I get the smell of gun powder in my house,
the miasma smothering me.
Blasting bombs and terrified screams,
I hear them all.
Stifled by guns, held at close proximity.
There is a war in my closet and I cannot pretend to be blind.
For battles begin in the mind.
And mortal souls merely bear the consequences of lost ideologies.
Too strong, too bold for the weak and the feeble.
Yet we are blinded and defeated by the shine of their sigil.
How long more do we keep mum and look on with faux ignorance?
Has the violence and terror debauched our very conscience?
We are the storms we face,
the tumultuous times we overcome.
We are the late night insecurities,
the characters on the outside that bring out the worst of us on the inside.
Curled up on the floor,
weeping at sunset, braving our demons while we fight with ourselves, not
knowing where evil really is.
Yet we are the ones, dancing after sunrise,
touched by the angels in the rays.
We are all that we hide from ourselves and the world,
the grey that we cover with tainted filters.
Projecting an array of colour and vivid hues.
We are what’s on the inside, cold and sore.
“Tell me your deepest secret,” he asked. The coffee shop was unnaturally quiet. A couple giggled in the corner, their whispers echoing in the silence. He looked around and took another sip of the coffee. They were coffee shop friends and their friendship had begun in silence, when only the slurping and the coffee kept them company.
“I’ve always had a strange fascination for curves, things that were flexible and could flow. I always thought angles were rigid and complicated. Somehow, imperfection always seemed perfect to me,” he answered. “That’s not strange at all,” the friend replied. “Nobody is perfect and life’s always about the curves. I love curves too, it has something so artistic and lovely about it.”
He smiled and nodded in agreement. “The world loves curves, it represents creativity, I’ve always thought straight lines were somehow unattractive and rigid,” the coffee shop friend continued in deep thought. Silence took over again. He reiterated, “So what’s your secret?”
Their eyes met, “I’m not straight,” he replied. His eyes still fixed on him. The friend now seemed uncomfortable, suddenly there was a certain awkwardness around them. He got up to pay the bill. As they left, the friend smiled, “I guess the world is rigid and stale, tomorrow same time?” They nodded and went their way.
Imagine your face, burnt and charred. Your nose replaced by two little holes, almost as if it does not exist, just a slit for a mouth, and your skin sticking to the adjacent parts making movement difficult. The very thought of it is frightening. But that is the life these women have been leading since they were attacked with acid. Acid attack is an extremely gruesome crime committed against women. There are a significant number of cases in India, some are registered, some go unnoticed while others are scared to come out in the open and tell their stories because they are afraid of what the outcome would be.
I had read of these cases, watched their interviews online, their stories touched me deeply, but not until I met them did I realize what acid attacks truly mean. A meager toilet cleaning agent that we may have used several times has now wiped out the very existence of a person.
“I’ve lived this way for the past ten years now, people look at me strangely. Today, I was travelling in the bus and a mother and son were seated opposite. They looked at me and began laughing loudly. While the others looked at me and turned away. I did not know what to do. I was helpless, who can I blame? They laugh because I look this way and I am aware of that,” said Jayalakshmi, as she tried to fight her emotions.
Jayalakshmi was attacked by her husband in Tumkur. She explained that he always doubted her, even before the attack he used to beat her up. Every time she went back to her parents with cuts and bruises, her mother would advice her on the importance of a husband and what it means to be a wife. She said one of her mother’s advice was, “It is alright if he beats you, after all he is your husband. He has the right to do anything he wants to, please don’t come back here. Now that is your home.” Her words sent shivers down my spine. Her very own mother spoke so heartlessly. It is sad that our society still holds such misogynistic views.
She went on to tell me of how her husband was given a jail term, and how her struggles began from then on. To defend his deeds she said, swallowing her tears, that he blamed her of running a brothel. “He said I was a prostitute, and that is why he did this to me. My very own husband to whom I gave twenty long years of my life, bore his children, got them married and now he speaks of me as a prostitute,” she paused. “Thankfully my neighbors backed me up,” she continued, tears rolling down her eyes.
Many cases of acid attacks go unregistered because the society blames the woman. There have been cases in which the police have barged into the woman’s house to cross check if it was a brothel or if there was illegal sexual activities happening. What right does a man have to throw acid on a woman, even if she is a sex worker? What makes her lesser of a human being, she is entitled to all the human rights as of any of us. Nobody has the right to take that away from her.
Most often the victims hear these sentences after the attack, “She gave way, must have been her fault, she deserves it, Oh! Love, she was in love this ought to happen, characterless woman!” Not only does she have to go through physical and mental trauma all her life for no fault of hers, she is also ostracized by the society.
