Acid Attacks Scar Pakistani Women Crimes by Spurned Suitors Frequently Go Unpunished

Article excerpt

Farzana Bhatti's story is not unusual: A spurned suitor, outraged that she was to marry someone else, sneaked into her family compound at night and splashed acid on her face as she slept.

It left her blind and badly disfigured.

"I felt as if somebody threw fire on me," Bhatti said, gingerly lifting her veil to reveal the mass of scar tissue that is now her face. A photograph taken before the attack shows a striking young woman with flawless skin and dark brown eyes.

Human rights activists say hundreds of young women have been attacked with acid over the past few years in Pakistan, where women are frequently assaulted by men who are seldom punished.

Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and a few women activists have spoken out in general terms about the abuse of women, but their efforts have little impact in a conservative Muslim nation where women have few rights.

The acid attacks have a pattern: A young man pursues an attractive young woman and often makes a marriage proposal to her or her family. When he is rejected, he stalks the woman, waiting for an opportunity to throw acid in her face. The acid sears the skin and often blinds the victim.

"It's common for the attacker to say something like, `Let's see who will marry you now,' " said Dr. Abrar Khan, a plastic surgeon in Multan who has treated about 50 acid victims in three years.

When Bhatti visited another victim, Tahira Rasool, who is still bedridden, the women wept almost uncontrollably as they recounted their ordeals.

Bhatti, 21, was attacked on a hot summer night in 1992 as the family slept in their courtyard. Her engagement had been announced hours earlier, angering the rejected suitor.

She is a seamstress, from a poor family, and can no longer work. Her fiance disappeared. Her life is ruined, Bhatti said: "I sit, I sleep. I sit, I sleep. And I cry all day long."

In only one respect is her case unusual: The assailant, Mohammed Salim, was convicted and received an unprecedented prison sentence of 27 years. …

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