Blinded by acid attack, but never beaten!

“The acid was spreading through my body and had penetrated deep into my skin, but still the doctors didn’t offer me any first aid or treatment,” recalls Haseena, who was attacked in 1999.

Haseena was attacked with acid in 1999. She lost her eyes forever, her body suffered severe damage, which stole her right to live like all of us. Her attacker spent only five years in jail, and has faded away from public memory. However, Haseena refused to go down in life. She took up a computer course and learnt to stand on her won feet. Now she’s employed, and helping other visually impaired become self-reliant. Haseena narrates her story to Citizen Matters. Over to Haseena.

I was born and brought up in this beautiful city of Bangalore, where my parents and grandmother are settled. Being independent has been my dream from the very outset of my life.

I was pursuing BCom first year through correspondence, while working in a private firm as data entry operator, in 1999, when the fateful incident took place.

My boss Joseph Rodrigues, who was a Corporal in Indian Air Force, made my life a living hell. He had forced his contriving proposal on me for almost a month. I just said a simple ‘no’ and paid the price for the rest of my life.

It was in April 1999. While I was walking on the road towards my office, he attacked me with concentrated sulphuric acid. I stood there, screaming for help.

No one dared to come forward to help me. People didn’t understand what was wrong with me. My body reeked of fumes. For 10-15 minutes, I stood there helpless. After a while, there came a girl who was kind enough to bring me to a government hospital.

No money, no treatment

Doctors there had no clue as to what was supposed to be done with me. I was lying on a stretcher and they poured water on me for 20-30 minutes. From there, I was shifted to another hospital and there they refused to treat me without a deposit of 1 lakh rupees. They refused to provide me even the first aid.

For a middle class family, it’s difficult to arrange for a huge sum like 1 lakh immediately.The hospital staff pushed my family outside insensitively. They made it clear by saying “first payment then treatment”. To this day, I can’t forget how my family begged for mercy and faced humiliation at their doorstep.

I was taken to Victoria Hospital thereafter. The burns ward for women was a nightmare. There were women screaming and screeching for help on the floor and the beds of the ward.

It was Inferno on earth. The acid was spreading through my body and had penetrated deep into my skin, but still the doctors didn’t offer me any first aid or treatment. They refused to touch me. I had 65% burns and 35% depth of injuries, hence had very less chance of surviving. They thought I was to die anyway and there were absolutely no chances left to live.

Surviving the trauma

My family decided to shift me to another hospital, but the current one refused to discharge me. Finally at St.Johns Hospital, I got my wounds cleaned up and bandaged.

For ten months, my mother and father would stay by my bed, day and night. We had no support from relatives. Instead, they asked my family why I wasn’t killed. They never saw a point in me living like this. They suggested euthanasia for me.

However, my parents wanted to see me live. I was discharged after ten months for lack of finance. The print media and broadcast media had raised some funds for me and I was admitted back to the hospital for two-three months.

I had to undergo dressing and physiotherapy twice a day. The doctors charged me 2,000 for physiotherapy and 1,000 for dressing, per day. Since we couldn’t afford it anymore, my mother and sister were taught the method of dressing and physiotherapy by the doctors. Almighty Allah had given my mother all the strength she needed for this strenuous work.

35 surgeries couldn’t cure disability

I have undergone 35 surgeries between 1999 and 2009. The acid attack has taken away my sight and I’m multi-disabled. I underwent surgeries for my nose, skin, eyelids, knees, nerves and every other part of my body, which was exposed to acid.

The skin grafting done during the plastic surgery makes the skin harder and tighter and severely painful. I have to massage my skin with oil and cream continuously. I can’t withstand extreme heat or cold and I’m easily prone to infections.

Major plastic surgeries take two-three months of recovery. Cosmetic surgeries are not affordable to families like mine. My family lost everything including our house, jewelry and 20 lakh in cash. We had to shift to a rented house and people refuse to rent houses to acid attack victims because they don’t want to face hassle from the accused according to their pre-conceived notions.

The only help I ever got was from the funds raised by media and the eye surgery taken up by Lions Club, Punjab. I had to undergo surgeries in Punjab, Chennai and a lot of other places, but my family bore all the burden and responsibility.

Punishment for attacker: Jail for 5 years

Joseph Rodrigues was imprisoned for five years two months on charges of ‘attempt to murder’ and inflicting ‘grievous injuries’. Compensation of 3 lakh was earmarked according to the judgment passed by the Sessions Court, Bangalore.

