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  Violence against women  

April 10, 2012 17:32      

permalink   Pretty Woman 

Fakhra Younus was an attractive young woman. That's her in the pictures. Take a good look at her face. I don't want you to forget it. If she'd been lucky, she might have become a model.

But Fakhra grew up in poverty in Pakistan, a conservative country run by powerful men.
Her mother was a heroin addict. As a young girl, Fakhra went to work as a dancing girl in a Karachi red-light district. In Pakistan, dancing girl is a euphemism for prostitute.
She did this to support her family. As a young teenager, she bore a son.

hen, at the age of 18, Fakhra followed the script of Pretty Woman.
In 1997, she married a rich client, Bilal Khar. Unlike Fakhra, Bilal came from a rich and powerful family. His father, Mustafa Khar, photo at right, was a former governor of Punjab, Pakistan's largest province. The Pakistani Foreign Minister is Bilal's cousin. I don't have his picture, but you get the idea.

Bilal, photo below, who was in his mid-thirties, had been married twice before he married Fakhra.
Take a good look at him, too, because Bilal Khar is not a nice guy.

After three years Fakhra's Pretty Woman marriage soured. She divorced Bilal, saying he physically and verbally abused her. That turned out to be the least of her problems. 

In May 2000,
two men went in the room where Fakhra was sleeping and poured acid all over her face. Four witnesses said they saw Bilal enter her house that night. Because his family was rich and powerful, the case got world-wide attention. Mr. Nice Guy denied it, of course.

A vindictive weapon against women

When acid comes in contact with skin, it burns through layer after layer, disfiguring every body part it touches. The process can go on for days, inflicting terrible pain on the victim. Depending on the severity of the attack, it can cause gruesome disfigurement. In Fakhra's case, it was horrific. Remember that girl with the pretty face?


This is what she looked like after Bilal threw acid on her. Actually, this photo was taken quite a while after it happened. She looked even worse in the beginning. The acid fused her lips, melted her breasts and destroyed one eye.

"We thought she might die in the night because her nose was melted and she couldn't breathe," said Tehmina Durrani. "We used to put a straw in the little bit of her mouth that was left because [her lips were] all melted together."

Durrani had reason to know how powerful the Khar family was. She had once been married to Bilal's father Mustafa. After she divorced him she wrote a memoir of the marriage titled: "My Feudal Lord."

Because of Bilal's prominent status within a powerful Pakistani family, the acid attack drew world-wide attention. Mr. Nice Guy denied the charges.

Vindictive men use acid to punish women for disloyalty or disobedience. Most acid attacks aren't fatal. The attacker knows this. He also knows the importance of a woman's appearance. It signifies their physical well-being and ability to procreate. Most of all it signals their desirability as a partner. Severe disfigurement can end any hope of future marriage. The attacker takes his revenge by inflicting terrible pain and marking her for life. Her disfigurement also sends a powerful warning to other women. See? It could happen to you.


A living death


When a person's face is disfigured, others shun them. They turn away from the hideous injuries, the sagging shapeless skin. Such attacks are common in male-dominated countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh and many others. Fakhra was 22 when she was attacked, but many victims are younger. The Aurat Foundation, a women's rights group, reports that 70% of the victims are under the age of 18.

In 2011 alone, Pakistani women were the target of 8,500 acid attacks and other acts of violence. Think about it. An average of 23 attacks a day! Because the Aurat Foundation relies primarily on media reports, they believe the numbers are actually much higher. So you don't forget it, here's a before and after photograph. Can you tell I'm pissed off?


No justice for Fakhra


Near death after the attack, Fakhra was hospitalized for three months. Her family rejected her. Once a source of income, she was now a liability. She desperately needed medical treatment, which they could not afford. When the Pakistani government did nothing to help her, Tehmina Durrani, the ex-wife of Bilal's father, became her friend and advocate. Italy offered to help, but at first Pakistani officials refused to give Fakhra a passport. They claimed that sending her to Italy would give the country a "bad name."


