Her face is burned. Her eyes damaged. Her sense of herself irreparably damaged. Arifa (name changed), 28, lies silent on the corner bed of a ward at Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, Srinagar.
She hides her face from other patients and attendants as her acid-burned face has now made her centre of public interest. Her tragedy gagged headlines as she became the Valley’s first victim of acid attack.
The New Year had just marked its presence. It was January 2, when Arifa, a teacher at a preparatory school, was attacked with acid by two men. They perpetrated this heinous assault because she had refused to consider a marriage proposal from the accused, a man named Riyaz Ahmad Nath. Reveals Arifa’s brother, “Nath has been after my sister for quite some time. It was out of anger that he got acid thrown on her since she was not willing to have anything to do with him.”
On the fateful day, Arifa was on her way to school when Nath, along with another boy named Mudasir, followed her on a bike. He held her arm, threw acid on her and fled from the spot. A group of bystanders had watched the incident unfold, but no one came forward to help the girl – a testimony to public apathy.
“Fortunately, my cousin lives nearby. He had heard her screaming and rushed her to the hospital,” says her brother. Arifa has not been showing any signs of improvement since. She is to be shifted to Delhi for treatment.
“Her face is getting from bad to worse as the acid does its damage. Her left eye is badly affected. She cannot see,” he adds. Had life not turned so tragic, Arifa would have been preparing for her forthcoming engagement ceremony that was scheduled to take place a few weeks later. “She dreamt of being a bride, decorating her hands with henna and celebrating her big day. But all her dreams have been shattered now. The happiness has been turned into mourning,” says her heart-broken brother.
The accused in the case has been arrested by the police and charged under Sections 307, 341, 325, 254 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). The other accused, Mudasir, has denied having any knowledge about Nath’s true intention. “Mudasir is now ready to stand witness to the crime,” says Arifa’s brother.
While this case is possibly the first acid attack on a woman in Kashmir, in 2009, a teenager, Romana Javed, was run over by two car-borne male attackers in the state capital. That incident evoked widespread public condemnation. It shocked people across the Valley, who had never heard of such incidents earlier.
This time, women, social activists and even politicians across the board have condemned the acid attack. Professor Hameeda Nayeem, social activist and chairperson of the Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies (KCSDS), terms the incident as “a wake-up call for the Valley”.
“We need to come out united in protest. The perpetrators of this beastly act deserve the harshest punishment so that it can deter others who may contemplate doing such crimes,” says Nayeem, observing that this heinous crime takes away the right of the assaulted person to live a life of dignity. She also demanded that all cases of violence against women be tried in fast-track courts. Syed Aasiya Andrabi, Chairperson of the separatist movement, Dukhtaran-e-Milat, was also prompt with her response, calling the incident “a barbaric and criminal act”.
Women politicians have added their voice to the general condemnation. While talking to the local media, Mehbooba Mufti, president of the opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), attributed the spurt in crimes against women in the state of Jammu and Kashmir to “corruption and misuse of power”. She felt that the situation is grim and people think that “if you have money or influence, you can get away with even committing any crime”.
According to Mufti, the recent revelation that more than 250 lawmakers across the country are involved in molestation and rape cases is an indicator of how the politicians, who are meant to be role models, have turned into criminals.
Of course, the incident has greatly disturbed young women. Says Maira, a Srinagar-based college student, “This incident has to be taken seriously by government as well as the civil society. It is a signal of our degrading morals and values.” According to Maira, the rise in eve-teasing, molestation and other crimes against women is making every woman on the street in the state insecure. Her friend, Beena, agrees. She believes that such crimes will end only when the authorities start taking them seriously and ensure stringent punishment to the guilty.
Parents, too, are anxious. “Hearing about such things makes me worry about my daughter. One cannot judge who is up to what,” exclaims Masooda, a Srinagar-based homemaker.
The worry is that the incident reflects a larger malaise. Mohammad Sultan speaks for many parents when he says, “If we want safety for our daughters, we will all have to stand by them where ever possible. Things are taking a bad turn in Kashmir too.”