This year’s Academy Awards function held at Los Angeles threw up many little surprises. Among them was a previously little known documentary film which was rewarded for its bravado and the way it tries and instills hope in a rabidly conservative society. Saving Face, directed by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, the movie won the Oscar in the Best Documentary Short category, and with this win, got Pakistan its first Academy recognition. Saving Face tells the stories of two acid-attack survivors: Zakia and Rukhsana, their arduous attempts to bring their assailants to justice, and the charitable work of London-based, Pakistani-born plastic surgeon Dr. Mohammad Jawad, who strives to help these women put this horrific act behind them and move on with their lives.
However, even more precious little is known about the film’s main NGO partners Acid Survivors Foundation- Pakistan. They are the real heroes who have been earnestly and tirelessly trying to support survivors of acid attacks in Pakistan. In their words ASF-Pak provides medical, psychosocial and legal support to the victims of acid attacks to ensure physical reconstruction and reintegration into the mainstream of the society. A dangerous and horrific crime, acid attack is very much on the rise in our country too and it is thus necessary to laud efforts like these which try and bring about a change in society.
In an exclusive interview to yours truly Valerie Khan Yusufzai,chairperson of the Acid Survivors Foundation- Pakistan), talks about the way ASF functions, challenges facing them currently and the probable solutions to this vicious crime.. Read on…
Q.1. How and why did you get into working with acid survivors in Pakistan? What bought you into it?
Ironically enough, I visited a beauty parlour and met some survivors, the chock was violent and once I got to know better about acid violence I decided to do something against it.
Q.2 . Being a victim of an acid attack must be torturous. How do you deal with the victims? What is the main motive of your organization?
Indeed, acid violence is one of the worst forms of violence you can inflict to a human being.
ASF is following a holistic approach and provide comprehensive rehabilitation services to survivors of acid attack: we identify them, offer free medical, psycho social, economic support, and legal aid. ASF also works on developing local capacities to organize a better response to acid violence, but mostly the organization aims at empowering the survivors so that they can rebuild their life and get back to their community as autonomous dignified, proactive democratic CITIZENS.
Q.3. The movie Saving Face is grabbing headlines everywhere after bagging the Oscar. As the movie focuses on acid violence do you feel it would help in the decline of such cases after this? What was ASF contribution in the movie?
Well Saving Face was a partnership project between ASF and Daniel Junge /Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, which was useful to highlight the issue of acid violence at a global level, and additionally mobilize local policy makers, but frankly speaking, the real tool that will facilitate the decline of acid attacks is establishing a legal framework that addresses all issues pertaining to the problem of acid violence and that is the Acid Crime Bill 2012 along with Acid Control Act. Without a proper law, a proper implementation mechanism and then a proper or rather culture sensitive awareness and educative program, acid violence cannot be eradicated from the country.
Q.4. More than the medical aid, how much does psychological help do you feel is required for the victims?
Psychological help is essential for the victim’s healing, it needs to be there from day one; the survivor needs it to bear the pain and the treatment, to deal with the disfigurement and their “new” self, they also need this support to envisage a new life project and face all the challenges that will be their lot: the depression, the stigma, the difficulties during the trial, the fear, the threats, the tension of joining back the community and face perpetrators or other community, family members, face/deal with the violence that is still there after the attack. Without this, survivors cannot make it.
Q.5. Yours being such a conservative society how would it be possible for such victims to be inculcated back into the society? Have you had any success in this regard?
We have had many successes but it is challenging and time taking process, it cannot be done without a proper holistic and delicate cultural sensitive approach and also depends a lot upon the safety net that surrounds the survivors and the psychological state of the survivor. Usually once the survivor becomes solid and confident enough to decide to go back and design his/her life project then a further articulation with the community needs to take place; community sensitization, family counseling, socio eco rehabilitation, ongoing liaison, play role with the survivors; a lot of work is required.
Q.6. Pakistan being a relatively smaller country how far do you feel would you be able to promote your organization’s prime objectives worldwide?
ASF is national NGO, so we focus on eradicating acid violence in Pakistan, we are interested in sharing our good practices and our experience so that other countries facing acid violence may learn/get inspired from our work: I have received several demands from Indian organizations that were curious to know about our methods especially for advocacy and lobbying…
Maybe also a regional or worldwide network would be useful to engage with various countries facing acid violence and give room for quicker solutions; many international organizations have already recognized Pakistan experience/courage in addressing the issue of acid violence, I suppose more seminars and exchanges in other forums will also contribute to the cause.
Q.7. The acid violence form is extremely common in Asian countries, especially India Bangladesh and the likes. Do you feel there is a particular reason for this?
I do not know yet, more scientific research needs to be conducted, acid violence is actually a global phenomenon, so is it more prevalent in Asia because people have been willing to act against it and therefore report and expose it more, or is it because there are more cases in Asia? To date, I cannot answer this question.
Q.8. How much has the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill that was passed in the Senate in Pakistan last year, helped in controlling the situation?
It has helped in the sense that acid violence has now been recognized as a crime against the state and those perpetrators, if accused, cannot be bailed out or cannot negotiate their freedom at the expense of the victim as it is no more a compoundable offence. But ASF has always said that this amendment was only step one: if a acid and Burn crime bill 2012 and acid control act are not passed and implemented, acid violence will remain in the country, other issues must be addressed in a comprehensive specific legislation: investigation process, trial, state responsibility to provide free medical and rehabilitation services, funding and monitoring mechanism, regulation and monitoring of acid sale and distribution. All these last aspects cannot be touched through an amendment in the PPC, so there is still a lot of work!
Q.9. How do you plan to aware the common people in this regard and take their help in controlling the violence?
Q.10. What are your immediate and future plans?
Get the acid and Burn Crime Bill 2012 passed at provincial level, help survivors, contribute to establishing the first government led acid and burn rehab and centre in Multan, work on implementation of amendment of HURT in the PPC.