Acid attacks are quite common in Bangladesh, with news features popping up on dailies every few weeks – the ones that are reported that is; although, thankfully the numbers have dwindled since its peak in 2002, where reported cases amounted to a staggering 496. In 2016, 44 cases were reported, a figure that has remained stable over the past few years.
While photos and articles can provide some insight regarding these heinous attacks spurned by vengeance, greed, jealousy and hate, especially in rural and semi-rural communities, it is next to impossible to comprehend the kind of psychological and emotional trauma that the victims go through.
Hosted by international NGO, ActionAid and in collaboration with popular designer Bibi Russell, the eve of women’s day in Dhaka this year saw 15 confident individuals take to stage in a fashion show that said and did all the right things for a few members of this community.
The parade was led by Sonali Khatun, a victim who has lived with the scars on her face since she was 17 days old. The attack on the new-born Sonali was instigated by property disputes with her family. After 8 operations and three years in the hospital, she proved her resilience, a quality that shone bright on the ramp as well.
Similar property disputes also victimized Asma Khatun and her entire family, including her one year old daughter back in 2008. Ganga Dasi, 40, had acid thrown on her face at the age of 17 after she refused a marriage proposal. Begum who was attacked due to a family dispute in 1995, travelled from the southwestern district of Satkhira to take part in the show.
But another statement made by the program was one that mainstream media fails to highlight owing to its infrequency – females are not the only victims of acid attacks. Among the 15 models for the night, were two men as well. While the attacks are predominantly targeted towards females, in attempts to taking away from them what society deems as their most prized attribute – their beauty, many men have also been victimized over the years – a fact that needs to be acknowledged equally.
The beautifully designed and thoughtful initiative spoke volumes against acid attacks – standing against these horrific crimes as well as standing beside the victims, empowering and enabling them to conquer their scars and move forward with life.