EuropeFeaturedStoryAcid Survivors by Jan Møller Hansen

Acid attacks in Bangladesh are usually the result of land disputes, rejected marriage proposals, refusal or inability to pay dowry, resistance of being trafficked as sex worker or simply the desire for revenge.

Acid attacks in Bangladesh are usually the result of land disputes, rejected marriage proposals, refusal or inability to pay dowry, resistance of being trafficked as sex worker or simply the desire for revenge.

The overwhelming majority of victims are young women and children, but men are also increasingly among the victims. Permanently disfigured and psychologically scarred, survivors are often shunned from their local communities, making it impossible for them to find work or get married. It is estimated that from 1999 and until 2013 app. 3000-4000 women, children and men in Bangladesh fell victim to acid attacks. Though the rate of acid violence is in decline, the number of attacks remains alarmingly high. Statistics are never fully reliable. The photographer was living in Dhaka from 2007 to 2012, and these photographs of acid survivors were made during 2011 and 2012. During that period new victims were admitted every week to the Acid Survivors’ Foundation (ASF) in Dhaka.

About Jan Møller Hansen

Jan Møller Hansen (b. 1964) is a self-taught and international award-winning photographer, who works with visual story telling and social documentary. He has attended a few trainings by VII Photo Agency, Magnum Photos, British Journal of Photography, Grundtvig High School in Denmark and is presently enrolled in a documentary photography course organised by World Press Photo, Noor and DMJX.

Jan has photographed slum dwellers, indigenous and aborigine people, brick kiln workers, sexual minorities, sex workers, conflict affected people, refugees, acid survivors and other marginalised people while living in Nepal, Bangladesh and South Sudan. He works with international development and humanitarian assistance and is a former senior diplomat.[Official Website]

Shamsul praying to Allah.
Shamsul Hoque is 30 years old and from Thakurgaon in North-eastern Bangladesh. Shamsul had a shop where he repaired TVs and electronics. He was doing business together with a friend, who had a tailor shop next door. Business went okay for Shamsul, and he started lending a bit of money to his friend who was in trouble. After some time Shamsul realised that his friend was not willing to repay the loan. The shop that his friend occupied also belonged to Shamsul, and the friend did not want to pay for electricity and water either. Shamsul was not happy with the situation.
In the beginning, the two were best friends, but then Shamsuls friend got married and things started to change. The relation between Shamsul and his friend became more and more problematic. One night Shamsul was sleeping in his shop. It was dark, and suddenly his friend came into the room during night and threw a bucket of acid over him. The acid came all over Shamsuls body and went deep into his eyes. The incidence happened one night in April 2007. Shamsul cannot remember which date it was.
Shamsul was rushed to the hospital in Dineshpur – the Medical College. His condition was very severe, and the hospital was not able to treat him properly and to keep him alive. More that 60 per cent of his body had been seared by the strong acid.
Some people from the non-governmental organisation BRAC had heard about the case, and they came to the hospital and got Shamsul transported to the City Hospital in Dhaka city. Shamsul was kept alive at the City Hospital, and after some time he was transferred to the Acid Survivors Foundation in Dhaka. Here they were able to save his life and get him through the critical time.
Shamsuls friend, who threw acid at him, had in the meantime gone to India. But after some time his friend came back to Thakurgaon so that he could continue with his business. After one week of the incidence, a police case was filed against Shamsuls friend, but police did not want to take the case further. The police told Shamsul and his family that it was too late to file such a case. So after some time they gave up. Long time ago, BRAC had also filed a case against his friend. Apparently it had gone to the High Court, but Shamsul was not quite sure. Shamsul did not think that anything would happen. Now it was five years ago, and his friend was still living with his family and doing business in Thakurgaon – so why should anything happen to him now? There were hundred thousands of unsolved court cases in Bangladesh so he was convinced that nothing would ever happen to his friend. He was just praying to Allah.

Selina is 17 years old and from Matipur in Noakhali district in Southern Bangladesh. Selina testified in a case where a group of young men had attacked her younger sister, Farhana, with acid. Farhana was 15 years old when the attack happened. A group of young men harassed her on her way to and from school. On 15th June 2010, they attacked her with acid. The other week it was her elder sister Selina’s turn. The acid attackers wanted revenge against Selina, and one week ago broke into her house during the early hours and throw acid at her. She was punished by Selina was admitted to the Noakhali Medical College Hospital after an acid attack and later to the Acid Survivors’ Foundation Hospital in Dhaka as her condition deteriorated. Selina and Farhana’s family has filed a case against six known criminals, who are from the local area. Selina had testified against them before the district court recently, and all the accused obtained bail. After they were released they attacked Selina. The father of Selina and Farhana died last year. Their mother, Mazeda, was saying to a local newspaper: “There is no justice in this country. My younger daughter did not get justice and now the elder one has become a victim of the same crime. What is the use of our survival? I along with all my daughters will commit suicide by taking poison”. The local police arrested some of the criminals.

In 2003, Shahnaz’s sister went abroad for work and was sending money home to her husband. Shahnaz then got married, and her husband’s younger brother wanted money from Shahnaz and her sister. Shahnaz’s father was a poor man and could not afford to pay dowry to Shahnaz’s family in-law. During marriage Shahnaz got two daughters. She could not get a son. Therefore her family in-law did not accept her. They did not like her, and wanted revenge, because the family had not got enough dowry from Shahnaz and her family. One night he went to Shahnaz’s house and walked into her bedroom. While she was asleep, he poured acid over her. The crime happened on 13th October 2003.

