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Will Pakistani acid victims be as lucky as Turia?



Some people are just more fortunate than others. That's how this world works. This thought resonated in my mind as I read about Turia Pitt, a model-turned engineer who suffered 65 per cent burns on her body during a bushfire in Australia. That was three years ago. Now, she is an author and an active charity fundraiser. In her own words she is, "the luckiest girl in the world."

She recently appeared on the front cover of Australian Women's Weekly, with her resilient scars and her remarkable confidence. I wish we had more Turias in Pakistan.

Turia was burnt by Mother Nature and maybe that is why she found the will to survive. Nature is never that cruel. But humans are.

In Pakistan, a common acid-burn victim has a completely different story. About this, Alayna Ahmad — who has written extensively about the issues acid attack victims face in Pakistan says, "The victims are traumatised physically, socially and psychologically. Recovering from the trauma of an attack takes time, and even more time is needed for the victims to adjust to their disfigurements. They often become isolated and ostracised in society; the scars left by the acid go beyond just the skin."

These people, mostly women, are at the disposal of savages condemning them to a lifetime of torture.

We in Pakistan have excellent organisations, like the Acid Survivors Foundation of Pakistan (ASF), working for the rights of these tormented humans. On June 5, 2014, ASF took part in a women parliamentary meeting in the Punjab assembly to discuss the amendments for a comprehensive acid and burn crime bill. ASF chairperson Valerie Khan explained that the prosecution rate for such cases was a mere 35 per cent and that 65 per cent of the victims never receive justice.

The statistics are horrifying, with 50 per cent attacks in southern Punjab alone. We also have people like Musarrat Misbah, the founder of Smile Again Foundation, working to salvage what remains of these acid-attack victims' beautiful smiles.

These organisations are playing their part but what is the rest of the country doing?

Let's look at our own selves first. How many of us will view these victims with anything more than pity?

Can we treat these burnt souls like normal human beings? Will we ever give them another chance by providing employment opportunities, education or treating them with a simple act of kindness that doesn't involve rude stares and shocked faces?

I have heard of cases where men have married acid-burn victims as a humanitarian gesture but these are as rare as a Pakistani preferring dark skin colour over fair skin.

The media is equally responsible for such attitudes. Let's look at an extremely influential medium — television. How many of our dramas are about anything but extra marital affairs, issues about second marriages, or mother and daughter-in-law conflicts?

The Oscar award-winning documentary film-maker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy surely awakened some slumbering minds with her documentary Saving Face. Project Saave (Stand Against Acid Violence) is another commendable organisation that seeks inspiration from Chinoy's documentary. These people have set brilliant examples for our media organisations, but will our other media offshoots lend a hand to this cause?

While I accept that no direct comparison can be drawn between Turia Pitt's story and the thousands of burnt women in Pakistan, I refuse to dismiss her example as a fantasy that cannot be equalled within Pakistan's context.

Turia Pitt belongs to an influential setup, has been able to afford more than a hundred surgeries, and has experienced a more welcoming society to help cope with her scars. These aspects are not easy to come by in Pakistan, but surely an important lesson can be learnt here. Western infatuation with superficial beauty is unmatched; even our shallow sense of beauty is influenced by the international media. But if they can set the ball rolling towards a change in perception, why can't we?

If we can adopt negative behaviours from other societies, why not adopt their positives traits too? If acts like bringing acid-burn victims in the limelight can restore some of that lost spirit, then what's the harm?

I am not floating impossible dreams here. I know the stark reality. These people may not live to become award-winning authors or marry some prince charming. But they can at least live happy, content lives — where everyone will give them a second chance; an equal chance.

Can we help the unlucky become lucky again?

The Express Tribune


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