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Last Updated: Monday, 4 August, 2003, 23:33 GMT 00:33 UK
Help for Pakistan's acid attack victims
By Sahar Ali
In Islamabad

A chain of beauty salons in Pakistan is gearing up to cater for a new kind of client - burn victims whose beauty treatments will be more than skin deep.

Tehmina Durrani (centre) with Fakhra (right) and another acid attack victim
Durrani (centre) with Fakhra (right) and another victim
An Italian charity, Smile Again, is teaming up with Depilex beauty salons from September to provide reconstructive plastic surgery for the victims of acid and kerosene attacks.

Reporting of such attacks on women is on the increase in Pakistan.

The charity already works in Bangladesh and India where this form of violence against women is common.

Feudal society

"Beauty isn't only about cosmetics and nose-jobs," says Tehmina Durrani, author of the 1994 Pakistani bestseller My Feudal Lord.

Depilex salon in Islamabad <i>(photo by Sohail Nashir)</i>
We want every woman to look beautiful and for her to smile again
Musarrat Misbah, Depilex owner
(photo by Sohail Nashir)

Ms Durrani's book detailed her abusive marriage to Mustafa Khar, once Pakistan's most powerful feudal landlord from Punjab province.

She was his sixth wife and wrote the book after divorcing him in 1988.

Her courage in speaking out about her marriage brought another victim of feudal society to Tehmina Durrani's doorstep.

This one hadn't been so lucky.

Fakhra was married to Mustafa Khar's eldest son, Bilal.

She left her husband after years of abuse but paid the price for walking out on her "feudal lord".

She had acid poured on her face - and says Bilal did it. He is currently on bail awaiting trial.

Increased reporting

Although acid burn cases account for only a fraction of overall cases of violence against Pakistani women, reports of them are alarmingly on the rise.

There were 46 cases reported in Punjab province alone in 2002, up from nine the previous year.

"It could have been me," says Ms Durrani, explaining why she decided to help Fakhra.

Depilex is an organisation that will not only treat her, but will rehabilitate her as well
Tehmina Durrani
Once during their marriage, Mr Khar threatened to throw acid on her, she says.

"I managed to get Fakhra out of the country but you can't take every victim to Italy."

Tehmina Durrani is keen to institutionalise the effort in Pakistan to benefit more burn victims.

Depilex owner Musarrat Misbah says the salon's nationwide network of outlets will enable burn victims to find a Smile Again centre near them.

"Most of the victims are not affluent and cannot afford to travel to Lahore or Islamabad," she points out.

Tehmina Durrani says: "This is an organisation that will not only treat a woman, but will rehabilitate her as well."

She says burn victims need very special care currently not available in Pakistan.

The country doesn't even have a proper burns unit at any hospital.

Musarrat Misbah also says that an environment like a beauty salon can serve as a support group for the victims.

"With a disfigured face and body, a woman does not feel feminine anymore," she says.

Raising awareness

The two women also plan to launch an awareness campaign aimed at minimising the damage caused by acid attacks.

"We want people to know what to do immediately after an attack," says Musarrat Misbah.

She says women are not aware of steps as simple as washing the affected area to dilute the acid.

An acid burn victim recently operated upon in Islamabad confessed she was not even aware acid had been thrown on her.

Zarina Ramzan
It was like burning in hell
Zarina Ramzan

Zarina Ramzan suffered the attack last July.

"I didn't even know acid had been poured on me, let alone that washing it with water would have minimised the damage," said Zarina.

It was six hours later when she reached a hospital in the nearest district headquarter in southern Punjab, that she was told she had suffered an acid attack.

"The doctor there told me if I had washed the acid away immediately, it would not have penetrated so deep."

Zarina has undergone 11 plastic surgery operations.

Doctors at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in Islamabad where she is now being treated say she needs several more.

"At the end of the day, it's all about beauty.

"We want every woman to look beautiful and for her to smile again," says Musarrat Misbah.

Acid attacks: What can be done?
01 Aug 03  |  Have Your Say
Acid attack victim demands justice
28 Jul 03  |  South Asia
Bangladesh acid attacks soar
30 Jan 02  |  South Asia
Patrols against Kashmir acid attacks
12 Aug 01  |  South Asia

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