"BITTER SURVIVAL" -Acid survivor in Bangladesh who was fed acid by her husband
“The moment I drank that glass of water, I felt my throat burn from the inside, and seep through my windpipe instantly with horrible pain and all I could think of then was….all I wanted was a glass of water….how could he?.. It lasted for almost 20minutes till the next thing I knew I woke up in my mother’s lap, four days later”
The pretty spotlessly clean nursing home for the acid survivors in Banani, sort of reminded me of Mother Teresa’s home in Calcutta. The acid survivors foundation situated in Banani 21, was the shelter to one of the most commonly practiced human crimes against women in Bangladesh; infliction of acid. Mostly these cases involve property greed within family, husband abuse and even parental abuse.
Name: Poppy Das
Occupation: ECG room attendant in Bazidpur Hospital
Married to: Prodip Banik
Date of marriage: 13th Jan, 2009
Date of crime: 9th September, 2009
Profession: Hospital ECG Attendant
Location: Bazidpur Thana, Kishoregonj, Sylhet
Poppy is the only daughter of her parents, being a hospital ECG room attendant she had just completed her class eight in Bengali medium curriculum. Coming from a family where her father had already passed away as a little child, she and her mother were the bearers of the family. When I asked her what urged her to marry Pradip Banik, she answered; “I didn’t want to marry him, he followed me and harassed me, till I married him because finally I fell in love with him”.
On 9th September, 2009, Poppy and Pradip were already having a hard time in their marriage, but little she knew what awaited her that night upon asking for a glass of water from her husband. Eight months down the couple had been married, the infliction of acid had occurred. How? Upon asking for a glass of water, her husband Pradip Banik handed her half a glass of acid. It is of notice that him being of the profession of a goldsmith, he had the license to possess acid, and hence the easiest mode of torture. Nothing had prepared Poppy for what she was about to experience that night, even upon asking her she couldn’t say a word but stare in hopelessness wondering why.
The situation unraveled four months after a peaceful and loving matrimonial life starting from January 2009. In her own words poppy unraveled her ups and downs of her matrimonial life. The starting was peaceful and the loving couple’s growth being together, till four months later Pradip came to know that Poppy’s father had left her a lac taka to her disposal which she intended to keep and grow for both their life security. When I asked her how she had met him and why did she decide to marry him, he replied saying that they met in a local wedding and sine then he had been following her and trying to court her. Well it worked on her and she was married to him two months later.
What is striking is that Pradip Banik managed to seal his identity quiet well about his previous engagement with other women till four months after her marriage did she find him corresponding over the phone with multiple women and finally a girl called Lipi (fake name) who came clean and said that Pradip had promised to marry her once he leaves Poppy. This did stir a fight within the couple and that lead to four months of mental harassment on behalf of Pradip. As she said, there used to be days at ahead he wouldn’t show up at home and the days that he did, he wouldn’t care to eat, all of this put together created a mental pressure on her for which she started blaming herself for questioning his fidelity.
But neither did she know the main reason why he was being this aloof, by the 3rd month he started asking her for the 1 lac money that she held, and on refusal he just kept getting more persistent. There was no form of physical violence inflicted upon her by Pradip but the mental oppression was torturous. In her words she explained how severely he would ignore her presence and not come home night after night and even the nights that he used to come home, he wouldn’t eat nor speak to her. In her own frail words she tried to explain her pain of not only being a victim of such a human crime but in her voice you could hear the pain of a broken heart.
Till now neither can she understand how come she never saw any of this coming, to her all along it felt as if he was torturing her mentally out of love, even though the fights when he mentioned that he would leave her and harm her she genuinely believed that he would maybe kill himself to put her through worse Undergoing such torment, today she stands alone wondering was any of the sacrifice worthwhile or not. Upon her refusal of giving him the money she had repeatedly asked him the reason behind his demand for it, he always stood with the answer that he needs the money to expand his business.
Whereas when I asked her whether he was facing any financial turmoil in his business she said on the outset it seemed fine, hence why she was reluctant to give the money away, which she had to finally to save her marriage. After two months of lending him the money, she had been asking it back form him, and he kept on delaying providing excuses as such that he will get it soon but never handed her the money till date. She had continued asking him for the money back as she kept emphasizing the fact that she is an independent woman who lives on her terms. Something when understanding the chronological order of the events seems like had been a reason behind his action. As she mentioned din her frail voice; “He never liked the fact that I used to say that I want to be independent”.
