Gruesome acid attacks take away victims’ identity, pushes them to merely survive in shadows and bar them from interacting even with their own family. Invariably blinded in the attack, they remain dependent throughout their lives. In wake of the recent acid attack in Srinagar, Shakir Ashraf met the earlier victims to report that denial of justice is haunting them more than the obscure lives
Writhing in pain, a 24-year-old girl, breadwinner for her tailor father and a bedridden mother is fighting for her life on a hospital bed. Her father’s income was modest and her mother is fighting multiple ailments. The acid attack on her has triggered a fierce debate over the inhumanity but that is of no help to the young girl, with whom her family is also sinking.
“Her daily routine was to visit the parlour and return back to home,” one of the family members, who agreed to talk but insisted to stay anonymous. “She was the breadwinner for her family. Having no brother she never let her parents feel that they didn’t have a son. She was very hardworking.” The second eldest of the three sisters, she was working in a beauty parlour in Nowhatta Srinagar.
On February 1, 6 pm her life turned upside down when the accused threw acid on her face when she was returning home. People who watched the attack, saw the victim lying on the road in pain and screaming for help. She was immediately shifted to the hospital as her family was quickly informed.
“She was engaged with the accused two years ago but earlier this year they broke up after which the accused started stalking her. We lodged a complaint with the police at Nowhatta police station after which the matter was sorted and the accused assured he will not threaten or stalk her,” the family member informed. “But we never thought she would be attacked with acid.”
However, her father, now with his daughter in Chennai – where she is being treated for her serious injuries in eyes, has told reporters that it was his eldest of the three daughters who was engaged with the acid thrower. “The boy’s family delayed the wedding and it eventually led to the cancellation of the marriage and the girl was married to another boy,” reports quoting the tailor said. “Since then, the man was harassing his victim issuing threats that if she did not marry him, he will deface her.” The last threat was delivered to her three days back before the attack.
The girl was admitted to the SMHS Hospital in Srinagar. “Two rounds of eye surgeries have already been done, she just has an acuity of light at present,” said Dr Kanwaljeet Singh, the Medical Superintendent of SMHS hospital. “She is stable right now and we are working on her eye. Our team is doing its best to help her regain her eyesight.”
Later the victim was flown to Chennai for specialised treatment. Srinagar administration said they are funding her medical expenses.
The incident has shocked Kashmir. It is about to be a week now but the issue is still being debated and continues to dominate social media.
Police acted quite fast. Within less than 24 hours, the police announced they arrested the main accused along with his two associates. After the incident, SSP Srinagar immediately formed a special investigation team (SIT) with the head of the Women Police Station as a member. In the very first round, the name of Sajid Altaf Rather, a resident of Buchwara Dalgate, surfaced. He was immediately arrested. Rather, according to police investigations, was “stalking her” ever since she “rejected his engagement proposal.”
SIT also seized the two-wheeler that had been used in the commissioning of the heinous crime.
Investigations revealed that the accused had purchased the acid from an acquaintance, Mohammad Saleem, a resident of Padshai Bagh, a motor mechanic who works at International Motors near Durga Nath, also in Dalgate. The shop has been sealed. A third person is also in custody but the details about his involvement are not known. The
Police, at the same time, questioned almost 15 persons who had used social media in creating some adverse commentary on the issue.
It is not family members of the victim alone, almost every Kashmiri wants a harsh punishment to the perpetrators so that there is deterrence.
A number of protests were reported from Srinagar. All political parties condemned the heinous act. Terming the attack as “the worst example of violence against women,” Mehbooba Mufti, former Chief Minister demanded stringent action against attackers.
“The occurrence of such incidents in the Muslim-majority region, which is known as the Valley of Saints, calls for introspection for all of us,” Muthida Majlis-e-Ulema (MMU) said, insisting the attack was “extremely shameful”. The grouping of Muslim scholars urged the leaders of religious, educational institutions, scholars, preachers and imams as well as members of civil society, conscious citizens to call on parents to keep an eye on children and strive for their better upbringing in order to ensure a peaceful social life and a dignified society.
The attack triggered the artists and poets and writers to express their feelings over the gory incident. Nazir Josh aka Ahad Raza read an emotional poem on social media, Yeti Zeajikh Koor (A girl was burnt)’.
Given the fact that the family has modest earnings, the support has started coming. Srinagar Mayor contributed his salary and Deputy Commissioner, Srinagar has extended relief of one lakh rupees. Apni Party founder, Syed Altaf Bukhari has publicly announced that he will bear all the expenses of her treatment.
A History of Attacks
The Hawal acid sprinkling on the face of a young girl was not the first one. Though the heinous crime is quite rare but it exists in Kashmir too.
