I Am Zakira: I’m An Acid Attack Survivor; I Won’t Cry And I Won’t Die

Meet Zakira, who has literally faced a lot, from domestic violence to an acid attack. Yet, her spirit remains unbroken. Her story in her words.

Meet Zakira, who has literally faced a lot, from domestic violence to an acid attack. Yet, her spirit remains unbroken. Her story in her words.

Zakira is a domestic violence and acid attack survivor. From being victim blamed, to being ostracized to financial hurdles, she lives a difficult truth, but she is determined to do face these challenges with courage, and live a happy life.

Here’s her story, in her own words.

An abusive marriage

In our society, the girl is always blamed and criticized. If she is fat, they tell her to lose weight and become slim. If she is slim, they ask her if she doesn’t get anything to eat. What I have learnt from life is that only when people love and appreciate themselves can they be happy.

I was 17 when I was married off. I was quite naïve those days – a traditional girl who used to wear a naqab and do the namaz without fail etc. The day I regret the most in my life is the day I got married.

My husband used to beat me and assault me sexually. When I used to complain to my family, I was told that all men are like this and that I must adjust. And I did adjust –for 9 years. I had two children with him –both daughters. But he wanted a son. How was I to have any control over the gender of the child?

Not only was he abusive, he wasn’t a responsible husband or father either. He would leave home in the morning around 9, and only return home at 4 the next morning. I eventually got fed up of living like this. I demanded a separation.

This angered him, and he did not come home or contact me for a month. After a month, when he did call me, he asked me to come to my elder sister’s house for a family meeting. In the meeting, among many other complaints, he accused me of having an affair. I was shocked!

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Furthermore, even some of my relatives started supporting him. So finally, I agreed to let him come back, under the condition that he change his ways. He agreed, and for two days he behaved better. The third day, he was back to square one. So once again, I locked him out of the house.

That is when he started threatening me with an acid attack. He would say, “I will make you so ugly, that every time you look at the mirror, you will curse me.”

The acid attack

After one particularly bad fight with him, I went to my parents’ home. However, I was sent back, after being told not to bring my marital problems to them. I had no choice but to go back to him.

So I went back home. We had another fight, in which I ended up telling him that “you can’t be a good man, how can you be a good father? I wish I could kill myself, but I am alive only for my children.”

I wanted to leave him. But he did not want to let me go, because if I did so, it would be a blow to his ego. His friends would ridicule him that his wife left him.

Later that night, when I was sleeping, something hot fell on my face and I started screaming. Initially I thought the meter had burst, but then I heard him say, “jee le apni zindagi,” (go, live your life) and heard him laughing loudly. That is when I realized what had happened.

I was screaming and he ran away leaving me. He later surrendered to the police saying that I was the one trying to throw acid on him, and by mistake ended up spilling it on myself.

I was in the hospital for four months, like a living corpse. I couldn’t eat, speak, or open my eyes. As I had been sleeping when I was attacked, when the acid fell, I had opened my eyes with a start. That meant that the acid had gotten into my eyes. I completely lost one eye.

But I never screamed or shouted too much. My doctors, visitors etc used to be in awe of how I held my pain within me, and used to hold me up as an example to the other patients. “You’re a lioness…a tigress,” they used to tell me.

The aftermath

After the attack, what I needed the most was love and support. Unfortunately, I didn’t get those. I was told that I should have died instead of living like this. I was told that I must have done something wrong to deserve this. People stopped inviting me to functions and celebrations. When I refused to listen and attended my father’s funeral, the people who had come stepped out of the house when they saw me. I was not invited to my own sister’s baby shower. I cried a lot that day and in anger I shouted at her. When she had a stillborn baby, it was said that it was because I had cursed her.

Even now people tell me not to come to their home –“we are afraid of you,” they say. I even had trouble finding a house to stay in because house owners were afraid to come and collect the rent from me. Even when I told them that I would transfer the money to them online, they wouldn’t listen. I have become very wise now. I know who is truly a well-wisher of mine and who isn’t.

My own children were afraid of me. I find it funny now, but at the time, it used to hurt a lot. They were afraid to sleep with me. “Ammi, you look like a ghost,” they used to say. At my parents’ house they were being beaten, so I used to ask my friend to keep them for the night, but my friend advised me that it was not a permanent solution. She told me to talk lovingly to my kids and help them understand me.

So one night, I showed them the movie Bhootnath on YouTube. The next morning, when they woke up and said that they were afraid, I asked them what they had learnt from the movie. They said that the bhoot (ghost) in the movie was really affectionate towards the child character. I told them that similarly, I may look like a ghost, but I was still their loving mother. I still loved them and that no one would ever love them more than me. Slowly, their fear reduced and now they are not afraid of me anymore.