Jayalakshmi is now a social activist, working for women rights and women empowerment in the villages. She has come a long way. But her life was never easy. In the beginning her family told the doctors to take away her life. “They said, how could anyone live with a face like that, I was unconscious, after I gained consciousness I was given treatment. They warned me not to look at the mirror.” Her body was burning, she knew she was attacked by acid, somewhere deep down she knew life would never be the same. But it was not until she saw her face that reality dawned upon her.
Recollecting the incidents in chronological order, she says that she saw her face while drinking coffee. It was her reflection and that day something within her broke. “I wanted to die; I told the doctors that I don’t want to live anymore. Why live with a face like this, and even today I wonder why didn’t the attack kill me, why did I survive?” She looked towards me as though seeking for an answer, but all I could do was stay mum. Who could answer any of her questions? We equally carry the shame of this act. For staying mum, for allowing her and so many others go through something like this.
Our face is our identity, with that gone and the very people you seek courage from treating you like an alien. All you can do is give up. “Nobody gave me their house on rent; they said their children would get scared of me. The people in my locality asked me to wear a burkha because my face was so frightening,” she said, now smiling at me. Not once did the people in her locality, the very place she lived for 20 long years think what it would be to lose a face. Every time she looks at someone whether ugly or beautiful, the very fact that they have a face would be killing her. How would she look at herself, dealing with that very reality was a task of courage.
“I don’t care anymore, let them look. This is me. I feel hurt when I am called for marriages and people take photos. I just want to get done with it. I don’t wear a burkha, this is my identity now and I have come to accept it. Before the attack I was a very scared person. I wouldn’t walk out of the house without my husband’s permission. But now I have changed, I am not scared anymore,” she proudly stated. All of us have a voice, and there’s a reason we do. If we can’t raise our voice against injustice, for the innocent people who are in pain, then what use are we to the society? They say it takes courage to raise your voice, in reality it just needs a heart that can feel for another.
Today Jayalakshmi is a strong woman, who goes around educating women about their rights. She says that it is shocking that women from the cities also go to her for help. It isn’t about where you come from, injustice is everywhere and all people need today is courage, she explains. Women are taught to be submissive from childhood and that’s how they grow up, when it’s time to face the world they are left helpless.
“I am more confident without a face than when I had one. People will look, they will laugh. It hurts but what’s more important to me is to be useful to the society. So what if it happened to me, even if I do cry every night, I am happy that I am helping someone else. It all starts at home,” she says. Educate your daughters but do not forget to teach your sons the value of a woman. Do not forget to tell him to respect a woman, because she is an equal.
My conversation with Jayalakshmi gave me a new perspective to the world. Her achievements gave me courage and taught me so much. It wasn’t a conversation; it was an experience I will never forget. Every acid attack survivor is a fighter, an epitome of strength. Their beauty lies not in their face but in their outlook to life, in their very being. The world has a lot to learn from these women.
While I was contemplating on all of this and fuming with anger towards those cowardly men who stoop to such low levels to prove their superiority, all I could see in Jayalakshmi was gratitude towards the few who helped her, who stood up for her.
It is shameful that in our search for beauty, in our superficial outlook of the world we have stopped looking into the depths, stopped valuing human emotions. In our efforts to reach somewhere, to go ahead in the race, we have stopped being humane. We have forgotten humanity. And no amount of money, success or fame can give you that. In all honesty, Jayalakshmi showed me how poor we are, how ugly we truly are on the inside and how selfish human race is. She unmasked the whole of society in the two hours that we spoke.
So now I realize the statement, ‘Beauty is skin deep.’ May be for once, we as human beings must look into the mirror and ask ourselves how beautiful are we on the inside. Your skin will wrinkle, your eyes will go dim, and your teeth may not stay there forever too. But the little heart you carry will stay beautiful forever; let us make our inner selves beautiful, because that is everlasting. May be all this while our very perception of the world was wrong, people must be loved for who they are and not for the way they appear.
Strange but true, all our scriptures teach love, because that is the only language common to the entire universe. Let us learn the language of love. Their scars may never heal but can pave way to a revolution. A revolution in perspective!
I have done a documentary on acid attacks on women, ‘SCARRED’. It is the second all India to be made on the issue and the first to receive a nation wide platform. Jayalakshmi’s interview has been featured in the film. Do watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7EKbHcwjX8
Originally published in the June edition of the Tabor Kirana.
