Leave Me Alone

Khaled Hasan

2010 - 2014

Acid violence is a worldwide phenomenon, and the countries with the highest rates of attacks are Bangladesh, Pakistan, Cambodia, Nepal and Uganda. In Bangladesh a country of 156 million people, 80 percent of the victims are women, many of them below the age of 18. It is always their faces that are targeted leading to disfigurement and blindness. In the last 10 years, there were 3000 victims of acid attacks.

Teasing girls, land disputes, dowry, personal jealousy, family and business feuds, rejection of marriage proposal or sexual advances can spur an acid attack. In Bangladesh, acid is easily available and the laws for its commercial use are lax. Nitric or sulfuric acid, used in the attacks, can be bought from the black market for as low as $1 to $5. Acids used in manufacturing industries such as dyeing, cotton, rubber, jewelry and also in school and college laboratories, often find their way to the black market.

There are only a few beds for burn injuries in the government run Dhaka Medical Hospital in the capital. Acid melts the tissues and even dissolves bones. Often eyes and ears are permanently damaged. Many victims have to undergo dozens of reconstructive surgeries to lead a functional life. No funding is available for cosmetic surgery, and most victims are from the rural areas, so they can hardly afford expensive procedures. There is little scope for rehabilitation, counseling and long-term care.

Even though a 2002 law made acid violence punishable by death and imposed a no-bail policy for perpetrators, acid violence continues to be a common problem. Loss of beauty is loss of honor, so women are more often victimized because of personal squabbles between men. My project is a quest to understand what lies behind the acid-burnt faces; what is left of lives that fall apart like a house of playing cards; stories of survival and healing.

Often acid violence is explained as a “South Asian problem,” an aberration, common in an Islamic, conservative society. My documentary work dispels this myth that this is a religious problem. It explores the darkness inside people that allows such violence to happen, the lack of law enforcement and systemic corruption. This story needs to be told because it exposes not only the immorality that causes such horror but also the human spirit that bounces back and seeks healing.

I traveled to different parts of Bangladesh. This initiated my quest for knowing how some are overcome by the darkness that unleashes so much pain.

Why does a society allow this to happen? Who are the sinners? Is healing possible? Can faith be restored?

As a photographer I have been documenting underprivileged communities and social injustice in Bangladesh for the last five years. My reportage shows the horrors of acid attacks, while sensitively portraying the victims as survivors. My objective is to show the damage caused by acid culture, which has left thousands impaired, burnt and maimed for life.

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  • Bangladesh has one of the world’s highest rates of early marriage. According to UNICEF 66% girls married below 18 years. Early marriage is seen as a way to “protect” a girl’s sexuality in an unsafe environment. Most of the village girls like Suraiya (15) is getting married without any idea about married life. Consequently they become slave of the family and society.

  • Nurun Nahar wants to move like smoke because there is a shadow of pain and curse following her, battered bodies and faces. Her world collapses. Darkness swallows her, nibbling away her dreams, her hopes and every inch of normalcy.

  • In January 2010, 23-year-old Nasrin’s husband attacked her with acid. He was not satisfied with the dowry her parents paid. After two years of marriage, he wanted more. Her mother, who sells rice cakes to earn a living, refused to pay more. Her husband beat her up till she fainted, and when she was unconscious he threw acid on her face, neck and hands.

  • This newborn baby’s mother was not married. When the father found out he attacked her with acid and she died during childbirth. This baby girl is now alone and could be sent to an orphanage. Who knows her future destination?

  • From the childhood, girls cannot imagine how their future will be. They are unaware of all kind of social disparity and discrimination against women rather dreamed about a better life like fairytale.

  • Nargis is still quite unaware of the difficulties she is going to have to face in her life because of the incident; but one thing she is irritated about is being called burnt girl by her friends.

  • Most victims are women; many of them are below the age of 18 - a time for teenage dreams. They want to look pretty and be attractive. But acid can sometimes push them into a dark, brutal, confusing hell.

  • Always, the faces of the women are targeted. There can be many reasons such as Eve teasing, land disputes, dowry, personal jealousy, family and business feuds, rejection of marriage proposal or sexual advances.

  • Poly’s husband wanted money from her family to go abroad and get a new job. Her 80-year-old father had no money to pay. One day, he beat her black and blue. So, her parents registered a domestic violence case. A few weeks later, her husband and her father-in-law attacked her with acid to intimidate her into withdrawing the case.

  • Her husband maltreated Doli, just 10 days after her marriage, for dowry money (Tk. 2000). She went to her brother for the amount. Not only did her brother refuse to give her money but also threw acid on his own sister. In turn, Doli’s husband rejected her. Now Doli wears the scars and suffers the pain of this pathetic story. The question is; where will she live?

  • Ayesha (11) is as beautiful as her name, growing up with her dream spontaneously. She reads in class four and loves to play Gollachut and Ludu. She also likes to draw pictures and to write her own name in her hand. Ayesha wants to be a doctor and to treat her patients for free.

  • She hates mirror, as she did not able to get rid from the trauma yet, but loved to see herself in the mirror in her past. Acid survivors, who were neglected from their society, are always passing their time in a traumatized situation.

  • As a Muslim, she always preferred to wear Burkha. In some cases, to avoid eve teasing and maintaining their social security girls prefer to wear Burkha. But nobody ensure her social security though she is covering herself to avoid violence.

  • Bulu Begum (25), she was dreaming one summer night. Suddenly, acid interrupted her dream and devastated her life. The issue was all too common; a land and property dispute with a relative. Now the price of her suffering goes beyond land and property.

  • Beauty is her right. Her choice. Her wish. Her dream. Because she is woman. Violence against women is common in Bangladesh and acid attacks are one of the most common forms of violence in rural areas.