The-strange-face-in-the-mirror: Acidic agony in Kashmir

As court finally framed charges against the two accused persons involved in the recent acid attack on a young girl in Srinagar, the verdict has now shifted focus to the post-assault life of acid attack survivors.

Kounsar (not her real name) quietly retired to her room and stared at the strange-face-in-the-mirror. The news of yet another acid attack made her revisit the year of her torment. The attack driven by the vengeful-huff forever blemished her blissful life.

She took out her headgear and bared her burnt face in the mirror. At that point she realized that life wouldn’t be the same for that 22-year-old girl attacked by her former fiancé turned fiend in Old Srinagar.

“That acid attack case unsettled me for days,” says Kounsar, with an expressionless face. “I could feel the pain of that poor soul, because I’m wearing her shoes.”

On the day of attack, Kounsar was going to give tuitions at Parraypora area of Srinagar. She was cut short and sprinkled with acid. It damaged her face and eyesight. The attacker was the man whose repeated marriage proposal she had spurned.

Amid public outcry, she was airlifted to Apollo Hospital in New Delhi for an emergency treatment. Apart from free medicare, she was provided with a government job in the School Education Department on compassionate grounds.

But a decade later, Kounsar is still struggling with her haunting wounds.

“When I returned to my home after spending a month in hospital, I was scared of myself,” Kounsar recalls. “I wanted to see my face, but all the mirrors in my home were put down. I was depressed and could not get out of it.”

Her family was apprehensive that she could not bear the pain if she would see her distorted face. The attack had damaged one side of her face and rendered her left eye sightless.
“But one day it happened,” Kounsar says.

“I was arranging my clothes in the wardrobe and I got an eye on small wall mirror which my mother had hidden in the clothes. When I saw my face in the mirror for the first time after the incident, I screamed and fainted down. All my family members and close-door neighbours rushed to my room in panic. When I regained consciousness, it was very painful to face everyone around me. I started crying, so did others. That mourning felt as if someone had died in our house.”

In 10 years, Kounsar underwent 10 surgeries at the cost of Rs. 10 lakh. But even then she’s yet to regain her lost eyesight. She also underwent to facial surgery.

“My health is deteriorating after every surgery,” Kounsar says. “I’m not able to walk properly, as my thigh skin was peeled off for my facial plastic surgery.”

Amid distress, her family’s support came handy.

“If I’m alive today, it’s because of my family support, otherwise my relatives left no stone unturned to taunt me,” she says. “Their taunts rubbed salt on my wounds. Some of my relatives even told my mother to get me married to my tormentor because they believe no one will marry me.”

A year after Parraypora acid attack, a 21-year-old law student was attacked with acid, disfiguring her face and damaging her eyesight outside her college in Srinagar. She was pursuing LLB and was in 7th semester. The girl had repeatedly rejected a marriage proposal of her attacker leaving him in a vengeful huff.

“I regret not reporting his repeated advances to my family,” says Saima (not her real name). “Had I informed my family about him, they would’ve approached the police to rest the matter.”

Following the attack, Saima had to undergo 26 surgeries in Chennai hospital at the cost of around Rs. 52 lakh. The attack has completely damaged her right eye.

“But seven years later, my tormentor is still not proven guilty despite being in jail,” Saima says.

“There should be severe punishment for acid attackers because 10 years in jail is not enough. These attackers should rot in jail, so that none could dare to make our lives hell.”

Even though life isn’t the same for her, Saima, as some consolation, got contractual job in JK High Court after the attack. Her term, however, is ending in June this year.

“I’m living my life just for the sake of my parents who has suffered a lot for me,” Saima says.

“I want to become independent so that I can live my life without any support. It’s hard for acid victims to get married and due to which we need to be financially stable to live our lives.”

Disfigured by the same acerbic attack in October 2021, Rehana (not her real name) is now living with her battered face, eyes and back. The minor girl was alone in her Shopian home when attacked by a boy with whom she was about to get married.

“But some dispute frustrated the boy and forced him to do the unthinkable,” says Sajad Ahmad, Rehana’s cousin.

Unlike the city attack, this countryside attack didn’t get attention from the government and other NGOs.

“Rehana has so far undergone six surgeries which has cost her Rs. 5 lakh,” Sajad says.
“Her father is a handicapped man and cannot afford her medical expenses. People helped him financially for the treatment of her daughter. She has to undergo more surgeries to fix her disfigured face but her father has no money. Government should come forward for her treatment, like it did in other cases.”

With mirror finally back to her room, Kounsar stood there for a while as another Kashmiri girl was lately doomed by her tormentor.

“Men attack us with acid and disfigure our faces but they cannot ruin our souls and hearts,” Kounsar says.

“But there should be severe punishment in place, so that none could commit this heinous crime against women.”

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