Acid violence is a particularly brutal form of gender-based violence, whereby acid or other corrosive substances are thrown at people – usually women – with the intent of disfiguring. The problem is prevalent in rural areas of Pakistan, and came to international attention with the Oscar-winning documentary Saving Face in 2012. I visited the Acid Survivors Foundation in Islamabad and interviewed some survivors. The full feature is available at the New Statesman.
Zainab was 12 when it happened. She was at home in her village in Bahawalpur, Pakistan, asleep in bed. Her neighbour’s son climbed over the low walls separating the houses, came into her room, and threw acid on her face.
“It felt like someone had put fire on me,” she says. “No-one could forget that pain. It stays all your life.”
Weeks earlier, the neighbour’s son had proposed to Zainab’s sister and been rejected. He was seeking revenge, but attacked the wrong sister.
Zainab, who is now 19, comes from a poor family, with little money or influence. Rather than go to the police, the family sought the help of their tribal elders, who brought the young man in question before them and demanded to know whether he had committed the crime. He swore on the Qur’an that he hadn’t, and given the potency of the religious book, was released.
“I was scared and I wanted to move,” says Zainab. “I didn’t want to stay there in case it happened again, but all the elders said ‘such things don’t happen all the time’. After exactly one year, he threw it again.”