Meftahul was a chemistry student at Chittagong University in Bangladesh. When she was studying at the university there was a group of male fellow students, who harassed her for a long time. Meftahul complained officially to the university about the harassments. One of the male students, who continued to approach and harass Meftahul, was the son of a senior staff at the university. His father and others made life difficult for Meftahul and tried to cancel her admission to exams at the university.
As time went Meftahul became more and more stressed and desperate. After eight months she could not stand it any longer. On 4th July 2011, Meftahul was attending a practical session in the chemistry laboratory at the university. Here she took a bottle with acid and went out of the lab. She sat down on the stairs outside and drank the acid in an attempt to commit suicide. Meftahul did not die instantly and was immediately admitted to the Chittagong Medical College in a critical condition. She was nine days at the hospital in Chittagong and later transferred to the Intensive Care Unit at the Burn Unit at Dhaka Medical Hospital. Meftahul spend two months at the Intensive Care Unit struggling for her life before she came to the Acid Survivors’ Foundation in Dhaka

Rubel is a young man from Noakhali district in the Southern part of Bangladesh. Rubel was attacked by acid due to a family dispute over his father’s land.

Rubel is a college student from Noakhali district in the Southern part of Bangladesh. Rubel and his brother got a small piece of land from their father. One of their uncles and his sons wanted Rubel and his brother to sell the land to them so that they could make money. Rubel and his brother did not agree, and one day they attacked Rubel with acid.

Sabber and his father after the acid attack.

Sonia is 24 years old. She is from Faridpur, which is situated Northwest of the capital Dhaka in Bangladesh. When Sonia was 13 years old and went to class 7, one of her cousins wanted to marry her. He was at that time a student in class 10 and 18 years old. Sonia did not want to marry her cousin, and she refused his love attempts. For a while Sonia did what she could to resist and keep him at distance. One night, the cousin came to her house and threw acid on her while she was asleep. Sonia do not want to talk about what happened. She has two sisters and a brother, and her father died some years ago. Her brother is unemployed and is doing nothing. Sonia now looks after her mother, and also supports her two sisters and brother.
Sonia is herself working with acid victims and is proud, because she has recently been promoted to a better job. Today is she is filling-in paper for a mother and her three years old son, who some days ago was also attacked with acid by an uncle. Sonia earns 9000 taka, equivalent to 150 dollars, per month and spends half of her salary for her family. After work she is trying to study and finish her bachelor in arts at a private university in Dhaka.
Sonia’s surname is Bristi, which means rain. She hopes that rain will heal her scars. Sonia filed a case with the police, and the cousin who committed the crime was sentenced to 32 years in jail.

After the acid attack, Shahnaz filed a case with the police against her husband’s younger brother. After eight years nothing had happened. Her husband’s younger brother now lives in Narajangunj south of Dhaka. Shahnaz’s husband does no longer want to see her, and she lives with her mother and her two daughters. Her two daughters are 14 and 10 years old and go to class 9 and 6, respectively. Shahnaz says that it is her two daughters that keep her alive.

His name is Durjoy. In his native language, Bangla, “Durjoy” means invincible. 

Durjoy had strong sulfurique acid poured down his mouth and throat as a baby at the age of six weeks by his paternal aunt. His tongue, teeth, mouth and throat melted instantly. Burnt skin hung loose on his neck. It was a matter of heritance. As the only male heir to a poor Hindu family, his aunt saw Durjoy as a threat to her inheritance, and so she tried to kill him. 

The incidence happened in 2005, and Durjoy was admitted to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital. He was alive but starving to death. His anterior neck had been destroyed and the mouth merged into the sternum in a mass of dense scar. He was found by the Acid Survivors Foundation in Dhaka, and came in contact with the British doctor, Ron Hiles, who for many years had been doing fantastic heroic work for acid survivors in Bangladesh. The first operation was performed in Bangladesh involved removing the dense anterior neck scar and closing the defect with skin grafts. Enteral feeding was needed to improve Durjoy’s nutritional status. During 2006, he was operated several times in Bangladesh, and he was putting on weight and beginning to walk but his future remained perilous. 

Charity funds were raised, and Durjoy and his parents travelled to Hong Kong at the end of 2006, where Durjoy again underwent a series of operations. The Bangladeshi doctor Kawser Ahmed accompanied the family and was also involved in the lifesaving operations in Hong Kong. When Durjoy arrived in Hong Kong he had difficulty in breathing with risk of aspiration necessitating a tracheostomy, inability to take liquid or solid food requiring permanent enteral feeding and inability to talk or vocalise due to intraoral scarring and tethering of his tongue. 

Durjoy returned to Bangladesh in March of 2007 and on the day of his discharge, he was active, interacting, putting on weight and doing well and learning to play a bit with a football. Durjoy was very well looked after in Dhaka, but inevitably as he grew his caloric needs outweighed the possible input through his small oral aperture. In addition his speech was non-existent due to the tethering of his tongue. On 1 November 2009, Durjoy returned to Hong Kong. His mother, father and a physiotherapist from Dhaka, Sultana, accompanied him. Durjoy underwent further scar revisions in the neck, insertion of a ‘permanent’ gastrostomy tube and further intraoral grafts. Durjoy left Hong Kong in January 2010 with the feeding tube in place. 

Durjoy is now living in Dhaka where skilled and courageous people look well after him. Durjoy is truly invincible. He is a miracle of the human spirit.

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