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.