It is not easy living with the pain and scars of a burn or an acid attack, yet there are those who manage to brave past the incident and try to work towards a better life.
Warning: Graphic content ahead
Meet these 8 women who changed their lives around with the help of Masarrat Misbah and her organisation, Depilex Smile Again Foundation after being scarred for life.
When I was young, I was married off against my will.
My nikkah took place when I was nine years old. As I got older, it became very difficult to live with my husband. I had tried to run away several times when I was younger. Eventually, I filed a case for divorce. Soon afterwards, he confronted me and asked me whom I wanted to marry then... perhaps a younger man?
He followed me till the bus stop and kept asking me to look at him. I didn’t want to. He hit me on the head and threw acid on my face. Thankfully, some passersby and, later, my cousin came to help me and take me to the hospital. When I first saw my face afterwards... I cannot describe what I felt.
I came to the Depilex Smile Again Foundation after someone told me about them. They’re helping with my treatment. My former husband ran away... he’s still out there somewhere. I have left the issue of justice to Allah - I couldn’t personally take any action.
You can’t live a normal life after something like this happens. You’re constantly in pain - there’s itching and burning in the skin, especially as the seasons change. However, in 2010 I got married again and have two children now... things are a bit better.
I remember a good life when I was younger. I was happy in my parents’ home. In 1992 I got married but didn’t have any children. I remember one morning I woke up early to fast and was cooking eggs. Suddenly, I felt dizzy and accidentally fell on the stove. It’s been nearly 22 years since the incident. I’ve had many surgeries but lost my eye along the way due to a doctor’s negligence.
It’s been around four years since I came here to the Smile Again Foundation. I saw Ms Misbah on TV. After I met her, things began to change. The new surgeries have bettered my facial injuries. Things are much better than before, even though my treatment is ongoing.
My husband divorced me after my accident. He even went to court accusing me of stealing from him. I live with my brothers now... my parents have passed away. I’ve found a job through the Smile Again foundation - I work at a boutique. I’m good at stitching in particular.
What makes me laugh again? My siblings have little children. I’m alive today because of those children. They don’t judge me...they are happy to see me. And, when they are happy to see me, it warms me from within and gives me happiness. We laugh together.
I ask, ‘Oh Allah, what do you have in store for me? Why did I survive? Is there something I have yet to do for you? Maybe He has a plan...’
One day, a bill for nearly Rs6,000 came to our house. My in-laws called me over and asked me to pay it in one go. I couldn’t. I had four little children to support at the time and my husband was but a cart-pusher. I was in a very anxious state of mind. I didn’t see that there was an exposed gas pipe next to the stove. I turned it on and there was a great explosion.
It’s been seven years. At one point, I was in the hospital for 13 months. By chance, I visited a shrine once and met some people there who worked in TV. They directed me to Ms. Misbah. The Foundation brought me here, they paid for my surgeries... they take me out to hotels to eat. I’m very thankful for them.
During weaker moments, I wonder why this happened to me. I’m alive today because of my husband. He has really looked after me, even though the doctors told him I wouldn’t survive. I’ve forgotten my past - the incident, the worries. I only look to the future now. We work, we make money when we can.
It’s hard to laugh now - there are so many sorrows and worries in life. I had a son though, he used to make me laugh. He loved me a lot. Sometimes he used to say ‘Oh my burnt mother! Go away!’
This made me laugh and then made me cry. I used to forget my sorrows when I looked at him... how beautiful he was. He passed away recently. My joy, my happiness left with him. My beautiful boy. Since my incident, my relatives and friends have abandoned me. They refuse to walk with me at gatherings, always to the side. I have my husband and my daughters now. That’s all I have.
I used to live with my mother and had a little son. I worked a job at a company. There was a young man in our neighbourhood who wanted to marry me. I didn’t want to marry him. I refused and, in response, he threw acid in my face.
Later, I took him to court and he’s in jail now.
After the incident, I lost all interest in things. I stopped meeting people, I locked myself up in my house. Even my son couldn’t recognise me. For a couple of months after the attack, I couldn’t speak. Then, slowly, I started speaking again and my son finally recognised me.
I still don’t go out very often. I only come here to Depilex for my treatments when I have to. A lady at the hospital gave me Ms. Misbah’s number. I contacted her and found that the Smile Again Foundation pays for surgeries for those who cannot afford them. I’m grateful to God - I came here and now I’ve had three to four additional surgeries. Ms. Misbah is a wonderful lady.
I want to work again but it’s hard to find work when I have to take so much time out for surgeries and court cases. My father is no longer with us and I have no brothers. My mother told me to focus on bettering my health and on educating my son.
My mother is my strength. She keeps telling me to face life, to face people, and, that life is not over after such an incident.