In fact, they are now my biggest confidence boosters. One day, they asked me that when I used to use makeup before the attack, why I didn’t even use a lipstick now. They took some makeup and applied it on my face. They brought my phone to me and asked me to take a selfie. I did as they said, and uploaded it to Facebook.

I can’t express what that did for my confidence. Even before this I used to take selfies, but I still had some self-doubt. Their love however, removed that last shred of insecurity. The confidence that my girls had in me, helped me become more confident in myself and helped me see myself in a better light.

Finding confidence again

Whatever has been thrown at me, I have taken it as a challenge. I was tired of being dependent on my family, who used to keep cursing me. So, I tried to find ways to support myself. During my stay in the hospital, I learnt some English words. I can read English now, even though I can’t speak it well. I had never even heard of the internet and social media before, but I learnt to use them. I googled about acid attack survivors and found an NGO that helped them.

After many tries, I finally got in touch with their founder. She asked me to move to Delhi, but to come without my kids. I left my kids in Mumbai and went to Delhi. This NGO helped me get an urgent surgery I needed. I joined them. They used to take me, along with other survivors to various places and ask me to tell my story. I would break down in front of the mic, and seeing this people would be moved to donate money to the NGO. It was very difficult for me to do this –I needed empathy then, but I never got that. I only felt that I was being used. Yet, I did it for the sake of my children.

They were being beaten back in Mumbai and so I wanted to move them to a safe place. I kept asking the NGO to arrange for their schooling in Delhi, and they kept saying they would, without doing it. Finally, I found another NGO in Mumbai and moved back. This NGO arranged for my children to live and study in a hostel. They also helped me get another surgery I needed.

However, the money I get from them on a monthly basis is barely enough to pay the rent. I am afraid for my future. The NGO has money to give me now, but what if they can’t in the future? I want to stand on my own two feet. I need a good job. I am a make-up artist, but I don’t get work because people look at me and refuse to give me work.

I love my work and I take pride in it. I know that I will do a good job, if only I am given a chance. If anyone reading this is open minded enough to give me an opportunity, I can be contacted on [email protected] or 9619442969.

Defiant and alive

I am determined to live happily. Even after the attack I used to take many selfies etc. I came to know that my brothers in law were criticizing me, saying that I had lost my beauty, but not this habit of taking selfies. The moment I came to know, I uploaded my photos on Facebook and Instagram, wearing jeans etc.. People asked me if I was crazy, and if I really wanted everyone to see my face like this. I told them, “My face is changed, but my mind and heart are the same. I am the same Zakira. I live for myself and not for anyone else.”

After seeing the trailer of Chhapaak, people in my neighbourhood come and tell me how brave I am. They say, “you are so much braver than Deepika, because you have lived this in reality. We would have given up if this had happened to us, but you were on your feet within six months.”

My faith in God helps me. God doesn’t give anyone a burden that they cannot bear. He only tests those who are loved by him. I tell myself that there must be some reason he has chosen to test me.

Earlier, I used to be bitter about people who rejected me. But now, I have learnt not to care. I find ways to distract myself from negative thoughts. Instead, I am thankful for the people who have supported me unconditionally. Bijal Gada, an celebrity international make up artist, has always cheered me on. She has offered to teach me and help me update my make up skills without taking any payment for the same. Anushree Kulkarni, who also writes for Women’s Web, has also helped me in so many ways. I am thankful for all the financial help she has given me, but I am even more touched by the fact that she invited me to her wedding and let me do her make up and mehendi. It is people like these that are worth caring about.

My husband sends me letters from prison, apologizing for what he did. I joke to my friends that I never received any love letters before, but I am getting even those now. I have saved them carefully –they are definitive, written proof that he attacked me.

He wanted me to visit him in prison. I went once. He asked me how I was. “Much better than how you left me,” I told him. I’ve told him that the only thing I want from him now is his sign on the divorce papers.

Some of my relatives urge me to get him out of jail and live with him again. “Think about your future, you old age,” they tell me, “you will regret this.” I tell them that I am done having regrets in life. I am not afraid of anything anymore.

What has happened to me should not happen to any girl. I will always stand in support of my daughters. I will not force them into anything he way I was forced. I will not let their husbands lift even a finger in their direction.

What people need the most in trying times is a sense of love and belonging –“apnapan.” Without that they lose hope. I don’t necessarily need money from people. What I want are people who will sit down and have a conversation with me. Who will invite me to their homes. Who will help me become independent –by giving me a job, work as a make-up artist.

I am determined to stay happy for myself and for my girls. I won’t cry and I won’t die.

As told to our writer Vijayalakshmi Harish, with help from Anushree Kulkarni.

Image source: Zakirabi Shaikh. Make-up courtesy Bijal Gada.

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