In the last few years at least five women were attacked with acid. Though society might have forgotten them, the victims still live in shadows, far away from the so-called civilised streets. They might have also forgotten but the mirrors literally prevent particular dementia.
Although in certain cases, the perpetrators of these crimes are in jail but there are a few “lucky lads” roaming free. This is adding to the pain of these victims.
The Shopian Case
A homeless and specially-abled father in Kral Chak Shopian is struggling to arrange resources for his 17-year-old girl who was attacked with acid last year.
Then an eighth-grader, she was attacked by a person near her home in October 2021. Since then, the victim is battling to regain her face but her hopeless father is struggling to meet the expenses of the medicine and surgeries.
“I could not see my daughter in pain, her grievous injuries forced me to get a rented accommodation in Srinagar so that she could get regular checkups,” said Shamim Ahmad Kumar with tears in his eyes.
Kumar is the lone breadwinner of his family. He lives in a shed and works in a government school where he is paid Rs 400, a month since 1995. Apart from his unfortunate daughter, Kumar has a specially-abled son.
“I cannot manage my family on Rs 400 and now the costs of my daughter’s treatment,” said Kumar. “A few months back, we circulated a public appeal for donations and we received a good amount as people helped a lot. That money has exhausted and gain, we are struggling for medicines again.”
The girl has to go through her fifth surgery this week in a private hospital in Budgam and her father is desperately trying his best to arrange the money. “Authorities have not supported me yet but I request them for help,” Kumar said.
Kumar said he has spent more than Rs 15 lakhs on the treatment of her daughter so far and it may cost Rs 15 lakh more. Kumar claimed the first surgery at SMHS hospital could not do much. Then, she was shifted to Budgam for follow up.
The Handwara Case
The last time Haleema (name changed) saw her face in the mirror was in 2017. Later, she never attempted to do it again because an acid attack by her neighbour disfigured it completely.
“After I was attacked I saw my face once in the mirror,” Haleema told this report, crying and sobbing. “Then I locked myself in the washroom and wept, screamed for hours. Then I stopped looking at the mirror.”
After completing her graduation Haleema started pursuing a master’s in Psychology through IGNOU mode so that she could continue her studies and also help her ailing father, a small-time shopkeeper.
Haleem’s elder sister was already married so her father, Ghulam Nabi (name changed), would hope to see the family future in Haleema alone. She was well-read and good looking. She would even help him in the shop. The family was looking for a ghar damad, a husband who lives with his in-laws so that he could inherit everything and adopt the family comprising the aged parents of Haleema.
While the family was thinking about the marriage of their only unmarried daughter, somebody threw a spanner. In 2017, the family was approached by a person for marrying Haleema. The family did not find it suitable and they rejected the idea. The family knew that the person who wishes to marry their daughter is the lone son of his parents so does not fit in their requirements.
“My father rejected his marriage proposal and I supported it,” Haleema said. This, however, did not go well for the proposer.
In April 2017, around noon, Haleema was busy with household chores and later went to the shop to tell the father that lunch was ready. “While returning when I was about to open my gate, suddenly I was attacked with acid and I fall on the ground, screaming in pain,” Haleema remembers. “I was rushed to Baramulla hospital where I was under treatment for more than two months.”
The family also had a modest resource base. Haleema’s father sold a piece of land to fund the costs of her treatment. She has her own regrets.
“After the acid attack in Srinagar everyone is protesting which is good and right, but when I was attacked no one protested. Nobody came to our help,” Haleema said. “If the culprit would have been given a harsh punishment no one would have dared to do it.”
Even though four years have passed, Haleema is still in pain, her right side of the face, her hand is burnt and her right eye has a slight vision. Her right eye was closed for almost a year. Despite all this, she wanted to continue her studies but the disfigured face prevented her from moving out of her home.
“I cannot sit in sunlight as I feel like someone is burning my face,” she said. “As temperatures soar, my face turns black and my eye gets fully red.”
Haleema is still scared of the accused as they both live in the same village. “Whenever I leave for any work from home and if that goon comes my way I change my direction because I am scared of him as he turned my life into hell,” Haleema said.
However, Haleema was lucky. She is now the mother of two children, the eldest is three years old. She was married in 2018, in the neighbourhood. He works in Fruit Mandi. The marriage was done normally. The marriage has made her husband a literal hero in his village for setting an example.
“My husband is a hero for me (because) I would have been languishing in my home if he would have not married me, he gave me a value,” Haleema said. Despite being taunted for marrying an acid victim, he does not care too hoots about the taunts.
“I married her for the sake of Allah,” Haleema’s super-hero husband said. “I damn these taunts. My father told me that I must think if it was my sister who got such an attack.”
The Nowhatta acid attack is the third acid attack in Srinagar. In 2013, a 30-year-old private school teacher was attacked with acid in Parraypora Srinagar. The victim lost an eye and part of her face and appearance.
