LONDON: The British Pakistani plastic surgeon in the Oscar winner ‘Saving Face’ has said that acid violence is not a Pakistan specific phenomenon and there are dozens of countries where the problem exists at a similar level but gets under-reported.
Dr Muhammad Ali Jawad, consultant Plastic, Reconstructive and cosmetic surgeon based in Mayfair, told The News acid throwing is not a Pakistani character as such and “we all as a nation condemn wholeheartedly, it has nothing to do with the religion of Islam or Pakistani culture and has no boundaries.” “It’s a man-made disease, which can be cured. Acid violence also happens in countries like India, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Mexico etc and even there are some incidents in UK too.
Most of its victims are young people especially women and it is an extreme form of domestic violence and bigotry,” he told this correspondent at his clinic.In the Saving Face, says the surgeon, we have tried to highlight the true nature and manifestation of such violence against helpless women of our society and to stress the message that we should learn from our mistakes and weaknesses and be brave enough to confront the challenges.
“Progressive societies evolve and learn from their mistakes and don’t shy away from their social problems and injustices but correct and wow never to let it happen again. The whole world is watching us, the best we can do it to own the problem and address it in a meaningful way and move and not pay attention towards the conspiracy theories,” he said rubbishing the view in some circles that the award-winning documentary shows only the darker side of Pakistan.
‘Saving Face’ begins with Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy interviewing Zakia, a victim of an acid attack, and introduces another acid attack victim, Rukhsana, who was attacked by her in-laws. It ends with Zakia getting her face back after a successful operation by Dr Jawad and Rukshana giving birth to a baby boy.
Dr Jawad shared his joy seeing them happy and getting some of their lost features back when they had lost all hope: “I was not saving their faces only. By returning them back there dignity I was saving my own face as I am also a part of this cruel society which has failed to protect and look after these women.”
He praised the efforts made by Pakistani government in tackling the problem. He mentioned the bill this government has passed and especially highlighted the campaign of politician Marvi Memon and the help given by Birmingham based UK charity Islamic Help for his project, Indus Hospital Karachi for providing free of cost health care for the patients he has operated since January 2009 and especially Zakia who is the main character of the documentary.
A Dow Medical college graduate of 1984 and a former pupil at Happy dale School Nazimabad School, Dr Jawad started his pioneering work in 2008 after he successfully treated British TV presenter and model Katie Piper, who was disfigured by an acid attack in North London by her boyfriend. His pioneering work in successfully treating also catapulted Dr Jawad to fame in Britain when he was featured in the mainstream media in news and documentaries.
“I had never seen anything like that before but I was confident that I can do such a surgery. Till then I was also not aware of the scale of Acid violence in Pakistan. That experience (of treating KatiePiper) was a turning point in my career.”
Dr Jawad says almost all victims in Pakistan are women, attacked out of jealousy or revenge by men and most of the victims coming from Punjab’s Siraiki belt.After permanently settling in London with his three children and wife, Jawad made a promise to his mother that he will regularly visit her in Karachi and used his Karachi visits to start working locally out of his sense of responsibility towards Pakistan.
Dr Jawad said Pakistan has come a long way in dealing with the acid violence but more deterrents need to be put in place. He says the government support is required at all stages so that the risk of acid attacks is minimised and then the unfortunate victims are not ostracised by the society. “Katie Piper was paid compensation by the British government for the fact that the state failed to protect her. We need strong institutions. Pakistan has state of the art buildings but it needs to invest in human capital. It’s our collective responsibility to work towards achieving that goal.”
Dr Jawad called on the individuals and organisations that are already doing a great job to come on to a common platform “to wow to not only reduce the menace of acid violence from our society but eliminate it completely in coming years InshaAllah.”