Italian officials brought Fakhra and her son to Rome, gave them a place to live and arranged for her son to attend a good school. A Milan cosmetics firm paid for her treatment by Italy's highly regarded reconstructive surgeon, Doctor Valerio Chavelli.


Meanwhile, Fakhra's cowardly attacker was hiding. Police finally arrested Bilal in 2002. But at the trial, the four witnesses who said they saw him enter her house retracted their statements. Prior to trial, they complained of intimidation by Bilal Khar. No matter. In December 2003, the judge dismissed the charges against him. Fakhra was not well enough to attend the trial.

Ten years of pain


Fakhra learned to speak fluent Italian. People in Rome came to know and love her. She could walk freely through the streets without fear of embarrassment. Waiters treated her with dignity and respect. But her road to recovery was long and arduous. Over the next ten years, she endured 38 surgeries. Not 1 or 2 surgeries, thirty-eight grueling operations.


The first few surgeries were particularly difficult. "Her lower lip was attached to her torso," said Doctor Chavelli. "She had no neck, and her eyes were permanently open."


But Chavelli's efforts gave Fakhra renewed hope each time she saw her improved appearance. In 2011, she rejoiced when the Pakistani Parliament passed a law against acid terrorism that mandated a minimum 14-year sentence and a $11,000 fine. But a Pakistani lawyer who works with acid victims believes Pakistan's male-dominated police force and court system may subvert the law. "Regardless of the laws you bring, if you are poor and a woman, you will not get justice from the courts in Pakistan." 


After her 38th operation in 2011, Fakhra was finally able to move her mouth and one eye. Her once beautiful face, though still scarred, had regained a semblance of its former shape.


In one of her last interviews, photo left (February 2012), Fakhra denounced Pakistani men who brutalize women. She said these men should be treated the way they have treated the women whose lives they ruined. She vowed to return to Pakistan and press for justice as soon as her health stabilized.

"When I come back," she said, "I will reopen the case and fight."

But friends feared for her safety, and Fakhra despaired of getting justice. A spokeswoman for the Aurat Foundation said: "She realized the system in Pakistan was never going to provide her with relief or remedy. She was totally disappointed that there was no justice available to her."

"If I don't get back in my lifetime," she said, "promise to take my dead body home."

On February 28, 2012, Fakhra rejoiced when "Saving Face," a documentary about acid victims, won an Oscar, the first awarded to a Pakistani filmmaker, female director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.


But the grueling surgeries had taken their toll. Less than a month later on March 17, Fakhra leaped to her death from her sixth floor apartment in Rome. She was 33 years old.

Return of her body to Pakistan reignites the furor over the case.

Outraged women gathered to protest the violence against women in Pakistan and acid attacks in particular.

I didn't see any protests about it in the United States, but maybe presidential politics got in the way.

  Meanwhile, back at the palace, Bilal went on TV and again denied his guilt, repeating his bogus claim that a man with the same name had done it. 

He even had the gall to criticize the media for hounding him, saying: "You people should be considerate. I have three daughters and people tease them at school." Notice he doesn't have the guts to look you in the eye.


Fakhra's friend Tehmina Durrani said, "The whole country should be extremely embarrassed. [Italy] took responsibility for a Pakistani citizen for thirteen years because [Pakistan] gave her nothing, not justice, not security." Things might have been different if Fakhra had been the daughter of a politician or general, "but who's going to fight for a dancing girl?"

Oscar winner Ms. Obaid-Chinoy said: "I hope the man responsible for this will face justice. The tragedy is that it took a film and a suicide to bring the problem of acid violence to national attention."


Where's the "Justice for Fakhra?"

I admire courageous women and Fakhra had more courage than most. She fought the good fight. Unfortunately, she was born female in a country that has no use for women. Then her scumbag ex-husband doused her with acid and got away with it. I better not hear anyone say Fakhra gave up. Let them walk in her shoes for one day, never mind ten years ... 3,650 days of pain and misery.