This poem is a representation of thoughts and how sometimes though we are physically in the moment, the mind wanders in the past. Looking for memories and stories to fill the blank spaces of the present. I wrote this poem when I heard the story of a friend. It seemed so similar to many relationships and yet was so different, there was yearning, there was pain and there was still hope. For me the man here could mean anything, moments that will never come back, ones childhood, your own past haunting you. It could mean anything.
Many people read this poem and give me their versions of the story. For some it is the story of a girl, for some it is an expression of yearning and some say it just is the mind, the way one reacts to things. This poem is open to interpretation, you can understand it in your own way. Let me know what you think of it. Here goes…
Your lost in the meadows,
your ashes gushing through the streams of history.
And sometimes I wish I could bring you back.
Flashes of laughter, of plays and games
Flashes of a word with a golden haze.
I try my best to look so deep
To find that place, the site beneath your feet.
I’ve lost that face, the person that existed.
Though you are here, it is those flashes I live with.
I blow wishes that fly gently like soft cotton in the breeze.
Across the maze, through the paddy fields,
Reaching those mountains, in search of those meadows and streams.
I open my wishful eyes in hope of finding you, of finding me…
And I see your eyes looking at me,
Fresh, unscorned, in a daze
There’s a glare at the side of your lashes.
I hide in the shadow of your face, waiting for the man in those flashes.
Yes, you are here and yesterday knows you were in the meadows too,
But my dear that was different,
Though the man is the same,
Then I was a woman who loved you.
The storm, the famine, the windy days,
had never gotten the better of us.
Because we knew through our games and plays
that there was no need for a fuss.
But, no flashes need to tell me of that unforgettable sky
It rained and thundered while the sun was bright.
“Rainbows!” they screamed, as they danced and made merry
And indeed it was, rainbows in the clouds of many,
I knew better, the God’s did lie,
It was a sign for us, of departure, of goodbye.
The rain had stopped and the sun did shine
All the colours stood, beaming in a line.
Stories were told of the fox and the crow,
As they laughed loudly, drunk in wine.
I stood there staring at the woven skies,
No hand in mine, no reason for merry.
Lost in the meadows, a million stories to bury.
Strange those days and stranger still life’s ways.
In darkness we had stood and faced the tests of time
Yet, the morning breeze, the coming dawn, had tore us apart
took away what was mine.
Those colours had faded and the sky turned blue
You came back and held my hand, things started anew
But I lost the string of love to the colours in the sky
And I know, you lost it too, all the things we couldn’t deny.
Years have passed and we’re still together
It isn’t the same, uncertain and wavery, things change like the weather.
There are hurt and regrets and unmet expectations.
There’s love, yet fear and many hesitations.
We smile, we laugh, our pain and anger kept discreet
Rarely do I see, do I experience your warmth,
Waiting here forlorn , in hopes to meet.
So many years of togetherness and we hold that number with pride
It’s been so full of hopes and disappointments, this long ride.
Teary I shut these eyes every night, trying not to feel the prick of your whiplashes
Touching the scars, feeling the pain, yet I wait…
Wait for the man you were, the man in those flashes.
The beautiful images are taken from Farhan Hussain, a visual artist. You can check his work at http://iamfarhan.com/ or follow him on Instagram https://instagram.com/farhanhussain/
“They called us dogs, treated us like animals. In an hour’s time, they turned our land into a graveyard,” said Ulfath Jaffar. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she narrated her story. Ulfath is a mother of four children; her husband was an auto driver. She stayed along with her mother and 1600 other families in Ejipura, until that fateful day. Her house was torn down, her family split, her belongings lost, in one day her life changed drastically.
Carrying her daughter in her arms, she explained that her family was living there for 120 years. She was born and raised in that same place. “I am a tenant, I have a voter’s id, Adhar card, all issued in the same address. Unfortunately I was not given the house papers because I did not have money. The leaders made the papers in someone else’s name in front of me just because he paid them 5000 rupees. They did not even let me make a bio metric card. We have been cheated by everybody.”
Ulfath works as a sales woman at a cloth shop, her mother as a maid. Like any normal human being she says she too has dreams, she would like her children to study and stand on their own feet. “I am poor and uneducated but I do not want my children to see the same life. They were all going to school, but now we are stranded, we have no place to go, no roof over our head, I feel helpless,” she cried.
People gathered around us, eager to tell their story. They wanted their voice to be heard. Ulfath could not speak but the pain in her eyes spoke loud enough. The moments of silence was broken by the voices of the people around. Strangely there was no one consoling her, they all abused the political leaders, called them every name in the book, but nobody even rubbed her back. It was a group of angry, frustrated, hurt and most of all broken people, who had lost all hope and had nothing but their voices to support them.
