Published On: Mon, Mar 26th, 2012

Justice for Fakhra Yunus

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Fakhra YounusFaizah Gilani.

Acid attacks have become very common in Pakistan. It is now so common that people no longer take much notice of it. The crime becomes a headline and the victim is dismissed as another number. It is scary how Pakistani society is becoming immune to it all. But the heartbreaking story of Fakhra Yunus can be considered an eye opener and can hopefully awaken the conscience of our society, which appears to be in deep slumber.

To refresh memory, Fakhra was the wife of former Member of Provincial Assembly Bilal Khar. They shared a turbulent relationship, in which Fakhra suffered violence at the hands of her husband. Fakhra belonged to one of Karachi’s red light district where she met Khar in 1998, and married after six months. After being tortured with mental and physical abuse, Fakhra managed to escape from Bilal Khar and decided to live with her mother.

In typical cave man style, Bilal Khar could not tolerate this and on 14th May 2000, he poured acid over his estranged wife, leaving her severely burned. Fakhra survived but was left with a disfigured face. The tragedy, however, does not end there. Fakhra’s family tried their level best to get the culprit arrested, but Bilal Khar’s political background and connections helped him to dodge arrest and managed to abscond. Although Khar was arrested in 2003, he was released on bail and it is not surprising to know that he managed to evade the law from there on.

The irony in all this is the fact that the one person to support Fakhra in her time of need was Tehmina Durrani, who was once married to Bilal Khar. Tehmina managed to persuade the Italian government to grant Fakhra asylum, and to sponsor her treatment as well.  Mr Khar had tried to block her from leaving the country using his political influence but failed to do so. It is unfortunate that Fakhra Yunus had to leave her home country and it is sad that she had to seek refuge elsewhere. However the biggest tragedy of all is that Fakhra lost hope and the will to live which led to her jumping from her residence in Rome.

All that Fakhra wanted was for justice to be served. She wanted the man who had ruined her life to be put behind bars for his evil deed. But she was let down that too by her own people and the governments and leaders of Pakistan from 2000 onwards have all failed her. Bilal Khar’s heinous crime not only disfigured her face, it deformed her entire life. Over a decade of endless treatment and no sign of justice being served, Fakhra felt defeated and ended her life on the March 17th. The tragic story of Fakhra Yunus is not only heartbreaking; it also challenges the current government and its view that the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has done immense work for women empowerment.

The current government failed to take notice of Fakhra Yunus and gave no support to her, let alone justice. Some may argue that Bilal Khar’s affiliation with the PPP saved him from jail and for this reason the PPP remained tight lipped over the matter. This does seem to be a valid argument. But if the government truly believes that it has done a great deal for women then it should have walked the talk a long time ago by making sure that Bilal Khar was put behind bars. Members of PPP often boast of democracy and women’s right being promoted by the government, but Fakhra’s suicide has placed a serious doubt on their claims. The current government needs to give an explanation as to why Fakhra was deserted in such cold fashion.

When Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s Saving Face won best short documentary at the 84th Academy Awards, critics argued that the film was projecting a negative image of Pakistan abroad. But those so-called critics fail to understand that the evils of society need to be addressed if Pakistan is to progress. Turning a blind eye and living in ignorance is an incredibly dangerous attitude to have. Sharmeen’s documentary was difficult for some people to digest due to its sensitive subject, but this film was very much needed. Now that it has received International recognition, perhaps the Pakistani government will finally take notice of the absurd rise in acid attacks that are taking place at an alarming rate. Women just like Fakhra Yunus have to endure the stigma that comes with being an acid victim and only these women know how difficult it is to make a place within society after being scarred for life.

There is also a lot of responsibility on the Chief Justice of Pakistan and not the government alone. The Chief Justice needs to take note of Fakhra’s suicide and swift action must take place in order for justice to prevail. Fakhra has gone but she leaves behind a family that is mourning her loss and that have been left with a feeling of anger and disappointment at the Justice System in Pakistan. 12 years is an awfully long time and why Fakhra is dead while her culprit is living a free life is beyond comprehension. It is the duty of Chief Justice of Pakistan to ensure that this case is not reduced to being a headline. Justice needs to be served so that her soul can rest in peace.

There might also be some people that will feel very little sympathy for Fakhra, given the fact that she belonged to the red light district. Some might turn their nose up over her background. But one must remember that Fakhra was a human being and no one deserves to go through such physical and mental torture. She was a daughter, a sister and a mother of a very young child. She was one of us. It is important to focus on what matters. Her background is irrelevant. She was a victim and a victim deserves justice, and a criminal should pay for his crime. A man that commits a crime should be treated like a criminal irrespective of his family name.

And Bilal Khar needs to be severely punished for others to see and for those men that treat women as their private property to think twice before they hold acid in their hands. There are many women like Fakhra that have had their lives destroyed due to acid attacks and let us be honest, there will be more. But now is the time for the government and for Pakistan’s Justice System to treat acid attacks very seriously and for victims to receive proper support and medical care. There is a serious need for stricter laws so that perpetrators are given tough punishments and not let off the hook.   There also needs to be serious thought over banning the purchase of acid in Pakistan.

Judging by the number of acid attacks that have taken place in recent times, it is justified to say that there is something terribly wrong within Pakistani society. What is worse is the treatment of those acid victims and the shocking fact that convictions are extremely low. A lot of important questions need to be asked about the set up of our society and the mindset of individuals. Answers cannot be found in a straightforward manner and there needs to be lengthy debate over this. There are so many women just like Fakhra that have been let down by the Justice system but this needs to end somewhere. When will we sit up and understand that the acid not only scars a woman physically, it leaves mental scars that are etched in their minds forever.

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