ISLAMABAD: I kept covering my face with a veil out of habit until I realised I don’t have to do it anymore, said Allah Rakhi, whose nose was chopped off by her husband 33 years ago.
Rakhi, who is from a small village in Gujranwala, was married off to Ghulam Baksh when she was just 13. Belonging to the same clan, Rakhi, like most rural women, had no say in the wedding. She was regularly subjected to domestic violence. “For seven years, he would throw things at me and beat me; it became a routine for me,” said Rakhi.
Life is not simple for women in the village. “We have to make sure our husbands have eaten and until they lie down on their charpoy, we are asked to stay alert and respond to every order.”
One day when Baksh was away, Rakhi packed her bags to leave her husband. Baksh, sitting in a barber shop at the time, spotted her walking to the bus stand.
Enraged, he snatched the shaving blade from the barber and rushed outside. “I tried to run but he grabbed me by my hair and pushed me to the ground,” said Rakhi. “When I tried to get away, he grabbed my leg and slashed my foot. As soon as I fell, he sat on my chest and chopped off my nose,” she added.
There was blood all over.
The villagers started running towards them, so Baksh picked her up and tried to take her back home. “When the people saw me with blood dripping everywhere, they started shouting.”
Rakhi was taken by her mother-in-law and husband to a doctor. Her foot was stitched up, but she had lost her nose. “For five years I walked with a stick till my foot recovered, but even now I cannot walk very far.”
Rakhi was 19 when this incident took place and already a mother of two — a boy and girl. “My little boy would not look at my face. My children don’t remember having seen my face, they grew up with their mother’s face always covered with a little cloth patch on her face and a veil on top of it at all times.”
Baksh was sentenced for seven years for the assault. “At his court hearing, he promised to pay for my surgeries after he is released from prison.” The issue was ‘settled’ within the clan and Baksh was released from jail. However a year later, Baksh divorced Rakhi and took her son away from her.
She remarried a bus driver who helped her raise her daughter. After her daughter’s marriage and when her husband passed away in a car accident, Rakhi’s 32-year-old married son asked her to come live with him. He was still living with his father.
Now Rakhi, her son and daughter-in-law live in the same house as Baksh and his mother. “He still curses at me when he sees me.”
Rakhi’s daughter was in Islamabad when she learnt of a charitable organisation helping victims of acid attacks and domestic violence, the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF). She approached the organisation for help.
Balqees Shehzad, ASF Nursing Care and Rehabilitation Unit said that Rakhi was the first case of this kind handled by ASF. NADRA had refused to give her an ID card and most surgeons had refused to take up her case until Dr Hamid Hassan took up the challenge.
Hassan said that Rakhi’s case was challenge as she had Hepatitis C and many would not take this up. “The operating method used on Rakhi is 400-years-old. Chopping off the nose is a common historical practice in the subcontinent,” said Dr Hassan.
Flaps of Rakhi’s skin were used to construct a new nose for her. “The seven-hour surgery was a success and she only needs occasional touch ups to give it a more realistic look,” said Hassan.
As for Rakhi, “My children and grandchildren are so happy, it’s overwhelming. I feel so strange when I see my face in the mirror.”
“This case gave me everlasting joy. Seeing the happiness on Rakhi’s face is what I really got out of it,” said Hassan.
Rakhi is back in her village now and continues living with her son and ex-husband. “It is my destiny to live with the man who did this to me, but the smile on my face is my revenge.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 7th, 2012.
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