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     Volume 2 Issue 6 | March 17, 2007 |


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Cover Story

From Jhenidah
Surviving Acid

Azibor Rahman

Just when Shamima's aspirations were taking shape and the world seemed full of possibility, her parents shattered her dreams and everything she wanted by forcibly marrying her off to a much older, heartless man. So this adolescent girl went to live with her husband and in-laws with a heavy heart. Soon, her cruel husband would throw acid on her face, disfiguring her forever.

The right side of her face got severely burnt and her skin shrank. One ear and one eye got burnt.
Her beautiful appearance was destroyed in a second.
Shamima is a bold, courageous and self-motivated woman who did not stop trying after getting burnt. Now she is constantly trying to help out other disabled women and make them self-sufficient.

In early 1996, at the age of only 14, Shamima, a student of class eight, was pressured into marrying a 35 year-old-man. The girl's family never thought of the bridegroom's age as a problem. But after getting married, Shamima became very frightened with her husband's sexual advances. After three very difficult days, she came back to her own home. Once again she was to live with her in-laws, but things remained the same- she was afraid of her husband. Shamima's in-laws were not sympathetic towards her and made no effort to make her at home, rather they teased her and said she might have affair. Shamima returned to her home again. Rumors spread in her own village too. In the middle of this war between the two sides, Shamima's husband threatened to attack her with acid for revenge.

The incident happened at about 2 a.m. on September 14th, 1996. Shamima was sleeping beside a window at her father's house. Suddenly her whole face burnt like it was on fire. Upon hearing her screams, neighbors rushed towards her and caught her acid thrower husband immediately at the scene of the crime. Initially Shamima was brought to Kotchandpur Hospital for instant treatment. She was then transferred to Khulna Hospital after a 1-hour treatment in Jhenaidah Hospital. Her face, eyes, ears, nose, shoulder and hands all got badly burnt. It became more severe after not using water. She was brought home after a 7-day treatment at Khulna. As her condition got worse day by day, her father somehow collected 80 thousand taka in order to send her to India for better treatment.

After her return from a month of treatment she had serious infections in her body. The infections took a very long time to heal after local treatment.

Afterwards, Shamima tried to start a new life. She got admitted to class nine and started receiving sewing training. She started an organization named Oikyo Nari Kalyan Shangstha with 43 deprived women of her village, 25 of them physically disabled.


Taking initiative after the attack

They were given training to do sewing and other textile work. These activities are carried out through their own cooperative society. Shamima, president of this Youth Development Department affiliated organization, is continuing her studies at the Open University side-by-side with her official duties. Shamima has, after a long time, taken treatment at the Acid Survival Foundation (ASF). Meanwhile she has undergone four different surgeries. She will, however, need more operations for her face to look completely normal.

Shamima's family has filed a case after the acid attack. The perpetrator has been sentenced to 43 years imprisonment: he is now in jail. Shamima says she wants to further develop her organization.

She wants to encourage others to protest against oppression and learn to be self-reliant. Her message is for everyone but particularly for acid burn survivors as well physically disabled women who are made to feel helpless and useless in society. Shamima realizes that she herself, is just one example of the innumerable acid related injuries in the country.

She will appear for her SSC examination this year. After she passes the exam, she intends to complete her diploma on sewing. Later, she hopes to go on to fashion design. When asked about her Oikyo Nari Kalyan Shangstha, she replied that it is running well and earning a handsome amount. Her products are in great demand in the market so she is happy about that. At present, her products are being supplied to different parts of Bangladesh. Nakshikatha, embroidered shirts, fatuas, three piece suits, saris, bed sheets and cushion covers are all made by Shamima's organization.

Shahanaz, a 2nd year trainee at Kotchandpur Women's College said, “Shamima Apa is very sincere and hard working. She is also very liberal. She teaches us with great care.” Shamima's mother Rokeya Begum said, “My Shamima is all alone. I am extremely anxious about her future.”

Ever since her husband's imprisonment, Shamima has been leading a single life. When asked about marriage, she said, “I will consider marrying someone if he has a great heart and agrees to marry me knowing everything about me and if he agrees to help out my organization.”


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