Till today, the money is deposited in bank and not matured. I haven’t been able to claim the same. The accused got out in 2006/2007 and was at large for the next two years.

‘Grievous injury,’ or an unpardonable brutality?

I never understood the definition of grievous injuries. How could this brutality even fall into the scope of a petty word like ‘grievous? I always reminded myself that I was handicapped for no fault of mine and I had to fight this battle for justice.

So I filed an appeal with the High Court and fought till the landmark judgment of 14-15 years maximum punishment was awarded. Under the same judgment the Victim Compensation Scheme was brought in Karnataka followed by the other states. According to this scheme, I was awarded 2 lakh rupees.

I fought for rehabilitation inclusive of treatment, education, employment, site and self-employment loans. However, the government just established a super-specialty burns ward in Victoria Hospital; I haven’t dared to step inside that hospital ever since my debilitating experience.

Taking my legal battle forward, I also appealed in the Supreme Court, but the SC upheld the HC decision saying that was the maximum punishment rendered.

In 2006, Campaign and Struggle Against Acid Attacks on Women (CSAAAW) was launched and I joined this. The CSAAAW meeting was my first time, stepping outside the four walls after the labyrinthine recovery period. I met the other acid victims, spoke to them and discussed various issues with them. A PIL was filed by CSAAAW for the enhancement of compensation. I helped the fight by raising my voice.

Becoming self-dependent

Thereafter one of my well-wishers helped me join Enable India (Koramangala), an NGO for disabled. I joined a computer course for 1.5 years. I wanted to spend my valuable time productively and learn to become independent.

My parents supported me but the others saw stupidity. My relatives asked my parents of what use the course was to me. They thought of the course as petty and my decision as ignorant. So I was determined to finish this course.

To make commuting easy, my father fixed an auto for me. I travelled for around 60 km per day on my own. I used to sit through the classes from 9 am to 5 pm. I had no stamina and had become very weak, but here I learnt mobility using a cane. My teachers were very supportive and they’re responsible for teaching me to walk on my own. I also had training in life skills and personality development.

Wonderful world of learning

The computer course got me excited. I wondered how blind people used it without looking at the monitor. But the software JOB ACCESS WITH SPEECH (JAWS ) helps the person to listen to the monitor. The monitor is completely voice based. I had never heard of such a thing, but this software could be fed into any system and could be used by the visually impaired.

My teachers often said that, through Internet you could see the world. I was amazed when I sent out my first mail. The school kept me busy day in and out. I used to spend twelve hours in school including travelling; the homework and assignments kept me busy at home.

I tried helping my mother with the household work too. I learnt cooking and I cleaned the house. I wanted complete independence to abate the burden I imposed on them.

Hard work pays off

There was an opening in the government department for a job while I was still studying at Enable India. I wanted to appear for their written exam. The exam was to be typed with a typewriter, so it appeared difficult for me with my ongoing computer training.

My father bought me a typewriter and I had to train myself to type 30 words in a single minute. The exam had a target of 300 words. I used to wake up at 5 am and practice typing. My fingers used to bleed and get stuck amid the buttons, but I never gave up.

I had to manage the exam practice and schoolwork at the same time. But on the exam day, I had typed more than 300 words successfully. I had also topped my computer course at Enable India.

Everyone was negative about my prospective job; this never stopped my mother from posting my job application. Finally I began working as a stenographer. Today my parents are proud and happy.

I did it, so can you!

Today, I also work for blind girls and help blind students to download books from the Internet. I help edit these downloaded books and scan them before the braille print. I organise my time to help the visually impaired achieve their dreams of completing their education.

Since articles about my life have appeared in the media, people are inspired by the happenings of my life. I have tried to save people from ending their lives in a love spate or failure to pass an exam. I have tried my best to counsel individuals, to try giving meaning to their life and not take their life helplessly.

My family has been my support and my strength. I couldn’t have improved my life without them. They are a boon to me. I also regard my dear friend Venu, a lorry driver who has been paralysed since 1999, due to an accident, as my greatest inspiration. To him, I owe my will power and determination.

By the will of the most gracious and blessed Allah, I will continue to walk this path. Almighty has given me the strength to accomplish everything. Women should be brave to face any obstacle in life. I did it and so can you.

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