Acid attacks: What Kashmir forgets and remembers of acid attacks on young women - The Probe

Acid attacks: What Kashmir forgets and remembers of acid attacks on young women

Victims parents speak to The Probe and narrate their harrowing ordeal that left their daughter defaced and scarred for life

On Friday, 4 February 2022, Kashmir’s top-notch stand-by comedian Nazir Josh, in probably the first role reversal of his 50-year-long career in stage and television, recited a poem of his own, full of pain and pathos:

“Suli sontai maswal aas pholaan
Shabnam tas royas aos chhalaan
Tezaban kornas soor lagai
Yeti zaajikh Kashir koor lagai”

Stanza after stanza of this poem is heart-wrenching. It encapsulates the tragedy of a poor tailor-master, Nissar Ahmad Chiloo of Srinagar’s Sazgaripora neighbourhood, whose 23-year-old daughter became the umpteenth victim of a gender-based acid attack on Tuesday, 1 February, at a stone’s throw from her residence.

Nissar Ahmad Chiloo, victim’s father, speaks on how his daughter became a victim of an acid attackNissar Ahmad Chiloo, victim’s father, speaks on how his daughter became a victim of an acid attack

In a few hours, Josh’s video gets thousands of views and pulls 51,000 likes on a social media user’s Facebook. Entire social media, in fact, reverberates with agony, anguish and sympathy for the young woman whose pretty countenance, including both eyes, has been severely damaged and deformed by the splash of a corrosive chemical. Everybody, from YouTube and Facebook to Twitter and WhatsApp, is cursing the culprit and demanding capital punishment for him. Some want him hanged to death at Lalchowk; others demand acid to be splashed on him as he did to the victim.

On the fateful evening, Neelofar (name changed for legal requirement) was returning home after the day’s work at a boutique at Nowhatta, at the heart of downtown Srinagar, when she was attacked by Sajid (30)— who came and escaped on the pillion of a young friend’s scooty. Senior Superintendent of Police in Srinagar, Rakesh Balwal, immediately constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) which swung into action and got Sajid and his two accomplices in the crime arrested within 18 hours. The two-wheeler used in the commission of the crime was seized. An auto mechanic’s workshop, which sold the prohibited chemical substance to Sajid illegally, was sealed.

The swift Police action is widely acclaimed in the valley but not without a question mark—why the ill-fated young woman was not guarded against a possible acid attack when her father had lodged a complaint with the Nowhatta Police Station three months before regarding the threat his three daughters faced from Sajid.

Shaheen, victim’s mother, seeks justice for her daughter

“I have three daughters. Sajid was engaged to my elder daughter. They kept postponing the wedding. Since they were not ready for the wedding, we had to cancel the wedding. I am a poor man. I finally somehow got my elder daughter married off with a lot of difficulty. But after that, he started troubling both my second and third daughter. Whenever my daughter used to go to work, he used to follow her. The boy’s parents would abuse us. They told us that they will burn us alive and harm our daughters. That’s when we approached the police with a complaint,” Chiloo (60) narrated to The Probe.

“He started threatening my youngest daughter saying that if you don’t get married to me, I will deface you. She came back home and she narrated this to us and she was extremely scared. After three days when she was returning home after work, he threw acid on her face. My daughter fell on the street and a few people took her to the hospital. She lost her face, her eyesight and has suffered serious injuries to her arms. I am requesting the government to give the harshest of punishments to this man, so that no other daughter goes through what my daughter went through,” said the victim’s father.

Srinagar’s District Magistrate Ajaz Assad lost no time to provide relief of one lakh rupees out of the Red Cross fund to Chiloo for his daughter’s treatment. Mayor Junaid Mattu offered his one month’s salary. Politician-businessman Altaf Bukhari committed to bear the entire expenditure on her treatment. But a team of doctors who attended to her at Srinagar’s SMHS Hospital are not optimistic of the restoration of Neelofar’s eyesight.

“Almost all her facial area and organs, including both her eyes, are severely damaged. We have conducted amniotic membrane grafting in both her eyes successfully, but there are very bleak chances of the recovery of her eyesight. The blood supply to her eyes is hampered badly due to ischemia,” said an ophthalmologist at SMHS Hospital before she was flown to Tamil Nadu. She is now under specialised treatment at a hospital in Chennai.

