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Acid Attacks: A reflection on the state of Pakistan

March 28, 2012, a Pakistani woman named Fakhra Yunus jumps to her death from her 6th floor apartment building in Rome. Having suffered acid attacks at the hands of her husband, she has now become the disfigured face of the forgotten and marginalized women in conservative Muslim Pakistan. The Washington Post noted that Yunus epitomized the plight of women in the country after Pakistani activist, Tehmina Durrani, author of “My Feudal Lord”, helped Yunus escape to Rome and get treatment for her disfigurement. It is a damning and embarrassing fact that she was forced to seek refuge and treatment in a foreign country because we, as a nation, could give her nothing, no security, no hope, and that in the light of her heart wrenching condition the government of our pious nation could not find it in their hearts to be God-fearing.

Fakhra’s husband, a wealthy and powerful man with political connections to the influential Khar family, was eventually acquitted despite the growing international attention to the case. This incident took place only a month after the first Pakistani Oscar-winning documentary exposed these very same atrocities. Whilst it was seen as a step forward in removing international ignorance about such horrid and malicious acts, this case is an emphatic reiteration of the archaic traditions of our country that give rise to an institutionalized form of patriarchy.

Family members of Pakistani acid attack victim Fakhra Younnus, mourn her death at Karachi airport in Pakistan.

I am not here, however, to delve further into this unfortunate clichéd theme of chauvinism in my society. It has already been touched upon by a paramount number of talented journalists and filmmakers and although I do feel my home movies have a certain Steven Spielberg-esque quality to them, I feel I will do better in laying claim to my own observations. My countless hours of contemplation on the state of my homeland have led me to a more profound and encompassing truth and the central premise of my essay that, in Pakistan, money and status validate injustice and silence of law.

Cases such as that of Fakhra’s highlight an underlying injustice in our nation, proving that the problem is much more nuanced than simply the sexism and bigotry of a male dominated society. Her case was always bound to fall on deaf ears. In a system where corruption is intrinsic, the rich have enough leverage to act with impunity. Money speaks volumes and cash is king when it can force people to turn a blind eye, even to the most heinous of acts. Albeit such travesties do occur in rural areas, we are not talking about an incident behind closed doors in areas where there is little civil law, but one that has galvanized a worldwide audience. The subsequent audacity of our judiciary to treat the case with such disdain is a horrible blemish on the already tarnished perception of Pakistan.

Feeding into this aristocratic culture is the naïveté and gullibility factor of the populace that predicates itself on a lack of education. Whatever little conviction the façade of a democratic Pakistan holds is usually withered away by our political leaders, who look to rig elections and buy their own governments, come campaign time. Political party members often venture into the villages, where the uneducated and downtrodden are offered minimal amounts of cash or compensation in exchange for blind votes. Whilst they refute all claims to such forms of bribery, they lack the political subtlety of western lobbyists to really provide conviction to their fallacies.

The reverence that money holds in our society has created an institutionalized division of social strata analogous of the caste system in India. The elite receive preferential treatment, be it in terms of jobs, health care, security or even our own policing system. As a citizen of Karachi, I have always found it bewildering that at regular police check points, officials will only stop those individuals who drive motorcycles or outdated cars as they try to hassle them for money. The sleeker or fancier cars would spark off electrical connections in their brain that would scream money, which equals untouchable. I am not here simply to criticize as some exogenous variable to this equation, however, I am Pakistani and I am very much a part of the system.

Dr. Marylin Wyatt and Academy Award winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy calling for an end to Acid Attacks at a panel discussion held by the Higher Education Commission

Irrelevant of the patriotism coursing through my veins, I can truthfully say there is good in our people and so there is hope. NGO’s geared towards working for women’s rights such as the “All Pakistan Women’s Association” and the “National Rural Support Program” have been in effect for many years, but as long as they remain under financed, they will fall second fiddle in cases against wealthier and corrupt elements of our society. Our judicial system will somehow need to be revised to phase out the pro class-oppressive members, so that even the poor may experience a degree of justice. Laws do not oppress, people oppress. I do not look to advocate sedition, anarchy or revolution, but I will always whole-heartedly look to catalyze change in an otherwise hapless state. Let us hope the night has already reached its darkest in the story of Pakistan, as we now await the dawn.

–  Fahim Sachak

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