It was a summer afternoon when some civil society friends shared an acid burn victim’s ordeal with ‘The News’. Everyone listened attentively and once the story was over, one could hear a pin drop. It seemed those present had felt the pain the teenage girl endured.
“But this story cannot be published. It can put life of the girl at risk. Not only the girl, but the whole family can face trouble if the story is shared. They are poor people and have to live in that area,” said the narrator. The group finally had a consensus to publish the story for the good of others, but without mentioning any names, not even the area where the incident happened.
The unfortunate tragic incident took place during the last week of April 2012. A girl was kidnapped at midnight from her tent house outside her village by three men of influential families. She was taken to the fields where they informed her about their plan. They were about to throw acid on her. It was a revenge of the ‘attitude and arrogance’ that she showed to one of them by refusing his proposal for a sexual relationship.
The girl cried and begged, but they refused to listen to her and went ahead with their plan. Instead of face, they threw acid between her legs. The vaginal area of 16 years old girl was badly affected, in fact melted. They left her there in the fields, crying and screaming for help.
She was taken to Tehsil Headquarters Hospital the next day, where she was given some initial treatment. They did not keep her in the hospital for a long time because of the pressure from the accused party. The accused wanted her to be out of hospital so that the severity of legal case can be reduced. The FIR was registered against three accused men under section 324 of PPC instead of section 336, new amendment of ‘Hurt’ in the PPC that was enacted on December 28, 2012. However, only one of them is behind bar. The rest two are on bail already.
A civil society organisation, Bedari came to know about the incident in July 2012. They were able to contact the family and the girl. The girl was still in pain, despite the fact that three months were passed. The wounds were not fully healed and the girl was unable to walk.
Bedari along with the help from Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) rescued the girl with the help of police. She was taken to the hospital through ASF “ambulance of hope”. The doctors said that she might need the services of cosmetic surgeon. The ASF and Bedari managed to stop the last accused to be bailed out, he is still in jail. The case is still in the court and the influential lord ‘wadera’ is doing his best to reach an out of court settlement and protect the accused. On the other hand, the ASF is working on having new FIR registered under the new law: criminal law amendment 2011 (act XXV) and planning to bring the victim to Islamabad in its Nursing Care and Rehabilitation Unit.
It is interesting to note that the victim has agreed to join the NCRU only after she obtains “permission” from her peer and her brother. The girl belongs to extremely poor, landless, asset-less and shelter-less family.
According to one civil society worker, who is keeping a close eye on the developments of this case, the police are clearly siding with the perpetrators. The concerned police station has visited the victim family many time to pressurise them and to bribe them to agree for a compromise. The civil society workers say that the family is doing well until now, but they are extremely poor and vulnerable and may not be able to sustain the pressure. The accused party is strong and well off. The girl is showing extremely strong character. She has shared with them that she will never do a compromise, let alone forgiving them. She is very clear that if the justice is not done by the concerned authorities, she may go for revenge by herself.
“It is a typical case of violence against women where police sides with perpetrators. The influential pressurise for out of court settlement. The lawyers play double role. The aggrieved family is financially and economically vulnerable whereas accused party is strong and well off and the victim is not the decision maker and depends on the family,” said Bedari Executive Director Saleem Malik.
Since January 2012, 80 cases of acid attacks have been notified to ASF and more cases are about to be notified from DIK and Northern Sindh. The elected representatives in this country only need to act, table and pass the comprehensive bill, which will tackle the investigation, trial, rehabilitation process as well as propose a funding and monitoring mechanism to ensure accountability of law enforcement agencies and service providers and monitor the level of law implementation.
In ICT, the comprehensive Acid and Burn Crime Bill has been supported by 11 cross party MNAs including Dr. Atiya Intayaullah, Shanaz Wazir Ali, Yasmeen Rehman, but it is pending with the Ministry of Interior that has to forward its feed back to the NA so that the bill could be tabled. The bill is lobbied by ASF along with EVAWG alliance ICT, EVAWG alliance KP-FATA, Mumkin Alliance Punjab and has been drafted on the directives of the Supreme Court of Pakistan given to the government of Pakistan in November 2009.
Valerie Khan Yusufzai, the ASF Chairperson said: “It is high time that the government and the assemblies take their responsibilities and shift to the second step of this legislation by tabling and passing the comprehensive Acid and Burn Crime Bill 2012. It is their political, human and moral duty. Right before the elections, the government ought to be judged on what it will have practically delivered to the citizens of the country, the comprehensive acid and burn legislation 2012 will be an indicator to assess how provincial governments really care about their vulnerable citizens,” she said. She opined that Pakistan has taken the initial step by criminalizing the acid throwing. “It is good but not enough as other countries are waiting to learn from us. We must therefore finish our work and to share our experience to serve humanity at large. Acid violence will not disappear from this country without the full legal framework in place.”