We Are No Longer Alone
Srabonti Narmeen Ali
by the rest of the villagers, Shewli and her elder sister Bubu
sit alone at home. Shewli, a victim of acid violence claims
that she does not feel like going out because people are repulsed
by her face, while Bubu, recently divorced because of dowry-related
issues, says that she cannot go out because people look at her
differently because of the divorce. Both sisters cry inconsolably
as Bubu says, "The fact that we are born women is a fault
pin-drop silence at the auditorium in Hotel Eastern Residence
as the audience watched Amra Ar Eka Noi (Togetherness), a play
written and performed by twelve acid survivors, who wore masks
throughout the play, taking them off only at the end.
succeeded a month-long training programme organised by the Acid
Survivors Foundation and sponsored by the Royal Netherlands
Embassy. The programme was divided into two sections: Leadership
and Performing Arts. Ranjan Karmaker, Executive Director of
Steps Towards Development, conducted the training workshop on
Leadership, Advocacy and Campaign. Ramendu Mojumdar, Managing
Director of Expressions, Ltd and Mamunur Rashid, Chairperson
from Bangladesh Group Theatre Federation, assisted with the
theatre workshop and the making of the final presentation of
the play held on March 3, 2004.
against women happens worldwide," said Chief Guest Margret
Verwijk, Charges d'Affairs of the Royal Netherlands Embassy,
in her address before the performance. "In the Netherlands
one out of four women are affected by violence. In Bangladesh,
however, it is double -- worse. This is not acceptable. We are
talking about your mothers, sisters and daughters. It is high
time that all of us say no to violence against women."
the audience applauded her last statement, Verwijk went on to
explain how the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) is working towards
the prevention of acid violence in Bangladesh. Founded in May
1999, ASF provides survivors with a variety of different opportunities:
medical care (including plastic surgery), access to education,
training for new skills, finding employment as well as legal
advice. Aside from helping survivors to get back on their feet
and make a new life for themselves, ASF continues their battle
to eliminate acid violence.
combat acid violence, the first thing we have to do is to raise
awareness," said Monira Rahman, Executive Director, ASF.
"Our main target group is the youth, particularly men --
it is important to sensitise them against this kind of violence.
We also see that the media has played a big role on our community
and policy makers. As long as the media aids us in creating
awareness on these issues, we learn more and overcome barriers
and teach men that violence against women should be condemned."
giving the male perspective during his address, Special Guest
Ramendu Mojumdar said, "Whenever I come across an acid
survivor face to face, I feel nothing but shame, because I know
that it is my gender and our mentality that has done this to
women. Women suffer so much. And the sad reality is that they
see their lives as abused women as a normal existence. The mentality
is that it is normal for them to be victims of violence. We
have to change that mentality, especially among men."
more and more women are learning to speak out and stand up for
their rights and learning, in the process, that violence against
women is, in fact, NOT normal. This was evident during the Acid
Survivors presentation, in which the entire room was filled
with acid survivors applauding their "sisters." Not
to mention the fact that a dozen young victims wrote and acted
out a play speaking out against violence and making a point
-- that none of them are alone. It is the last scene that brings
this message home…
spends all her time at home, missing her friends and longing
to go back to school. She is scared to go back because of what
her old friends might say. None of them have seen her since
the attack, except for her close friend Bela, who convinces
her to go back to school and continue her education. With great
trepidation she takes the walk to school, flanked by Bela and
her other friend Koli. Once they reach the school, Shewli's
hesitation is evident as she stands at the back watching her
schoolmates play. Koli and Bela never leave her side. At some
point a girl spots Shewli and squealing in excitement they all
rush to welcome her back asking her if she is here to stay.
Her teacher comes out to greet her, saying that she must come
back to school every day from now on, because all her friends
miss her. The play ends with Shewli discovering that her fears
are unfounded and that she does not have to go through this
alone, nor does she have to isolate herself from her old friends…
can play a certain role towards, but the real steps come from
the survivors," said Ranjan Karmaker, while talking about
his experiences in working with the acid survivors. "We
are just helping them find their way. It is important for ASF
to not just stop here, but go further. We must create some kind
of space for women in situations like this."
Rashid shared similar views while talking about his experiences.
"The women in the training programme have worked so hard
to achieve what they did today. They insisted on working during
hartals as well. These women have had their dreams robbed from
them, but they are now being given new hope."
was evident that the young performers achieved more in one month
than many people do in a lifetime. To recreate a painful experience,
share it with strangers, and come out of it smiling is no easy
feat. However, these survivors realise that they must continue
to speak out against acid violence, in whatever way they can.
Every day of this training programme must have been a reminder
of what they had to go through, but they persevered, much to
the pride of their fellow survivors. They watched from the back
and relived every moment with their "sisters" -- hoping
that acid attacks will stop altogether, with their collective