“The media reports facts; everybody knows that we have lost our houses, they know of the bulldozers mowing our houses down but who really knows what we are going through? Until somebody comes and throws you out of your house and leaves you lying on the footpath, you really wouldn’t know our pain,” said Pande, one of the former residents at Ejipura.
Gaining her strength Ulfath spoke again. The past few months have been frightening for each one of us, she said. We abuse our leaders because they broke our trust. We had faith in them but all they cared for was their life and their money. Being deserted and helpless is one thing, being hurt and betrayed is another. I do not see even a slightest ray of hope.
“I do not know what my rights are, I do not know the things the government speaks of. All I know is, I have been wronged. It wasn’t a doll house that they brought down, we are human beings and those ‘so called’ tents that they destroyed, were our houses.”
That afternoon Ulfath had gone to work, she returned back after a hard day’s labour only to find bulldozers tearing down the houses. Her first reaction she said was that of panic. “I looked for my children, people were screaming, the police were beating everybody irrespective of whether they were men or women. I went in, my house was already broken, I ran to my brother in law’s house. He is handicapped, he cannot walk. The police were dragging him. I stopped them, and told them that he could not walk and that I would take him out. They did not heed to my requests, I had no other go, I yelled at them. They hit me on my hands and legs and lifted my brother in law and threw him down, they then dragged him and threw him out. I did not know how to react, I was shocked at their heartless behaviour, sad that I had to go through something like this and angry at everybody around,” she said fuming as she recollected the brutal incidents that had occurred.
She also said that her sister in law’s hand was swollen by the way the police beat her. Everyone who tried to resist the cops got a good whacking she said. After a while people got scared, nobody tried to go against the police.
“I turned only to find my children taking shelter at the petrol bunk. There were many children there. All of them were frightened. I went to them and asked if they were alright. All thanks to Allah they were fine. The cops did not hit the children,” she said.
Syed Fardeen is Ulfath’s eldest son. The nine year old volunteered to talk when he heard his mother describing the scene. He said everybody were running hither and thither, his siblings and he were bawling not knowing what to do. “I held my younger sister’s hand and ran towards the petrol bunk, I wanted my mummy but she was at work so we sat and waited for her on the steps. There were many other children with me but I was still scared. My house was broken, I kept thinking, where would we stay after this.”
Ulfath called her husband, Syed Jaffar. He sat with his head down, and said “I was angered by what I saw. I did not want my children to sleep on the footpath. I took out the top covering of the auto and covered them. The next day my auto owner found out about what had happened, he took the auto away. He did not think twice about me or my family. My children and many others took refuge inside a huge pipe. It was a gutter, we found it difficult to breathe. There were a lot of people inside, it was suffocating. My son fell ill because of the dust and the bad conditions in which we stayed. We could not take him to the hospital because we did not have money. We lived like that for 9 days until somebody told us about a place in Sarjapur and I came here.”
Describing the whole situation she said that the entire 15 acres of land on which their homes stood was now ruined. Fences were built around the land in a few hours and all the people were warned to stay 100feet away from the fence. “They treated us like animals, when food was being distributed to us the MLA called us dogs and said why are you distributing food to these dogs. If you give them food, they will not leave this place. Treat them how they must be treated he told the police,” we were all a witness to it said the others as Ulfath spoke.
Ulfath’s family has split her mother stays in the servant quarters at her employer’s house. I was curious to know how Ulfath and her family came to Sarjapur road, when I asked her she replied, “None of the government officials told us about this place. Some of the people who saw how miserable our condition was, informed us about the EWS (Economically Weaker Section) Quarters at Sarjapur Road. The mosque was giving money to Muslim families. Each one was given a coupon and on display of the coupon, money was provided. I received 5000 rupees. At that time the expenses were too much, all the money was spent on travel, food and other basic necessities. Now I do not have a penny in my pocket.”
Jaffar has been trying to look out for a job, if he does not go to work the family will starve. He says that though all he knows is to drive an auto, he is ready to do any kind of job for his family. He is trying his luck everywhere but hasn’t got a job yet. “I want my children to go back to school, at no cost do I want them to suffer. If they study they will not have to face the kind of life I am facing. They can be happy.”Even as the family moved to Sarjapur they encountered a lot of problems. Truck drivers and Lorry drivers were dropping us off for free, she said. “Many of us lost our vessels during the demolition. I lost 7000 rupee worth of belongings, there were a few things that I carried along but was stolen on the way. I realised that by sitting in Ejipura and crying, I wouldn’t get my house back. So we decided to move on and start doing what we have to. Only when I came here did I realise that there is no hope.”
