commit suicide,’ Rakhi said. ‘Life is a blessing!’


Posted on June 2, 2012, in Politics, Religion / Faith, World Politics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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