When following the events that unfolded till after the incident had occurred, it was found out by the family of the victim’s that Pradip’s sister had gotten married a few days earlier and he had used that money from Poppy to give dowry to his brother-in-law to go to Saudi Arabia and work. All of this made her questions even more clear. Right after her drinking the acid she could barely breathe or feel and kept on shouting for help, and the only person who came to her rescue was her mother, as he lived in the side room of that two bedroom house. Since that moment her husband has not been spotted anywhere. Poppy was unconscious for 4 days after the 9th of September, and during that period it was her mother who had dealt with the consequence, who has refused to be interviewed. Immediately after the acid given to poppy, her mother had rushed over to the Bazidpur Police station, where she had the intention to file the case for her daughter being victimized. In the victim’s words; “My Mother could barely finish her sentence that the police in charge started accusing her of lying, and saying that I had taken the acid myself and blaming it on us for framing my husband. What is exceptionally surprising is that my mother hadn’t even told him that there was acid involved, he could hardly move on to her 3rd word and he accused me of drinking acid on my own to frame my husband. It clearly shows the fact that my husband had bribed him to shun me down and blame the woman in the process.”
I was personally astounded to know her level of analyzing issues and her understanding of women and their rights in this country that the men so conveniently sweep under the rag in the name of culture and religion. As she kept venting her heart out on me, I came to understand that this girl is capable of so much more than she is. She pointed out the filthy manner of bribery that is rather conveniently accepted in our law enforcement. As she says that she and her mother are more than sure that her husband had bribed the cops at Bazidpur thana since they already knew about the the intake of acid before she or her mother could have even spoken of it. I see no other logical reason as to how they were informed either. But the frown in your weary forehead and the boney hands were more than enough, as we all know silence speaks louder than words. The next journey to Dhaka was just another hassle and tormenting experience as she continued to relate to me all that had happened. Four months after the incident she was in Kishoregonj In her house and in and out of the local medical stations.
Her grief over the medical treatment facility for the poor in this country burst out in a gush of tears, for today her state would have may be improved if when directed to the gastro-Liver hospital in panthapath hadn’t made her wait for 4 months just make money out of her then say that this case can’t be handled by them. Yet here we see another major failure of our government’s in securing the basic rights of the people, right to medical. She firmly believes that if time wasn’t wasted by that hospital today she may have recovered a little more than she has. Presently her windpipe has been absolutely damaged with the intake of acid, not even her saliva can get through it, since 2009 up until now, she can’t eat solid and lives on drips. According to Ms Shamoly ( A nurse at the acid survivors foundation ), “ She can’t eat, we tell her to try but nothing gets digested, it just causes her pain.”
Finally after being refused from gasto-Liver Hospital, she had taken the reference of “Abdul Hamid Khan”, ex parliament speaker and got herself an appointment with a famous burn unit doctor, Gopal Dutta who sees patients in greenlife Hospital, Greenroad, where he in turn referred her to Dr.Razzak who too sits in Green road, and a chest specialist. He was the doctor who finally informed acid survivor’s foundation to take her in. till then she has been here waiting for a miracle to happen.
Till late 2010, Brussil Korlet, an Australian doctor from Melbourne Hospital and is inter-plast team had come down for their visit to Acid Survivors Foundation and attended to her, and they had mentioned that the change of the burnt position of windpipe can’t possibly be repaired or fixed her as Bangladesh lacks the tools and expertise to undertake such a complicated surgery and to add to the turmoil, the finance is a question as yet. It involves a great deal of money, approximately exceeding 40lac taka which is absolutely impossible on behalf of the victim’s family to arrange for, keeping in mind the family means only Poppy and her mother.
What strikes me the most is the inspiration I found in her to learn regardless of whatever has happened to her? No matter of it all, she wants to restart her life and work and survive but when I see the disappointment in her eyes it in understandable the aspects where or nation has failed in building a strong morale. The medical and the law enforcement and its failure have yet another time scarred another person in this country in not believing in them.
Yet another woman in this country who has had her life ruined in the hands of the pre-dominant mind construct of the males and the government that has lacked its responsibility. Now this 22 year old girl stand alone at the mercy of the society who lacks to come forward to sustain her life while the ongoing society pays for expensive luxury and she fights life and death. Today she is just about ready to do anything to get back on her two feet besides the physical injuries that she is suffering in name of women oppression in Bangladesh.
When scrutinized by the victim herself there are many variable that came into play in the picture, first most is her gender, and the rest are, the income group that she represents, the religious cast that she represents and moreover is the contribution of the lacking on behalf of our law enforcements and their utter failure to secure the rights of people but instead violate them in return on bribe. Poppy firmly believes that if the police in charge in Bazidpur at the time of 9th September hadn’t refused her and accused her, she would have been able to acquire speedy treatment, more self-dignity and maybe a better life in return. Later on when questioned Pradip’s family they have successfully sealed his where bouts, not returning the money acquired by him from Poppy nor any sort of financial or mental support. This furthermore, has ruined and crushed yet another woman’s life by the cruelty of in-laws and misbehavior of theirs towards a patient, a woman who was fed acid by their own son.
