Fakhra Yunus was a Pakistani woman who, from the very beginning of her life till the very end, was marginalized by society. She worked as a prostitute in Karachi until she married Bilal Khar, the son of Punjab’s great feudal, and ex-chief minister, Ghulam Mustafa Khar. The fairy-tale marriage that Khar had promised her soon evolved into regular beatings and abuses. One day, Fakhra left for her mother’s house, and soon enough Khar came there and threw acid on her while she was asleep. Her hair burned off her head, her lips fused together, she lost one eye and the acid seeped so far down under that it melted her breasts too. Words can not describe what happened to Fakhra – but maybe these before and after pictures can help show what Fakhra was subjected to.
This happened twelve years ago, and changed the young woman’s life forever. After the acid attack, she spent three months in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Tehmina Durrani, who had previously been married to Bilal Khar’s father, helped Fakhra gain some public attention. The Pakistani government, however, wasn’t bothered. They even tried to stop her from leaving the country, claiming she would disgrace the country abroad. Bilal Khar went free after being acquitted, which many believe was due to his powerful status. The Pakistani people turned their faces in disgust from this disfigured woman, and the Pakistani government offered no relief. Tehmina Durrani managed to get Fakhra asylum in Italy, where she underwent about 38 surgeries, received acceptance from the Italian people and lived for the rest of her life. So why, after twelve years, is she suddenly in the news? It is because she committed suicide a few weeks back, and as Durrani said:
Fakhra died again to remind the world that she had lived.
Why did our society point fingers at the woman who was subjected to the torture? How can one even think that being a prostitute may have justified what happened to her? In Pakistan, people scrutinized the victim instead of the accused. Our current foreign minister(who also happens to be Bilal Khar’s cousin) took a Birkin bag to India and that got more media attention, the world over, than the injustices that Fakhra endured. Why? Have we become so materialistic that we like to wipe out from our sight anything that we find ‘revolting’ and replace it with images of beauty? Do we like to live disillusioned lives? Is it a way for us to escape our guilt, or have we become so inhumane that there was no guilt to begin with?
Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s Oscar win was celebrated by all Pakistanis, but did we pay a visit to what was actually the subject of her documentary? It was acid attacks. We do see new laws being passed to criminalize acid attacks, but what we need to see is implementation of these laws, regulation of acid sale and usage, and strong public pressure against this form of barbarism.
Fakhra is not alone. Every year, hundreds of people(mainly women) are subjected to acid violence in Pakistan. We can’t allow more Bilal Khars to come into existence, and we can’t let the ones that already exist roam the streets of Pakistan scot-free. Pakistan needs to wake up, and set its priorities straight. Does our silence not make us complacent in the crimes that were carried out against Fakhra? Speak out against acid violence, write to your representatives to take up the issue in the National Assembly, educate others, do something. We abandoned Fakhra once, lets not do it again.