My parents arranged for my marriage when I was younger. I had four children. Unfortunately, when my son was three months old, my husband passed away. For fifteen years I did not marry again, till my parents were alive.
I started working a job after my parents passed away. I had to pay for educating my children. Yet, when I started working, people in the neighbourhood would make stories about me. My brother-in-law took responsibility for me and looked after me. When he was about to retire, he asked me to marry again and arranged for my marriage.
I looked after my second husband’s children as well. I brought two of my own children in to live with my second husband. He took a liking to my young daughter. She felt uncomfortable in his presence.
Hoping for the best, I tried to get my daughter married. On the day of the wedding, my second husband created a great fuss. A couple of days later, he took me to another house and poured four bottles of acid on me.
I had no clothes left on my body and don’t know how I got out of there. I somehow made it onto the roadside where no one did as much to give me a blanket. I took a rickshaw on my own and came back to my children. My children did not recognise me.
I stayed in hospital for nearly a year. When I came home to my family, I just took refuge in a dark room. I did not want to meet anyone or even eat or drink in front of anyone else.
Someone told me about Ms. Misbah and that she would arrange for treatment. I came here and have had thirteen surgeries here now. I have not had to pay a single rupee. Ms. Misbah is a gift to us, an angel. She really encourages us to stand up on our own feet and make a life for ourselves.
I have started working again and have even adopted a cat from the ACF animal shelter. I worked at the ACF shelter and fell in love with animals. I’m thinking of adopting another one.
I’ve made a little shop in my home for children’s accessories. It pays for my children’s education. I wish for people to see us like Ms. Misbah sees us. I wish.
It happened in 1999, the second day of Eid. My mother asked me to make a cup of tea. I don’t know whether it was Allah’s will or simply fate but the hot oil used to light the stove rose up and fell on me.
It took time for my mother to come to my rescue. I don’t remember much from the time but I remember a lot of pain.
It’s been three years since I came to the Smile Again Foundation. I won’t lie to you, the amount of respect I have received here, It’s hard to find elsewhere. When I come here on the bus, people heckle me. Even other women taunt me as a burn victim. It really affects you.
It’s an achievement that I’m talking to you now. For the longest time, I didn’t speak to anyone. I find strength in those close to me, my mother and the people here at the Smile Again Foundation. I try to do everything myself now, from buying groceries to going for my treatments. I have learnt resolve from Ms. Misbah - she encourages us to go forth and embrace life. And, slowly, we are going forth.
I had an accident. I was checking water in the water tank. I raised the lid to the tank and it malfunctioned - a great fire erupted from it. The fire covered me entirely.
For seven months, I tried to receive treatment. I just wanted my hands to work again so I could do things again. Then, finally, someone told me about the Smile Again Foundation. Things have been better since and I have had several surgeries.
My husband has also helped me a lot. I’ve been married for nearly twelve years and a burn victim for four years. He didn’t leave me in this state and I’m grateful.
Resolve is important, the willingness to embrace life again. You succumb to fear but then people like Ms. Misbah pull you out of it. I’ve been to restaurants, I’ve been on TV. Who am I to be on TV?
You have to go out into the world, see its colours. Nothing can be accomplished by staying at home, that’s what Ms. Misbah says. I used to be afraid of what people would think of me, what they would say about my face. Not anymore.
Rukhsana (Depilex Beautician)
I don’t remember much about my life before my accident because it happened when I was 9-years-old. There was a gas explosion in our kitchen while I was standing next to the stove wanted to warm up some food for myself.
Before that, I remember little flashes about schooling and so forth. I have pictures to remind me. Yet, I feel like I’ve come into the world like this. The condition which you see me in now, this is after forty-five operations. When I first saw myself after the accident, I fainted.
I was first registered at the Smile Again Foundation when I was 14-years-old. After three months of training, I have been a beautician at Depilex for seven years now. I’m an all-rounder - I work in every department. I’m very happy with my treatment now and I feel that if it was not for Ms. Misbah, the darkness that had entered my life would have remained there.
I tell other women like me, ‘Don’t lose hope.’ I have a medical issue with one of my hands but I don’t feel it because I can still do just about anything with my other hand. I feel that when Allah takes something from you, he gives you more of something else.
An accident is an incident, it can happen to anyone. If, God forbid, it happens to someone, I want to send a message to society not to degrade the victim. I would also include acid attack victims in this. You can make a difference to us with your treatment of us, your acceptance of us. To not look away from us, to not turn us away. What happened to us could also happen to you, may Allah protect us all.
We have endured the pain of what happened to us but to endure ill-treatment continues to sting. Don’t look away.
Photographs taken by author.