See more details on this and other cases, see DARK DEEDS, Volume One


Why isn't her story still in the news? Where's the outrage? The NY Times  is still covering the story, but few others are. CNN reports on the Syrian government attacks on civilians. Why not do a special report on Fakhra and these horrible acid attacks? Why aren't the TV pundits and radio talk shows railing against this mistreatment of women? Do me a favor, okay? Spread this post far and wide. Let's get a "Justice for Fakhra" movement going. Tell me what you think about this. The comment form is there so have at it. NOPD homicide detective Frank Renzi signing off.

 Violence against women   comments (8)

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[ Posted by Sandra McLeod Humphrey, April 17, 2012 19:56 ]
     I tweeted and FB it--that is just so unbelievably horrendous!

[ Posted by Myrna, April 18, 2012 7:24 ]
     So sad. I do remember seeing some of this story somewhere, but as per usual, it's an embarassment to those in power, so coverage is sparse. Guess she should have been the Titanic....then the story would be everywhere you look !!! GGGGGGRRRRRR

[ Posted by laura Kngston, April 25, 2012 1:47 ]
     I will never forget this horrific cime against acid
victim Fakhra Younus I feel anger and rage.
If only her attacker would suffer the same fate !!
I am thankful and grateful I do not live in a country like pakistan where the men can do any
kind of crime against a woman. I have no idea
how to stop these acid attacks and how to protect the women against this crime.

[ Posted by engemi ferreira, April 29, 2012 2:12 ]
     Thank you for your passion about this, attending questions which are otherwise swept under a carpet.We are aware that these circumstances occur in such countries as Pakistan, and yet one forgets as it doesn't happen in one's own country. I also just want to mention the fact that Bilal Khar touches his earlobe in both photo's shown here; it is a sure sign of telling lies. And yes, he might defer that he is touching the mike in his ear, nevertheless, why at that moment?

[ Posted by engemi ferreira, April 29, 2012 2:20 ]
     I still wanted to mention that there should be some sort of global 'LIST' or something to which empathetic people could belong worldwide and which could give victims the possibility of a forum where their stories could be read, seen or heard. It is so vile and horrible that men are able to do these things just because they are men; I know it's no relief for the victims, BUT Karma will get them.

[ Posted by admin, May 19, 2012 10:18 ]
     Thanks for the fascinating comment! Interesting point about Bilal Khar touching his earlobe.

[ Posted by admin, May 19, 2012 10:21 ]
     Re your comment: .. there should be some sort of global 'LIST' or something to which empathetic people could belong worldwide and which could give victims the possibility of a forum where their stories could be read, seen or heard.>> I heartily agree. I also believe that we should take more issue with the mainstream media about their coverage of such crimes. CNN, in particular, which claims to be a global "news" station, but which reports on crimes against women only when there is sensational video coverage for them to play, over and over again.

[ Posted by Mimi, June 06, 2012 4:54 ]
     Im sol sad,, i am a pakistani Woman and I am in tears, this just doesnt happen in Pakistan!! Its all about Money nd power. This makes me Wannna demonstrate!!! In countries like india is the same, its not about religion, its about Money and power-.-

[ Posted by Mi, June 06, 2012 4:56 ]
     And woow. She has gorgeous eyes! Is she balti or something simmilar to north pakistanis?

[ Posted by admin, June 06, 2012 8:12 ]
     Well, she HAD gorgeous eyes until the despicable man threw acid in her face. Then she had only ONE eye, because the acid burned out the other one.

[ Posted by JC Bklyn NY, August 09, 2012 2:48 ]
     One of Fakhra's relatives - male/female - should just walk up to to Bilal Khar and throw some acid on his face.

[ Posted by admin, August 09, 2012 8:02 ]
     Thanks for the comment, JC. While I think many share your sentiments and reaction to this horrible story, I think a better solution would be to have stronger laws against this sort of thing and MUCH better enforcement of them. And some leadership from the United States on the issue would be helpful. Alas, I don't see much of that, either.

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