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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Politics of Acid Attacks in Pakistan

Ahsan Butt wrote: "Something is definitely wrong with this picture - literally and metaphorically.
One acid-burn victim leaped to her death. One acid-burn perpetrator sits comfortably in his home. And one-acid burn perpetrator’s cousin is presenting prizes to a documentarian whose Oscar-winning film was about acid-burning women.”
According to Washington Post, Fakhra Younus, a prominent acid attack victim in the country has committed suicide in Italy. Tehmina Durrani, who helped Fakhra wrote that:
"... she (Fakhra) also felt forgotten."
Fakhra's death has brought her life back into the discussion and has uncovered many of the ills that the Pakistani society holds dear. Her life is actually the real story of Pakistan - which shows how the system plays with the lives of common people. Fakhra is a window to look at the life of women ( a common woman , that is). Fakhra's life tells us how women are manipulated at every single stage, mercilessly by hypocritic and shameless Pakistani elites in particular and men in general. Fakhra's life also cries out loud for the survivors of acid attacks, these women have been used again and again by the rich and famous - a good source of money making via so-called philanthropy to attract foreign donors and that is exactly what happened and what continues to happen in Pakistan.

(left) Fakhra before acid attack, (right) Fakhra with Durrani (Photo:Times Magazine)

Fakhra Younus, was attacked by her husband Bilal Khar - who had spilled acid on her face after they split up. Her husband Bilal is from one of the most influential families of Pakistan. He was an ex - member of parliament (the Punjab Assembly), the son of famous Pakistani politician Ghulam Mustafa Khar (who also married and divorced 6 times), brother of the super model Aaminah Haq and the cousin of Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar - an interesting combo - isn't it??

Bilal Khar maintains that he was not behind the attack (this is what all attackers say in Pakistan and get away with it too), though it is widely believed that he used his political influence to evade arrest, according to the Asian Correspondent. Most important aspect is that the victim - Fakhra Younus, claimed that Bilal Khar threw acid on her and never changed her statement until her death . All she ever wanted was justice but justice was denied to her because justice serves the rich here. The accused is a free man like many others who share the same background with him (power, politics and money). We must NOT forget that criminals roam free in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and are also hailed as heroes (may be due to the shortage of role models that this country could produce). Pakistan is not just a heaven for domestic/home-grown criminals but terrorists/ criminals of international fame ( the Most Wanted by inter-pol with heavy bounties on their head) live happily ever after in this land of the pure. Money has replaced God to quite an extent and hence 'God-fearing' is more of a mythical concept here.

When it come to acid attack victims - one famous name is that of Musarrat Misbah -a beautician who was under criminal investigation for misusing donations of the NGO - Depilex Smile Again Foundation (DSAF) - set up to help acid attack victims with its parent NGO: Smile Again - Italy. Maybe at some point her heart would have been at the right place but down the lane her mind was NOT. This project , DSAF - was embroiled in mismanagement of huge donations from foreign countries. The Italian NGO, Smile Again - Italy - have annulled all ties with DSAF-Pakistan. Massive fraud in millions of dollars is the reason of the rift. For more read here at Foreign Policy and here. The author, Nikolaj Neilson writes:

"Masarrat Misbah....[turned out as] a fraud who pocketed the money she collected to help these women. In 2006, she received over $3 million to build a hospital specialized for acid burn victims. An altruistic landowner gave her, without charge, the land to construct the hospital... but nothing had been done in this regard.

Manzar Mian, a former coordinator at the foundation, began to suspect something was up. The money continues to arrive in cash only. There is no trace. Mian says over $ 1 million is missing. Authorities ask Misbah to hand over the accounts. But the books are gone. Stolen says Misbah."

This story of Musarrat Misabah has a lot in common with the story of Greg Mortenson author of "Three Cups of Tea" fame - set in Pakistan. How Moretenson's NGO - Central Asia Institute - (mis)used donations for the personal gains/ advertising/travelling etc. solely for the author in question. Interestingly, both Misbah and Mortenson have been awarded Pakistan's highest civil award for their services to Pakistan. Well, Greg Mortenson's saga deserves a long/separate post but what is common between his work and Depilix's Smile Again Foundation's work is the faces and images used to collect money. Moreover, the donations rarely reached those nameless, faceless girls - in both the cases.
Good causes are bound to lose their character when only ONE PERSON is on the driving seat, money is involved and where transparency is little or non-existent. This is Pakistan's tragedy that in its entire history we lacked transparency everywhere. People like Misbah and Mortenson - who became the voice of the voiceless and face of the faceless actually never tried to empower the people who they were representing, never provided them a platform to raise their own voice and face the world. Probably, maladfide intentions may be one of the reasons. Class action suits have been filed against Mortenson in USA BUT Musarrat Misbah - in Pakistan - well, she will get away with everything - by just pulling strings of those in power but I wonder:

  • when will justice be served to countless Fakhra's of Pakistan?

  • what will shake and wake Pakistanis up if not this Fakhra?

  • will these horrific lives only become another interesting media story but will continue to fail to garner the real sympathies of the masses, outcry from them or change the mindset of the people?

  • what will outrage Pakistanis if not this OR is seeing is unbelieving here?

  • when will these voiceless and faceless women will be empowered to uncover the faces of ugly Pakistanis?

  • how long do we have to wait to exist as a visible woman with respect in Pakistan?
As for Fakhra - death end her miserable life in Pakistan and Italy. I wonder why for 13 years she could NOT meet her sister (whom she was desperate to see) or any other family member? Arranging such a trip was not a big deal but definitely the socio-political implications of such a meeting could lead to drastic results for the Khars (may be). What is the real role of Haji Allah Din in Italy - was he the neighbor or was he a watchman over Fakhra? Who is this Haji Allah Din Rome-walla? Why Fakhra had to request her neighbor Haji to call somebody in the media in Pakistan and why she did not acted by herself, as Durrani wrote in her article that Fakhra was fluent in Italian - she could call-collect? Fakhra was indeed a warrior against injustice in Pakistan and if she kept fighting for 13 years what lead her to commit suicide? What circumstances, threats and fears made her lose her life? There is much, much more than that which needs investigation!!!
All this will be buried soon and will be forgotten as if nothing happened - ironic!
May Fakhra Rest in Peace - she lef behind a son, Nauman and her book: Il Volto Cancellato ( a must read).

For further reading:
The Woman who Died Twice (by Reuters' Myra Mac Donald)
Life and Death of an Acid Attack Victim (by The News, Tehmina Durrani's article).
The Evil that Men Do (by Times Magazine, Hannah Bloch)
Misuse of Funds by Deplix - Smile Again - Pakistan.
Smile Again Pakistan Controversy (Criminal Investigation) - Videos.
Musarrat Mibah Misused Funds in Millions for Acid Attack Victims (by The News, Umer Cheema)
Whither Justice (by Dawn, Ishtiaq Mehtri tells how Bilal Khar, the absconder/main accused of acid attack dodged the justice system ) this article was written on Feb.28, 2002).