Now that I am almost done trying to gain your attention here is a few crucial facts that moved my nerve, and when it’s recited by a 22year old girl, who has been living on the intravenous for the last one and half year, it gets even more nerve wrecking. Since the 9th of September her husband has been out of scenario, speculation from the victim’s household and local witness that he has illegally crossed the border to the in skirts of Calcutta and apparently as informed by Pradip’s family, he hasn’t been in touch with them ever since.I must bring to notable attention by you readers that, in June 2011,
Pradip did try to contact Poppy from an unknown Indian number and has given her a verbal threat mentioning the following, in the victims voice herself; “Well, I couldn’t finish you but mark my words I will see the end to someone in your family”. In the Spetember 2011, Poppy’s maternal aunt’s husband was brutally murdered by local goons with no subsidiary leads as to the exact reason. As much as Poppy was willing to tell me, that her uncle worked in Brac NGO and furthermore she refuses to discuss with me the alleged murder of her uncle.
The end result of such barbarity, a 22 year old girl, stranded between being yet married to human criminal and fighting for survival. Her windpipe to be replaced not only requires expert handling but also the finance, which is not only a question and unattempt but it has been put forward to many people, sadly not enough to pull her through the entire surgery and recovery process. And if we see it at a contrast of nothing had happened, then today she would have been still working, happily married and with a future to look forward to.
All of this has occurred because, I repeat, our culture, our society encourages women oppression and finds it absolutely justifiable that A MAN SHOULD RAISE HIS HANDS ON A WOMAN, and the list doesn’t end there; The most common causes of the failure to protect women's rights are poverty, lack of proper understanding of the rights of women, weak enforcement of the laws, and above all widespread corruption within the justice system itself. Similarly, if the police in charge in Bazidpur thana hadn’t weakly or more to be precise had allowed Poppy’s mother to file a case against Pradip right away, the entire recovery, survival and capturing process would have been faster and the understanding of women’s rights would have set an example for the area of Bazidpur.
But our country’s law enforcement and the government itself is punctured with the disease called ‘corruption’ which makes it not only easier to sweep women under the rugs of social mal practices but also encourage such crimes to occur in a large scale and with all thanksgiving going to our rigid social morality. Dowries, adultery, rejection of sexual advances, family disputes and vendettas related to property are the main causes of the 2,496 cases of acid attacks since 1999, girls and women between 18 and 34 years are the most affected age group, with 74 cases recorded in 2010.
Poppy was just one the women who fought through the obstacles to come to Acid Survivors Foundation and finally file a case. That is the extent of unavailability of responsibility we see in our law enforcement that an acid victim can’t file a case immediately after the crime has taken place. The above statistics have been the courtesy of the Acid survivors Foundation (ASF), established by British physician John Morrison in Dhaka, Banani, in 1999. What is surprising that in 199, due to the pressure form international organization the women protection laws were passed to protect the acid survivors and immediately that year, we had 76 cases of conviction and it declined significantly by the next year and till now, we hardly find the cases that even go through the higher tribunals of human rights.
In conclusion, what does this girl of 22 have to look forward to in her life? In her own words she says; “My life is over, I have nothing left; now it’s all about if I am alive tomorrow or not”. She can’t orally intake food nor can swallow her own saliva, her body is light as a toothpick that with maybe less than an ounce of meat. It’s true, it’s never easy to live in the expectation that somebody from the society will take a look at you and come forward to help you take your next breath. Who can we blame? The societal mal practices undertaken in the name of religion? The blindness of our society? The failure of our government? The lack of moral and profession responsibility of the law enforcement? Or her mere bad luck? Which one of these mentioned options may seem a possible reason? For all she cares, neither of these reasons are enough to justify her fate as per she says.
Over the course of time, Poppy grew to understand that this is her fate and as she kept on telling me that the law enforcement is weak to protect the rights of women even with the many laws that govern the alleged crimes against women and children. There have many other incidents which had led to her state specially the murder of her uncle which she decided to not tell me for the mere safety of her and her family present. Bangladesh is the only country of those studied for acid infliction such as, India and Cambodia that has adopted specific laws criminalizing acid violence and requiring business users of acid to obtain licenses. Full and effective implementation of the law, however, is still needed.
