33-year-old Fakhra Younus, who was severely injured in May 2000 when her then-husband poured acid all over her, took her own life on March 17. She jumped from the sixth floor of her apartment in Rome, where she had been living to receive treatment. Younus had received surgery 39 times to treat her injuries from the attack, which destroyed her mouth and nose so that she had difficulty breathing. Her body reached Karachi in her native Pakistan on Sunday; philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi, Fakhira’s relatives and human right activists and politicians were present at the airport to receive her body.
Large numbers of women also protested at the airport and demanded that the accused, Younus’ ex-husband, Bilal Khar, be arrested. Khar is a former Pakistani lawmaker and the son of Ghulam Mustafa Khar, a former governor of Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab. He has publicly denied carrying out the attack and said so again on a TV interview following Younus’ suicide, claiming that a different man with the same name committed this violent crime. But Khar has apparently used his political and other connections to avoid prosecution, a too-common occurrence in Pakistan.
Younus met Bilil Khar while she was a teenage dancing girl working in the red light district in Karachi. Khar was in his mid-30s and his marriage with Younus was his third. They were married for three years before she left him, saying that she was abused, both physically and verbally. Younus says that Khar attacked her with acid one night in 2000 while she was her mother’s house and in the presence of her 5-year-old son by another man.
Tehmina Durrani, the ex-wife of Bilal Khar’s father and his stepmother, became an advocate for Younus. She described the acid attack on her as the worst she had ever seen, says The Huffington Post:
“So many times we thought she would die in the night because her nose was melted and she couldn’t breathe,” said Durrani, who wrote a book about her own allegedly abusive relationship with the elder Khar. “We used to put a straw in the little bit of her mouth that was left because the rest was all melted together.”
She said Younus, whose life had always been hard, became a liability to her family, for whom she was once a source of income.
“Her life was a parched stretch of hard rock on which nothing bloomed,” Durrani wrote in a column in The News after Younus’ suicide.
According to the Aurat Foundation, some 8,500 acid attacks, forced marriages and other acts of violence were committed against women in Pakistan in 2011. Younus’ suicide occurred only a month after Pakistani filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy received an Oscar for a documentary about acid attack victims. Younus reportedly feared that she would be forgotten as she had not been profiled for the documentary — let us make sure that she is remembered, for her suffering and bravery to speak out against such inhumane violence against women.
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Photo of a survivor of an acid attack in Bangladesh by DFID - UK Department for International Development