FAKHRA YOUNUS, 1978-2012
Horrific … Fakhra Younus before the acid attack in 2000 carried out by her husband after she left him for abusing her.
Fakhra Younus gave a face to the thousands of Pakistani women who are disfigured as a result of acid attacks, typically carried out by husbands who accuse their wives of dishonouring them.
Younus was born to a heroin-addicted mother in Karachi’s red-light district, probably in 1978. She was 18 and working as a prostitute when she met Bilal Khar, a former member of the Provincial Assembly of Punjab and son of a former Punjab governor, Ghulam Mustafa Khar.
The Khar family is a major political force in Pakistan. When he met Younus, unknown to her, Bilal Khar had already been married and divorced three times and was married to a fourth wife.
Fakhra Younus after the acid attack.
The two married after six months, but, by her account, from the start her husband subjected her to a sustained campaign of sexual, physical and verbal abuse that lasted three years before she eventually escaped and moved back to live with her mother. But her peace did not last long.
On May 14, 2000, she was asleep at home when she heard a man yelling at her. ”I jerked as he held me by my hair and opened my mouth. Because I resisted he couldn’t get me to swallow. But then he threw something on me. … I did not understand what had happened to me.”
She collapsed on the floor, screaming. Her hair had been burned off her head; her lips had fused together; her left ear was obliterated; she was blinded in one eye; and her breasts had melted to the bone. She could breathe only with extreme difficulty. She spent three months in hospital.
Younus’s family sought to prosecute Bilal Khar for attempted murder and the case came to court in 2003. Although four witnesses testified to seeing him enter Younus’s home on the day of the attack, all later retracted their statements. They complained of receiving death threats, but the judge dismissed the charges.
After her release from hospital, Younus found she had become a liability to her family. She and her son were taken in by Tehmina Durrani, a stepmother of Bilal’s and a women’s rights activist who had chronicled ”the Khars’s way of treating women” in her book My Feudal Lord.
In 2001, after some difficulty, Durrani helped Younus move to Rome where, over 11 years, she underwent 39 major operations. By the 38th operation, last year, she could move her mouth and one eye, and her face, though still badly disfigured, had regained some of its shape. By this time she had co-written a memoir, Il Volto Cancellato (The Erased Face).
Fakhra Younus, who committed suicide, is survived by her son, Nauman.