Although Cambodia has proposed such legislation, it has not yet adopted it, however; India has rejected the need for additional laws to curb the easy availability of acid. Acid violence involves intentional acts of violence in which perpetrators throw, spray, or pour acid onto victims’ faces and bodies. In the case of Poppy, she was fed acid by her husband, making her think that it is water. Acid violence is gender-based violence that reflects and perpetuates the inequality of women in society and as such is prohibited by international law. To eradicate acid violence, governments must address its root causes—inequality and discrimination against women. In the short-term, governments should take the following actions to address acid violence: (a) enact laws that adequately punish perpetrators of attacks and limit the easy availability of acid, (b) enforce and implement those laws, and (c) provide redress to victims, including compensation for healthcare costs.
Bangladesh is the only country among the three countries that are usually studied to adopt specific criminal laws and procedures relating to acid attacks and to enact particular laws to curb the easy availability of acid. Neither Cambodia nor India has adopted such legislation. Since Bangladesh adopted those laws in 2002, the rate of acid violence has decreased by 15% to 20% each year, while acid attacks continue to rise in Cambodia and India. But yet the question lies, as how many of the actual recorded cases arrive to the law enforcement when there are so many like Poppy who are turned away in the name of bribe, inequality and mere negligence. In ASF there are many children and women who are faced with these difficulties and hence the points of implementation still stands questionable and its effectiveness.
Acid attacks occur at higher rates in locations where factories use acid in their manufacturing processes. Together with governments, businesses and other industrial users of acid can play an important role in curbing the criminal use of acid. Businesses that produce, distribute, or otherwise use acid must ensure that their activities do not have negative human rights impacts. Companies can contribute to combating acid violence by, among other things, adopting procedures to ensure the proper safekeeping and labeling of acid containers and supporting government and industry efforts to regulate its transfer and proper disposal. Similarly in line with Poppy’s case where her husband was a gold smith and he had the license to buy acid which made it easier as per mentioned above. This is where I stress the point, that the private companies, business play a role in licensing such authority to their workers and curbing the mis- use of such dangerous fluids.
Acid attacks occur in a higher rate because in Bangladesh acids like, sulfuric acid and nitric acid are easily available and in the case Poppy it was sulfuric acid which was fed to her. Even if her husband as told me her and her mother that, he is hidden somewhere in India it is higher unlikely that they would ever get hold of him. Bangladesh, has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).Gender based violence, which is violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately, is a form of discrimination prohibited by CEDAW. Gender-based violence reflects and perpetuates gender inequality and discrimination. Although it is also reprehensible when acid violence occurs against men and boys, acid violence is gender-based violence because it impacts women disproportionately. Poppy remains yet another number in the hidden amount of women who face such discrimination prior and after the act has occurred. Women oppression and discrimination is a deep rooted problem in Bangladesh where, a woman is needed to be substantiated by her family or her husband rather than herself and independent. Most of such acts are inflicted by family itself where it’s not only a social stigma for a woman to file a case against her own family but is also forced to keep quiet and endure the physical brutality of being a victim of this offence.
Acid violence reflects gender inequality and discrimination in society. Often acid attacks are perpetrated against women because they transgress gender norms that relegate women to subordinate positions. Indeed, a significant portion of attacks in Bangladesh occur when a woman exercises decision-making power by rejecting a suitor’s marriage or love proposal or exercising power over their spouse and not allowing them to re-marry.
Acid attackers aim for a woman’s face in an attempt to destroy what many members of society consider to be one of her most important assets—her beauty. Similarly in Poppy’s case, she says that when she refused to give him the money left to her by her father he had started to look into other women and finally when she did and asked it back for it, the easy way he found was to destroy her life and her physical appearance that would cripple her in this patriarchal society.
Acid violence perpetuates gender inequality and discrimination. Acid violence survivors face marginalization from society after the attack. Additionally, acid violence creates fear among women in society. Some women may feel that they would be attacked if they failed to conform to traditional subordinate gender roles and that the perpetrator would not be punished. Poppy went on to explain, the difficulty she faces to interact with people and specially to walk freely in the road, while everyone stares at her and how they feel about her presence. She made it clear that she needs not a life of pity but that is what she has to deal with. Every time an offence like this occurs, it’s a red flag to the rest of the women in Bangladesh society that, there is a penalty to pay to execute self-independence. But strikingly these offences are not just restricted to grass root level women but also, middle class and upper middle class women are victims of this crime.
The duty to prevent human rights violations includes an obligation to enact legislation designed to curb acid violence. States should enact laws that provide for appropriate criminal remedies and criminal procedures to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. Additionally, to combat acid violence, it is essential for governments to enact laws to limit the easy availability of acid. Notably, acid attacks decreased in Bangladesh with the adoption of a law requiring the licensing of all acid producers, importers, distributers, and users. But yet, if a victim like Poppy is returned by the law enforcement then how does her case even force itself to the courts and the human right tribunal. Cases that do not make it in large are swept under the rug.