Did the authorities also provide her relief of another one lakh rupees, which the female acid attack victims are entitled to from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund since October 2016?

“No, they didn’t, but what does the money mean for me now? If her face and eyesight are not restored, I’m finished. I just want her recovery, nothing more. I have three daughters, but for me, they are my sons,” Chiloo said while explaining how both his daughters’ wedding was fixed in early 2021 but only the elder one’s materialised.

“My daughter is in a complete state of shock. She has been pleading to us to save her. She wants justice. We want justice. This man should be hanged to death. No mother and daughter should go through what we went through. We are poor people. The government should help my daughter to get back to leading a normal life. We are devastated.”

Shaheen, Victim’s mother

The SSP of Srinagar, Rakesh Balwal, maintained that the investigation was “almost complete” and a challan would be submitted to the court shortly. He said that the prosecution would demand trial of this case on a fast-track mode as per the Supreme Court directions to restore the peoples’ faith in the system.

But there are few takers to the authorities’ claim of bringing the culprit to justice. Many cynics believe in the Kashmiri proverb ‘nav kath rozan navan dohan’ (new talk remains fresh for only nine days). They have a reason to be pessimistic. They don’t know what punishment was given to a man who hit a girl with his vehicle and killed her in broad daylight years back.

At least four young women have suffered acid attacks on them in Kashmir in the last eight years. Every time there’s a massive uproar— there are statements and lip service from politicians, offers of support from lawyers, activists and NGOs and front-page coverage in newspapers. But nobody remembers a culprit being sentenced to harsh punishment. So there is no effective deterrent.

The State Commission for Women and Children has been scrapped after the withdrawal of J&K’s special status in 2019. The Union Ministry of Women and Child Development and the national commissions for women and children have no visibility in the Union Territory. Women’s police stations are hugely lacking in human resources, training and infrastructure. The Directorate-General of Women Development exists on papers alone.

Even as, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, there were 156 acid attacks and 45 attempts in 29 States and 7 Union Territories across India in 2019, there was none in Jammu and Kashmir. But the fear of such gender-based violence from jilted lovers and revenge seekers looms large among the young women whenever an attack like this happens. It sends shockwaves across the valley.

One of the recent victims of the acid attack was a 17-year-old woman in Shopian in October 2021. As usual, the pandemonium died down in a couple of weeks, and the family was left to fend for itself. The victim was attacked on the premises of her home. It was only when the family raised its voice on the cold-heartedness of the authorities, following another such attack in Srinagar, in February, that the officers released an amount of 50,000 rupees.

A Government press release on 5 February said: “The District Administration Shopian today handed over a second instalment cheque of 50,000 rupees to the father of the acid attack survivor, Shameem Ahmad Kumar R/O Kralcheck Berthipora Shopian and assured all possible help. On the occasion Additional Deputy Commissioner (ADC) Shopian Mushtaq Ahmed Simnani, said that the District Administration has already handed over a cheque of 50,000 rupees on October 16 last year, immediately after the incident. He also said that the accused Waseem Ali Shah s/o Ali Mohammed Shah R/O Audoora Keegam, Shopian has been arrested by the concerned police station for throwing acid on a girl in the district Shopian on October 5, 2021, and the culprit is still behind bars.”

An audacious acid attack on the daughter of a school sweeper, whose monthly earning was 400 rupees, occurred in Srinagar’s Baghat Barzulla on 3 January, 2013. Riyaz Ahmad Nath, who finished the victim’s life 16 days ahead of her betrothal, escaped with the girl’s mobile phone and cash of 10,000 rupees. He was later arrested, but nobody knows whether he is still under trial, has been awarded a punishment or acquitted by the court. As usual, after the attack in January 2013, politicians issued statements, newspapers carried stories, activists staged dharnas and rallies, and lawyers vowed not to defend the culprit.

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz is an independent journalist based out of Jammu & Kashmir. With 27 years of experience, Fayyaz is a policy analyst and a political commentator. He has extensively reported on conflict – after the 1990 Kashmir conflict – for the national and international media.

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