Acid Attack Victim Fakhra Yunus Commits Suicide
Fakhra Yunus’ story reads like a prospective Booker winner from some South Asian English novelist. Born into prostitution, rescued by marriage to a member of a powerful feudal clan, abused until she ran back home, attacked with acid resulting in severe disfigurement, given hope and a new life in a foreign country, dead at 35 taking her own life.
(Photo © Papilot)
A profile of hers on Time from 2001 depicts a strong, hopeful woman as evident from her words below.
“I not only have hope but I also have strength.”
What happened in the last eleven years one can only speculate. The following piece written by Tehmina Durrani of ‘My Feudal Lord’ fame (she was married into the same family!) who knew her personally and was responsible for her rehabilitation in Italy throws some light. It is also a touching tribute. As she so beautifully observes,
“Fakhra died thirteen years ago. Fakhra died again to remind the world that she had lived.”
Will we remember?
(The following piece was originally published in The News.)
The life and death of an acid victim
Fakhra is not a new tragedy… she was always a tragedy. Her life was a parched stretch of hard rock on which nothing bloomed. Her country of birth gave her nothing at all. Her environment of birth condemned her to social unacceptability and disrespect. She was born without any right of choice.
At the young age of 22 an acid attack left her only marginally alive. Her horrific mutilation disfigured her so completely that she was now confronted by open disgust and contempt by everyone who set eyes on her in Pakistan. She also became a liability to her own family for whom she was once a source of income.
I have met many acid victims. Never have I seen one as completely disfigured as Fakhra. She had not just become faceless; her body had also melted to the bone. Despite her stark and hopeless condition, the government of the Islamic Republic Of Pakistan was not in the least God fearing. She was provided nothing… but disdain… and trashed.
At just one single request, a foreign country, Italy, immediately and urgently, arranged for everything Fakhra, and her five-year-old son Nauman required. Despite her extremely disturbing ‘image’, the gracious people of Italy never ever made her feel she was any different to any one of them! In the beautiful city of Rome, Fakhra was able to walk the streets, laze in the parks, and enter a shop or a restaurant in the most prestigious of places, without an iota of embarrassment. In fact every waiter served her more respectfully than he did any other, and every person who looked her way smiled and nodded with respect!
Were the Catholic people practising Christ’s exemplary kindness towards lepers? And were we, the followers of the great religion of Islam, and The Last Prophet (pbuh), still living in the times of ‘Jahalia’?
Despite the fact that medical insurance is extremely costly for the Italian citizen, the Italian government placed Fakhra under the exclusive supervision of one of the most highly reputed reconstructive surgeons of that country. She underwent 38 major surgeries in twelve years! Professor Charvelli’s solemn comment on hearing of the death of his incredible patient was: “I tried to mend her physical scars, but was unable to heal her soul.”
Fakhra was taught to speak fluent Italian, had extensive counseling and assistance from Italy’s social services. But much as she adjusted very well among a foreign people, acquired some semblance of existence, was provided a home from which no one could throw her out. A salary from the Italian taxpayers money… a school with children from normal Italian families for her son… there was not a single day that Fakhra did not pine for Pakistan.
“If I don’t get back in my lifetime, promise to take my dead body home,” were words that speak volumes for her capacity to forgive, and her oceanic generosity of spirit… it also throws a high voltage spotlight on the smallness of ‘ours’.
Fakhra was jubiliant on the day parliament passed the law of life imprisonment against acid terrorism. She celebrated the Punjab government’s vow to get that law implemented in letter and spirit on International Woman’s Day. She was thrilled when the documentary ‘Saving face’ won an Oscar award. But she also felt forgotten. As if this pioneering face of acid violence had achieved her life’s purpose. After 13 years and 38 major surgeries, she gave up pretending to be alive.
The courage it took to reject life was not in the least comparable to the courage it had taken for her to live it. But then, Fakhra Yunas was not just an acid victim. She was a warrior. Despite the fact that the vehicle that contained the spirit of God was so deeply burnt that it had practically melted; that powerful spirit had remained inexplicably and unfathomably inextinguishable. She breathed, inhaled and exhaled that divine breath. Her courage in these last thirteen years will bear witness that she was not so weak as to commit suicide.
Her time had come.
The angel of death had come.
Otherwise, her spirit was too powerful to be put out. It was not a small flickering flame.
Never have I known a human being who has shown more spunk and grit, had such a high threshold of pain, been more accepting of life in any way and any form, and also been jubilant and excited by the smallest joys that came her way. Fakhra died thirteen years ago.
Fakhra died again to remind the world that she had lived.
Allah realised her dream to return to Pakistan, in the only way it was possible for one such as her to be here, among us, the people of this country. Under the callous system that rules the ‘so-called’ Islamic Republic Of Pakistan.
Her countrymen should at least now open their hearts and give her the love and respect she so deserves, even though it shall now be hers anyway. Mother Earth will receive Fakhra with open arms. And I guess that is what she really loved about Pakistan, the earth of this country.
We, the people of Pakistan should forever remain obliged to Italy, the country, and to its incredible people. They carried a responsibility that was ours, a duty that we shirked from… Italy and her people carried our burden on her own shoulders without any sign of tiring out. Indeed it carried the burden of humanity with the spirit of humanitarianism which is the basis of all religions.
We have failed God and Fakhra… but we can still learn a fundamental lesson from this glaring and shameful comparison. With profound gratitude to Signor Maritsi of St Angelica Industries, and to Arsilia who became a second mother to Nauman. To Professor Charvelli for his untiring persistence to give Fakhra renewed hope every time she saw an improvement in her appearance. and especially to Clarice Felli, President of Smile Again Italy, (which annulled the agreement that associated the mother body with Musarat Misbah’s NGO Smile Again-Pakistan). Under Clarice Felli’s care, Fakhra spent some of the happiest times of her life… Clarice was a lady Fakhra loved dearly, a lady who loved her back as much if not more.