States should not only enact targeted legislation and policies to address acid violence, but should also ensure effective implementation of those laws and policies. In order to implement such criminal laws effectively, governments should: (a) conduct appropriate investigations of acid attacks; (b) protect victims from threats that could undermine those investigations; and (c) prosecute and punish perpetrators of acid attacks. In Bangladesh, India, and Cambodia, the criminal justice systems not only fail to adequately prosecute and punish perpetrators of all crimes, but acid attack victims in each of these countries also face unique challenges in accessing justice. Additionally, in Bangladesh, the police do not adequately enforce the law requiring users to obtain licenses. As a result, many users, including businesses, use acid without obtaining licenses. Hence more and more women like Poppy faces the dysfunction of the law and pay the price with their lives.
A State’s due diligence obligation includes providing redress to victims for the human rights violations they have suffered. Redress can include rehabilitation of victims and monetary compensation. Many acid violence survivors must undergo numerous complicated surgical procedures. These medical procedures are very costly and require specialized expertise and facilities. Governments should provide adequate healthcare in government facilities to victims, and, where this is not available, the government should pay the expenses for necessary treatment at private health facilities.
Few healthcare professionals in government facilities in Bangladesh, are trained in proper first aid response to acid burns, and few specialized facilities to adequately treat acid burns are available in government hospitals. Additionally, redress for acid attack victims should include compensation if they are unable to work. Most survivors in these countries do not receive adequate healthcare or monetary compensation from their governments.
In Bangladesh there are not more than three to four places where acid and burn victims are taken and from there the most active are Acid Survivors Foundation and Durjoy. Which is, clearly not enough as they are not government funded but reply on donation and the stakeholders to donate .Burn medical facility is a very expensive procedure and we lack the proper medical equipment to see to these victims, often they are left with nothing but a scar face and life lived of society’s pity.
None of the studied countries maintain national statistics on acid attacks. In Bangladesh and Cambodia, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have gathered national statistics from news reports and hospital records. As no national statistics are available for acid attacks in India, we conducted an electronic database search of Indian newspapers. Poppy and many other Poppies are just women who were not even numbered in the statistics till they arrive to an NGO for help.
To eradicate acid violence, governments must address its root causes: gender inequality and discrimination, the availability of acid, and the impunity of perpetrators. Below we provide concrete recommendations that governments and corporations can immediately undertake in an effort to combat acid violence. Governments: In furtherance of their duty to exercise due diligence to prevent acid violence, governments should:
• Enact criminal laws that specifically address acid violence and effectively regulate the production, distribution, use, sale, and handling of acid;
• Effectively enforce and implement laws designed to deter acid violence; and
• Provide redress to victims, including compensation for healthcare costs.
Companies and small businesses:
In furtherance of their emerging duty to exercise due diligence to minimize the negative human rights impacts of their activities, companies that produce, distribute, use, or otherwise handle acid should:
• Assess the ways in which they can reduce the negative human rights impacts of their activities; and
• Support industry and government efforts to regulate the safe-handling, Storage, labeling, transfer, and disposal of acid by manufacturers, distributors, and other business and individual users of acid in order to deter the unauthorized use of acid.
Acid is used as a weapon in the studied countries in part because concentrated acid is cheap and easily available. For example, a bottle of sulfuric acid sells in Dhaka, Bangladesh for as little as Tk. 15 ($0.15 USD). In one study in Bangladesh analyzing victims from May 1999 to 2009, 68% were women and girls. Another study found that 90% of victims in Bangladesh in 2005 were women and girls. A third study of victims admitted to hospitals in Dhaka from December 1996 to July 2000 revealed that nearly 73% were women.
Hence it not a surprise why, Poppy was a victim of this, as the investigation clearly states that upon her constant questioning about the money her husband had made her drink acid to remove her off his liability. In Bangladesh found that 80% of the attacks occurred in the victims’ homes and 93% occurred at night. Hence it is of no surprise why Poppy’s husband chose a night where she was sick and alone and vulnerable. She as her wife would never dare to question the content of the glass as he knew she trusted him to that extent enough.
Presently, Poppy still resides in ASF waiting enough funding for her expensive treatment which is subjected to how much aid she is given. Any form of donations can be sent to Acid Survivors Foundation upon contact as per the below website; http://www.acidsurvivors.org/news_room.html
For a hobby she writes and as she says all she wants now is to get the treatment, work and support herself and her mother and complete her education.