Will Pakistani acid victims ever be as lucky as Turia Pitt?

Published: June 30, 2014
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Turia Pitt (R) and a Pakistan acid victim (L)

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% 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 Pitt on the cover of Australian Women’s Weekly. Photo: Australian Women’s Weekly

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 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% and that 65% of the victims never receive justice.

The statistics are horrifying, with 50% 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?

When will awareness of other heinous malpractices become more important?

When will our fashion shows include anyone else but the stereotypical beauties?

Why not empower an acid-burn victim by including her as a show-stopper in a bridal couture fashion show?

Why not use this powerful medium to reveal an even more powerful message?

The Oscar award-winning documentary film-maker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy surely awakened some slumbering minds with her documentary Saving FaceProject 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 our country, 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?

nida.shahzeb

Nida Shahzeb

A Canada-based writer who strives to give meaning to life and its quirks. Also suffering from delusions involving a mutant alphabet bite. She blogs at: www.inkriched.com.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Ayesha

    Read an entire blog after a long, long time. Great read !Recommend

  • Moiz Omar

    We Pakistanis don’t have the humanity to do so.Recommend

  • Daniyah Sehar

    Reminds me of a poem by Christopher Poindexter :

    “ I will shed
    all of this
    skin down
    to the very
    bone beneath
    it
    if that’s what
    it will take
    for you
    to come to the
    realisation
    that appearance
    is not what
    makes a human
    beautiful . “

    And yes we should all collectively make these acid victims stand on their feet and give them this confidence , this strength that their beauty lies in their hearts ..in their souls …To me all those who have endured this pain they are courageous and have this phenomenal strength that made them endure . You are beautiful !Recommend

  • Daniyah Sehar

    Reminds me of a poem by Christopher Poindexter :

    “ I will shed
    all of this
    skin down
    to the very
    bone beneath
    it
    if that’s what
    it will take
    for you
    to come to the
    realisation
    that appearance
    is not what
    makes a human
    beautiful . “

    And yes we should all collectively make these acid victims stand on their feet and give them this confidence , this strength that their beauty lies in their hearts ..in their souls …To me all those who have endured this pain they are courageous and have this phenomenal strength that made them endure . You are beautiful !Recommend

  • نائلہ

    In short, no.Recommend

  • Ayesha

    Absolutely brilliant comment !Recommend

  • SHami

    yeasterday i read about the beheadings by the parents of the girl who love marriaged in the presence of urban masses in broad day light in the indian news site and this whole country media didnt even bother to report the incident in contrast to this they were busy reporting “Container Master” .Recommend

  • Prashant

    There are people who would not even read this blog just looking at the picture on it. Unless , we change this attitude of ours, I do not see how our societies are going to make any difference. I fail to understand what kind of men are those who would throw acid on another person. This is an evil of a kind which remains unmatched in its horror. Thanks for writing on a topic which not many would find interesting enough.Recommend

  • siesmann

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

    Mostly?Have you ever heard an acid victim who is a male?It is exclusively female ,and another barbarity on the female gender.And where is the Fatwa against this?Fatwas are there only on subjects that further degrade and persecute women.Recommend

  • Jehanzeb Mahar

    In Punjab, a girl had thrown acid on a boy’s face because he refused to marry her. Also, there have been incidents of men throwing acid on other men’s face. Recommend

  • MK

    Beautiful poem..Thanks for sharing this!Recommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/pages/Voyage-Pakistan/187362474650637 Daniyah Sehar

    thanks AyeshaRecommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/pages/Voyage-Pakistan/187362474650637 Daniyah Sehar

    Glad you liked it ..thanksRecommend

  • mariaimtiaz

    I went through the poem and felt like putting myself in the acid burn survivors boots!Recommend

  • A concerned global citizen

    Turia Pitt was burnt by an illegal “planned burn” which the government of Australia hid. It was no act of nature. The government of Australia is every bit as guilty as the person who threw acid at the Pakistani girl. In both cases, the governments have shirked their responsibility. The Australia media is too embarrassed to report the truth.Recommend