Jaffar said that the thought of his future scares him, every time he thinks of tomorrow, a million thoughts cross his mind, a million questions for which he would never get answers. “I have lost all faith in humanity. There is no one who would help us, no one we can trust. Everybody we once looked up to and trusted be it the leaders who made false promises of giving our houses back or our religious leaders or the people around, everyone is selfish. We feel betrayed and lonely. It’s a huge world out there yet our world is so different, homeless and helpless,” he added.
Talking about the future, Ulfath looked up towards the sky and said that it is only hope that is keeping them alive. Hope of a better tomorrow, faith that god can do miracles. But then again after a long pause, she looked at her daughter and said, “If things still don’t get better, we have only one option. We will take poison and die. I’d rather die than live a life like this. Full of pain, fear and anger. People don’t cry anymore because their tears have dried up. Life has taught us so many things.”
At the end of our conversation, one lady tapped me on my knee, I turned to look at her. She introduced herself, her name was Fathima. She asked me you heard our story, you recorded our conversation, will this help us? So many people have written about this issue, will your writing bring a difference? I was speechless, I had no words to say and then I replied, “It is not my writing that would bring a difference to your life, it is your story, your truth that would make the change. I believe, humanity hasn’t died away. There is still a streak of hope.” I did not want to tell them to hang on or to be optimistic because no one could replace their loss. As they rightly said, until you stand in their shoes, you will really never know their pain.
As I got up to bid goodbye, I overheard a one woman saying, “We cannot help it, after all it is our fate. I only hope God does not abandon us.” Her words struck me deeply, the pain I saw in their eyes, their distrust towards the system and the aura of hopelessness that surrounded them brought out the dual face of our society.
It was then that a thought struck my mind, “They say it is god who writes our fate. But who really writes the fate of the poor, is it the government? Is it the media? Is it the corporate world? Who really writes their fate? I wonder…”
This story should have garnered far more attention that it has. This article was written for a book that was on the stories of those who were brutally evacuated in Ejipura. The project was dropped in between, but I sent it across to the Tabor Kirana. If you have anything to say or would like to know more, you can send me an email.
The article was originally published in The Tabor Kirana.
The film is to be screened at New York on the 21st of March, for the UN Violence Against Women Day.
‘Scarred’ is a film that I shot while I was in my final semester. Being a Visual Communication student, my interest in films have only grown with time and my love for the medium has become stronger. Film making is more of a passion than anything else.
The documentary, ‘Scarred’ is beyond all a small attempt by someone in the big wide world to tell a story, the story of these women, who I call brave. Who have fought a battle that was never theirs and still emerged victorious. They are testimony to the fact that appearance and outer beauty does not define a person. Even though they lost their face they braved the tests of time, fought the underlying patriarchal notions of society, stood up for themselves and today no force can wipe out their identity!
Their stories have the power to change lives, to touch people. ‘Scarred’ isn’t just a film, it is a message that must reach out to millions of people who are unaware of the gravity of the situation.
While I was shooting the documentary I never imagined as to how this film would reach people. I was just experiencing the whole journey, a life changing journey. Three months of the shoot was an unforgettable experience. It changed my perception of the world, in one short sentence, ‘IT CHANGED ME’.
After the edit and the release, I knew that ‘Scarred’ was the closest thing to my heart. I knew that this film will change lives. Will it bring change in the society? Will it change the world? Will it change the system? No, these were questions I cannot answer and quite frankly, I am unsure of it. But I know that each individual who watches ‘Scarred’ will take back something, something that might touch your heart, something you will always remember, something that will bring you close to humanity, closer than it would to reality. 30 minutes will be an experience that you will never forget and that, I am sure of.
The film looks at the underlying patriarchal structure that guides the entire mental and physical functioning of the society. It looks into the misogynistic ideologies that exists till date. My main aim was to send a message across to the world, to you! What that message is only the film will tell.
Scarred urges you to not just lend your ears but to lend your hearts to the issue.
Scarred is the second documentary all India to be made on the issue of Acid Attacks and the first to gain a nationwide platform. The film has been featured in leading newspapers in India.
It has been running in several film festivals and has won all the categories in the Rolling Frames International Film Festival (Best Documentary, Best Editing, Best Music Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Direction). It was also nominated in the Mumbai Women’s International Film Festival and the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala, a State Award. It is currently running for the Zero mm Youth Film Festival South Asia, 2016.
An interview in Asianet, a leading Kerala News Channel.
Recent coverage in the Deccan Chronicle, Kerala
Here is ‘Scarred’ in the Deccan Herald, leading national English daily.
Featured in the Deccan Chronicle
A story of it was in the Bangalore Mirror, the first paper that covered Scarred.