On compassionate grounds, the then Jammu and Kashmir government appointed the acid-attack victim to the school education department. A local court awarded a life sentence to the acid attacker.
In 2014, a 21-year-old college girl pursuing a law course at Kashmir Law College at Nowshera on the outskirts of Srinagar was attacked with acid by unknown persons. After the attack, he ran away leaving the victim in pain. However, the accused were later arrested and sentenced.
The Pulwama Case
Contrary to the popular belief that it is usually men who use acid against women, mostly to satiate their inflated egos, there are cases in which it is otherwise – though women are not involved. One such case was reported in the summer of 2002 when a young college student was blinded using acid.
Gulzar Ahmad Mir, 42, a resident of Ratnipora (Pulwama) was one of the most loved guys in his college. Now he lives a life as a blind dependent on his brother and other family members. He is a bachelor as nobody is willing to marry a blind. (He told Kashmir Life that he does not want to stay anonymous because he has done nothing wrong and is a victim.)
Narrating the harrowing details, Mir at around 8 pm in May 2002, he was returning home after meeting his friends. Suddenly he was attacked and it triggered an unbearable pain in his eyes. Somehow the people came around and he was shifted immediately to SMHS hospital where the doctors said his eyes have suffered massive damage. He was later shifted to Delhi.
The gruesome attack triggered mass protests in the Ratnipora belt. They took the young blinded man on a cot and demonstrated before the administration. After Investigation, the Jammu and Kashmir Police arrested three persons – Mohammad Younis Mir, Nazir Ahmad Mir, and Showket Ahmad Mir, all his neighbouring living in the same village.
“It was revealed that the accused Younis was in love with a girl but that girl rejected his proposal,” Mir’s brother said. “She had suggested she would like to marry my brother.”
This had angered the boy who was desperate to marry the girl. In a fit of rage, he had used acid to push his “rival” out of the “competition”. The victim was in his twenties and was in college. The attack rendered him blind in both his eyes.
“It has been a long fight, which we are still fighting,” Mir’s brother said. “Gulzar was handsome in our family, he is 42 right now but because of acid burns he looks 80 years old.”
Gulzar, he said, is now fully dependent on the family members. “He can’t leave his room and can’t go to the washroom on his own. He needs help for everything whatever he does,” he added.
Mir is now living in darkness for the past twenty years.
After the attack family was sympathized with by the then politician who assured all help but the family said they have not even received a single tablet. They claim they have met all the expenses on their own.
“When the gruesome attack took place, everybody was sympathetic, but gradually they forgot. Neither the government helped nor any NGO,” the Mir elder said. “Everyone is condemning the Nowhatta acid attack and politicians are showing sympathy, it is a drama and political stunt, after two-three months, they will forget this attack as well. It is her family who will have to bear the consequences.
For Mir’s family, it is not just an economical loss but an emotional crisis. Soon after the attack, Mir lost his father and the family said he was heartbroken to see his handsome son losing eyes at the college level.
“My brother is living a harsh life and the attack is still haunting him,” Mir said. “The release of the culprits added to our trauma as my brother is not able to believe that they have been set free after such a heinous crime.” The family said the perpetrators of the crime were released after one and a half years. “They are enjoying their lives as my brother is unable to even go to the washroom for none of his faults.” The family is not seeking compensation but justice.
A general impression among the victims is that their perpetrators have not been brought to justice. In at least two cases, the accused are roaming free.
In case of acid attacks, the police are booking attackers under section 326A, IPC.
“It deals with voluntarily, causing grievous hurt by use of acid, etc,” Farhat Rashid, a lawyer said. “Whoever causes permanent partial damage, deformity, disfigures, disables, any part of the body of a person causes grievous hurt by throwing acid on or by administering acid to that person, or by using any other means with the intention of causing or with the knowledge that he is likely to cause such injury or hurt, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than ten years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and with fine.”
However, she believes the punishment given to the attackers for such heinous crimes has been modest. “For destroying a life without actually killing the victim is worse than death,” she said.
Recently, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) disclosed that in Jammu and Kashmir conviction rate in crime against women cases is just 3.4 per cent, while the court pendency percentage is 95.8 per cent.
“The conviction rate of J&K is much below in comparison with the national conviction rate, which is 29.8 per cent in crime against women cases and among all Union Territories, the conviction rate is 31.7 per cent which is also higher than J&K,” Ajay Kumar Mishra, Jr Home Minister told the parliament.
It was better earlier but it has witnessed a dip. In 2016, the conviction rate was 4.1 per cent, which went up to 5.1 per cent in 2017, 5.2 per cent in 2018, 3.4 in 2019, and 3.4 in 2020. The court pendency percentage of crime against women cases in Jammu and Kashmir in 2020 was 95.8 per cent.