Heroes by Erberto Zani

Acid attack survivors in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh most of the people called them “monsters” or, sometimes, “victims”. But they prefer to be considered “survivors”. For me are heroes.
Shambhu Karmakar, 24 y.o. (village of Poradia, Upazila-Belabo, District Narsingdi). Shambhu Karmakar has been attack by his step brother, due to family dispute, on 01 January 2010. He was unable file any police case in this incident because of the pressure of his family. His step brother escaped from home after attack and never back to home. Right eye, nose, throat and chest of Shambu have been affected by the attack.

Acid attack survivors in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh most of the people called them “monsters” or, sometimes, “victims”.But they prefer to be considered “survivors”. For me are HEROES.

Disfigured with industrial acid by neighbours, relatives or boyfriends-husbands for economic reasons or senseless jealousies, these people are forced to survive for years at borders of society.

Often they are considered guilty for their look, impure creatures to leave in the shadows. Destroying the face of a person using acid, criminals don’t want kill, but they prefer erase the identity of victims by a kind of black mark to show inevitably every day to the society: is not a coincidence if many women, also years after the attack, prefer kill themself.

I worked thanks the fundamental support of Acid Survivors Foundation, active in Dacca since 1999. The photographic sequence “Heroes”, one portrait – one story, is made by straight portraits showing the effects on the skin, realized inside the survivors’ s homes and accompanied with interviews.The choice to use the portrait is not fortuitous: my idea, energetically supported by Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) and all heroes that I met in several villages of Bangladesh, is overturn the goal of criminals and show the signs of violence as a symbol of courage. A kind of hard confront against a conservative and retrograde mentality that, scared by the “different”, prefer line up with oppressors, often unpunished. In my interviews with these people, I asked the story of every single acid attack and the successive phases, and someone told me also an ispirational message for other acid survivors or people in general. Thanks to the fundamental daily work of all staff members of ASF, self-esteem of heroes reinforced: is very important intervene not only on aesthetics rebuild, but above all on psychological perspective. Now, scars are no more hidden, but proudly exhibit as a symbol of a war against the human insanity. A message to contrast these criminal attacks and a hope for hundreds victims, women men and sometimes also child.

I made an unusual post production on my photo for interpret the physical and psychological pains of these people. I re-photographed with a special lens the original pictures that I had print before on normal paper for photocopy: it’s an allusion to the condition of outcast persons, forced to live as ghosts by the same inhabitants of their villages.
Black & white as a metaphor of deep depression, described by survivors as a continue perception as their life lost any colors and sense. Slightly out of focus and deformed, visual slightly distorted, as their eyes saved can see now, after damages of acid. Surreal portraits as surreal is the violence executed.

“Heroes” is a long term project in progress: after Bangladesh, my attention will be on other countries where this kind of violence persist. The goal is realize a photography book to maintain high the public attention on these despicable attacks.

Tahmina Islam, 35 y.o. (city of Sylhet). She became an unintentional target when, in March 27th 2000, a man with whom her colleague was once involved with, attacked them on the street. This left her colleague visually impaired in one eye and Tahmina’s face and hands scalded. After several extensive surgery, also in a hospital in Italy, she started to work as Programme Officer at Acid Survivors Foundation in Dacca.

Bidhan Sarkar, 57 y.o. (city of Dacca). In December 2003, a street gang’s armed robbery in his shop. Despite Toffazal gave them all the money of his shop, the young criminals had beaten and disfigured him with one tank of acid. Now, Ahmed has disfigurement of more than 90% of his body. After several operations he can now move a little bit his arms, but he needs medical treatment twice at week in Acid Survivors Foundation Centre of Dacca.

Renu Begum Asma, 24 y.o. In 2010 the husband, drunk, decide that beat up his wife was no more enough. The acid, used for disfigure her chest and arms, is even now easy to find in industrial area outside Dacca.

Suraiya Akter, 28 y.o. (city of Mymensingh). Attacked by her husband for dowry, she had a facial disfigurement and posted her one eyesight. She denounced her aggressor, perpetrator in in prison life time, and after physical treatment and psychological service at Acid Survivors Foundation in Dhaka, she started to work as survivor ambassador for help other women in same conditions. Suraiya was award from Ministry of Women’s Affair of Bangladesh for her courage. The perpetrator convicted to life time imprisonment.

Afzal Hossein, 8 y.o. In 2011, following a quarrel for matters of land ownership with his father, the neighbors have disfigured Afzal that to the epoch it was only 2 years old. Face, abdomen, braccia and hands are deeply marked. For years the other children have isolated him/it.

Rehena Khatun, 28 y.o. When she was 21, she refused a proposal of marriage because she wanted study at University: the suitor punished her with acid. Helped by Acid Survivors Foundation, after the medical and psychological treatments, Rehana continue to study. Now she works for the NGO BRAC as technician of laboratory for analysis on the Tuberculosis. Her goal is become a bacteriologist.

Phool Mia, 50 y.o. He has been attacked in 1991. Due to demand of dowry from her sister he has been attacked by the husband of his sister. Now he is running a grocery shop and a shop of cake.

Aspia Sultana Parul, 45 y.o. In 1985, when she was 14 ears old, she has been attacked by acid in her neighbour due to refusal of love and marriage proposal.

Arfina Mymensigh, 36 y.o. Attacked by her husband, she received facial disfigurement, burn on neck, chest and both hands. The perpetrator got lifetime improsonment. After divorce from her first husband, she got married again but the new husband, after asked lot of money, left her away.

Nomita Haldar, 46 y.o. Attacked in 1982. A fatherly aged relative of Nomita often came to Nomita’s house. After few days, he was allured to Nomita, but family members of Nomita were astonished to observe the immoral behavior of him. Following his attitude, Nomita’s family warned him for disliking behavior. Nomita was attacked with acid when she was returning from school along with her father. Nomita’s father, not far, identified the perpetrator. After incident she was rushed to Khulna sadar hospital. Receiving treatment from Khulna hospital, she was referred to National Orthopedic hospital Dhaka after few months. Nomita received series of surgical development during her treatment in National Orthopedic Hospital. After attack her father lodged a case. Her perpetrator was sentenced to life time imprisonment. But, She does not know the present situation of perpetrator.
A management team of Baptist Mission School in Mirpur, Dhaka, met Nomita during treatment in hospital. After meeting, they had taken a decision regarding Nomita to admit in Baptist Mission School.
Present Condition: for more than ten years she has been working with Baptist mission School as Assistant Teacher. She is teaching in class 1-2 students. She used to apply brail system. Students are very pleased to Nomita’s teaching, affection and love. She applies different teaching methods during her teaching. In leisure time, she introduces different literatures books and games to inspire the adolescents. The faculty of Nomita’s school is very much pleased to her demonstration on teaching, patience and courage.

Shanta Islam, 35 y.o. Attacked in 1995 for refusal of marriage proposal, she has facial disfigurement and burn on neck, chest and both hands. She didn’t lodge a case against the perpetrator for fear of reprisals on her parents. Now she lives with her family and her husband is mostly caring to her. She plays a vital role to the welfare of community people.

About Erberto Zani

Erberto Zani (Italy, 1978) is a photographer, journalist and photo books designer. Since 1998 he worked as photographer in advertisement sector, especially for elevators, architectures and music portraits. Freelance since 2008, most of his works are focused on documentary-social themes. He cooperates with companies, magazines and No Profit Organizations, for photographs and editorial projects. Available for assignments internationally, he worked in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Camerun, Colombia, Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Greece, Haiti, India, Israel, Lebanon, Nepal, Rwanda, Thailand, Togo. He lives in Basel, Switzerland.

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